We have all witnessed the frantic energy of a busy search room/reading room. To visitors of our services, our fetching of items, answering of enquiries and dealing with reprographic orders is the most visible aspect of what we do. More often than not, these examples are the simplest to explain when poised with the question (from friends, relatives, the public, etc) “Well what does an Archivist actually do?”
To use a cliché (but, nonetheless fitting) metaphor, the swan that gracefully moves on a lake is a picture of elegance in motion-yet it is what is hidden, the activity going on ‘beneath the water’s surface’ that belies any false notion of quiet. The work of an archivist is strikingly similar-much of the activity (and work!) which goes into ensuring our collections are easily searchable, that the process of ordering material runs smoothly and indeed, that relevant items to particular research interests are identified, is made possible through activities not often seen by those who use our services- namely, cataloguing.
To increase accessibility to our collections (for the public, researchers and indeed, ourselves, as archive professionals) we must utilise developments and updates in technology- especially for retrieving and cataloguing the collections. Sam Maddra, Assistant Archivist at Archives Services, kick-started the first ASC Cataloguing Forum of the year on the 7th of February with this in mind. This once a month get together has the aim of discussing some of the issues which have come to light in the cataloguing process, allowing for time to adapt and learn advances in a developing sector.
Sam’s talk regarded the new Archive Services catalogue microsite launched on Archives Hub, as we can see in the image :
The microsite- which has been a few years in the making- has finally come to fruition: and it seems like it shall definitely be worth the wait. This site does proverbially ‘what it says on the tin,’ in that one of its main features is to provide a more efficient (a ‘micro’) focus, only displaying the records held by the University of Glasgow Archive Services. This at once reduces the ‘data noise’ one often encounters when attempting to search for collections on the main Archives Hub site, which holds information on over 300 institutions across the UK- a useful yet perhaps intimidating resource, especially for a first time user.
Access to the new microsite is simple, by clicking on the ‘Search our catalogue’ section on the Archives Services homepage pictured here:
Clicking here brings the searcher to the ‘Archives Hub: Glasgow University Archive Services’ site . Unlike the main Archives Hub, a repository filter is no longer required, making access to our own collections ‘one click quicker’. It is also easy to tell if you are on the Microsite as the new identifier (as evident in the link) is ‘glaas’ see here:
Access back to the Archives Hub main site is also relatively straightforward, by simply hovering the mouse over the ‘Archives Hub: Glasgow University Archive Services’ icon and clicking on the ‘About the Archives Hub’ option which appears in the drop-down menu then clicking on the ‘Search’ section on the left hand side of the page, as pictured:
Although a vast majority of those present at the talk had not yet had the opportunity to use the new microsite to search for material, some of the issues that have arisen when using the main Archives Hub site, of which we are very familiar, were evident:
Keyword searches for material can often be a little ‘hit and miss,’ bringing up items which may not be relevant to a researcher who already knows more precisely what they may be looking for.
Sam demonstrated this clearly, through a search for ‘Victor Webb’- a civil servant and allotmenteer- both on Archives Hub and on the new microsite. In the former (as demonstrated by the image), the relevant ‘Papers of Victor Douglas Eustace Webb (1915-2004)’ appeared four results in. In the latter microsite (as demonstrated), the relevant result was found in the first search, therefore showing an increase in efficiency and identification of collections of relevance- a useful tool which shall render the answering of enquiries to do with specific material much faster. This effect is maximized even more so when taking into consideration that filters such ‘Creator,’ ’Subject’ and ‘Date’ are still applicable.
The new microsite also allows for an advanced search for terms within the Table of Contents of a collection, as demonstrated by Sam, who, as a test of this new feature, searched for the occurrence of the word ‘pigs’ within our collection ‘Papers of Victor Webb’. The results for term searches within the collection are then highlighted in yellow as we can see on the Table of Contents ‘mini map’ on the left-hand side of the page – itself a feature revamped from the Archives Hub site which allowed the full scope of a collection to be ‘visualised’. This newly improved feature increases access to specific collections, which may be relevant to enquirer needs through even more generalised, basic searches. The potential for more efficient finding of material for use in social media campaigns is also endless.
As well as the benefit of searching within specific collections there is also the option to search for terms across our collections through the ‘Advanced Search’ drop-down, with options to either include or exclude certain terms from a search, again providing users with a sharper focus, condensing the number of search results which arise. Indeed, in this way, it is a ‘two’ search system- with the main collection search still featured in prominent place.
As with any complex system, different user expertise and knowledge of how to navigate archive catalogues can also sometimes create barriers. At the talk, we identified some issues that may cause confusion, including the ‘Direct Link’- commonly mistaken at times for a link to a digitised version of the collection. This feature, useful for archive professionals to use when supplying a permanent link to a collection, was one of the issues discussed, the forum concluded that perhaps there is a way to highlight this more clearly on the site?
Another item for discussion was the functionality of links to digital content/materials relating to a collection. When clicking links to digital material (such as the Blackhouse Charters as pictured) it became apparent that the link did not open in a new tab, requiring the user to click back in order to return to the original catalogue page. This was raised as more of a practical issue, something that again could cause confusion, particularly to users not familiar with the site. On a constructive note, it was also a good example of user testing, consolidating the importance of the ASC forum, especially as we move towards implementing EMu as our primary cataloguing platform.
On this positive note, the talk by Sam ended with the final message – time to add the new microsite to our bookmarks!