It’s not about you! Designing for your end users.

by Kathy Bryce Wednesday, October 21, 2015 4:54 PM

When we are working with clients to design new search interfaces, we always stress the importance of defining who will be using the system, and then trying to meet the specific needs and expectations of these end users.

It’s Not About You
We often have to remind clients that “It’s not about you!” Archivists and librarians in particular often ask us for search pages with lots of options as they personally are used to constructing complex queries. However the trend with most search interfaces is to keep these simple with a single Google style search box. 

We suggest that you think about other websites your end users search, whether that be a university or public library catalog, or Amazon or other shopping sites.  Nearly all of these now use a discovery style interface that is geared to letting users put words or terms into a search box, and then narrowing their searches down from the search results page through facets or filters.

Like most other search interfaces, we do usually include some Advanced Search options but the website usage statistics we’ve collected for our hosted client sites over the years indicate that most are rarely accessed.  Pre-selecting search limiters removes the possibility of serendipitous discovery of unexpected resources, and the expectation now is that the results will be displayed by relevance so that the closest matches appear first.  We therefore discourage clients from specifying a traditional title sort, as if the user is looking for a known item and searches on words in the title, it will appear at or near the top of a relevance ranked display.

Use Cases and Personas
One of the ways we suggest you try to relate to your end user needs is through the creation of personas or user profiles.   For each of these personas we then suggest you think about factors that might impact their searching behaviour.   First and foremost - what are they looking for and why?  What will they want to do next when they’ve found something of interest?   So for a publicly accessible archives site, you might create personas for the following types of users.

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Carol is looking for pictures of her grandparents and the house where they lived

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Lucy wants a picture of an old farm implement for a school project

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George is compiling a history of a local church.

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John works at City Hall & wants to find maps or plans of an area slated for redevelopment.

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Kevin is interested in a local railway line that runs through the area.

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Daphne is writing her thesis on a local political movement.

Make the process a fun exercise by incorporating graphical representations using images from a stock photo site such as billionphotos.com– search for avatar to find these examples, or contact us to help you. We find images make it easier to visualize how a person might behave, rather than just assigning an abstract name. The usability.govwebsite has an excellent overview article.

Avoid Jargon and Acronyms
You will also need to consider your personas familiarity with the subject area. Again “It’s not about you”, unless you are designing for a very limited audience, jargon and acronyms should be avoided.  Most government websites have guidelines on writing in “plain language” to convey information easily and unambiguously.  However we still see archival sites that include references to the GMD or to the General Material Designation.  Think about walking up to someone in the street and asking them if they understand what this term means! 

Spelling Matters
Spelling is a huge issue.  Too many times we’ve looked through search logs and seen searches that result in zero hits as the search terms were spelt incorrectly.  Think for example about medical terms and how to cater to the public that might be looking for Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Lots of potential to spell this wrong, but worse, you might have indexed relevant items under the medical term of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or the abbreviation ALS or A.L.S.!   Many modern search interfaces now feature Did You Mean spell checking, but maybe you also need to seed the indexes with lists of synonyms or common misspellings of proper names found in the collection. 

It’s all too easy to make assumptions about your end users abilities and their knowledge of web searching techniques. Let us guide you through the process of designing your new search interface based on our knowledge of best practices. We’ll try to tactfully remind you that “it’s not about you”! Contact us to discuss the possibilities today.

Collections of the United Farmers Historical Society now online

by Kathy Bryce Friday, April 11, 2014 7:25 PM

The history of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) is fascinating. I suspect not too many people are aware that from 1921 to 1935 UFA was a political party, and actually formed the provincial government of Alberta.   From its formation in1909 as a lobby for farmers’ interests, UFA has grown from a small-scale local co-operative into an extensive retail operation with 120,000 active owners. UFA businesses include agriculture, petroleum, construction and outdoor adventure.  The need to provide better access to the wealth of historical information was recognized by UFA, and we are delighted that we have been able to work with them to create this new website at http://archives.ufa.com  to showcase their collections.

Andornot has worked with UFA for over 5 years, including converting various databases and spreadsheets to our Archives Starter Kit, and creating a runtime version of DB/TextWorks with selected records for the UFA 101 Years of History virtual exhibit that toured Alberta in 2010. The United Farmers Historical Society (UFHS) was started as a board within UFA in 2001 and was incorporated as a non-profit in 2002. Last year UFHS approved funding to create a searchable web interface to the archival descriptions database. However, while sitting in the UFA reception area waiting to meet to discuss the project, I started flicking through the beautiful coffee table book prepared for the centennial, “Deep Roots, Promising Future”. I asked about the availability of this book now that the centennial celebrations were over and whether they had a digital version available, as it looked like the copyright was owned by UFA. I explained that Andornot could provide a search capability for the text of this book and for any other publications they might want to digitize, to provide a much richer experience. This was met with excitement and it was agreed to totally revamp the scope of the project and try to capture a much broader range of information and documents surrounding the history of UFA.

Our key consideration for the design of the search interface was that it should be geared imagefirstly to UFA members and staff, and secondly to researchers and students. We know that UFA members especially will likely never have used an archives, and will be unfamiliar with archival terminology. We anticipate that their main interest will be related to specific farm stores and especially the people who ran them. Previous archivists had concentrated on describing the 40 or so fonds within the collection so these records are of course included, along with file and item level records detailing store openings and events. Only a relatively small subset of the UFA photo collection has been digitized so far, and continuing this process will be a focus for ongoing updates. Thumbnails are shown on the results screen or for a file box icon is used to indicate that only textual, non-digitized materials are available.

We were able to take the Adobe InDesign files for the “Deep Roots, Promising Future” book and imagecreate separate PDF’s for each chapter as these each covered a specific period in the history of UFA. After discussions with local digitization vendors, UFA contracted with the Internet Archive to digitize back issues of the “U.F.A. Co-operator” and the “United Farmer” magazines. Working with the University of Toronto IA office was a very cost effective and positive experience, and they will be digitizing additional publications for inclusion on the UFHS site over the summer. If any of these publications are retrieved by a search, the image of the page is displayed thus giving the site more visual interest, and a snippet shows the search words in context.

imageAll digitized publications can be read online and search terms are highlighted on the page. Users can scroll through page by page or see all the pages as thumbnails.clip_image006

An exciting benefit of utilizing the Internet Archive for the digitization process was the ability to add links to download the entire magazine issue in PDF, E-Book or Kindle format.

The UFA site design was created with the Twitter Bootstrap framework and Sesamo theme and is responsive, meaning the site will display nicely on large screen monitors, tablets and smart phones. The search interface is built with the Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI). AnDI is an ASP.NET MVC web application that leverages the open-source Apache Solr search engine. Solr is fast, can handle very large data sets, and has excellent and highly configurable search algorithms and relevancy rankings.  AnDI adheres to the Smithsonian schema based on the Dublin Core Metadata standard, with imported data mapped to fields in this element set. This enables the creation of facets to narrow searches down by collection, format, subject etc. Dates are searchable by decade.

This has been a delightful project for us, as we have thoroughly enjoyed working with UFA staff, who have been receptive to changes in scope as new opportunities for enhancing the site were identified. We have also come across some hilarious articles and comics and learnt about the history of Alberta along the way. We look forward to continuing to work with UFA as new content is identified for inclusion in the search interface.

“I would like to thank Kathy and Peter for their work in making our archives’ online search interface take shape over the last few months. UFHS had completed over a decade of work in arranging and describing our records, but access to this data was limited to the archivist’s computer. Our archives site now allows UFHS to provide access to materials from the UFA’s long history to our co-operative’s staff and members, as well as sharing our story with the general public. Our initial testing around the office has generated a lot of interest from different business groups in the potential for using our archival materials in marketing and presentations.

Kathy and Peter have been accommodating and helpful with our specific requirements in simplifying archival terminology and usability for novice researchers, while maintaining features that more advanced users would want to see.  They have also been a tremendous value in helping me problem-solve and prioritize my work in cleaning up data and digitization. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Andornot on this project.” [Sven Andreassen, UFHS Archivist]

This project and our recent work for the Ontario Jewish Archives demonstrate the possibilities of a utilizing a single interface to search multiple disparate data sources with our Andornot Discovery Interface. Please contact us if you are interested in discussing possibilities.

New website for the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre

by Kathy Bryce Tuesday, March 25, 2014 11:36 AM

The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) has recently launched a new website which includes two exciting new features.  Andornot has been working with OJA staff for the past seven months to build a sophisticated search interface to their archival records, and to create an interactive mapping of Jewish Landmarks of Ontario.

A wealth of content related to Jewish history in the province of Ontario is federated and now searchable from a single search box. Much of this is publicly available for the first time and includes:image

  • close to 25,000 archival descriptions
  • selected archival accessions
  • oral histories and interviews
  • historical landmarks
  • Toronto Jewish city directories
  • ship passenger manifests
  • website and online exhibits
  • images, audio, video, digitized text

The OJA came into the project with a specific vision for their site as well as a set of requirements for searching, sorting and displaying results. Results from all data sources are intermingled and facets may be selected to narrow the results by data source, the collection and description level for descriptive records, format, decade, subject, name, and place. Results can also be limited to records with images or video or other types of digital content.

Some of the neat features include:image

  • The provenance is indicated with a hierarchical tree to show the context in which descriptive records were created.
  • For website content pages, the search term is highlighted in a snippet on the results page to show context.
  • Add to a List option allows users to print selected records, or create a PDF, or email their search results.
  • Clicking on an image automatically displays an overlay with dynamically generated and watermarked larger version.

A really helpful feature when dealing with proper names and places is the Did you mean or spell checking functionality. clip_image006 So a search for Eglington will bring up a message suggesting Eglinton instead.  Even if users know the right spelling, this is great for catching typos.

The Jewish Landmarks of Ontario currently includes points of interest in the Kensington Market/Spadina area of Toronto, but will be expanding to include neighbourhoods, towns and cities from around the province.  imageThese historical buildings and sites are pinpointed on an interactive map using data in the Landmarks database, and are accompanied by photos, documents, and audiovisual material pulled from the other databases.

The website was designed by Emerson Media and is hosted on the OJA servers.  The search interface is hosted by Andornot and incorporates the same templating and styles for a seamless transition.  Updated records and images are synchronized nightly based on certain criteria, allowing OJA to choose when a record is ready for publication on the website.

OJA has used Inmagic DB/TextWorks software along with the Andornot Archives Starter Kit for many years to manage their accessions and descriptive records.  Their oral histories database was expanded for this project and we worked with the OJA to create a new, linked Landmarks database.

The search interface is built with the Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI). AnDI is an ASP.NET MVC web application that leverages the open-source Apache Solr search engine. Solr is fast, can handle very large data sets, and has excellent and highly configurable search algorithms and relevancy rankings.  AnDI adheres to the Dublin Core Metadata standard, with imported data mapped to fields in the Dublin Core element set. This permits multiple data sources, each with different schema, to be indexed, searched and presented in a single discovery interface.   Some modifications were made to the existing OJA databases to better utilize the search features in AnDI but apart from this, staff have been able to continue their regular routines without needing to learn any new software.

The landmarks map makes use of LeafletJs, an open-source javascript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps, and the Google Maps API. AnDI's responsive and mobile-friendly UI was built with the Zurb Foundation CSS framework.

As illustrated by this project, AnDI can be applied to search multiple disparate data sources, thus providing a user friendly interface whilst allowing the archives to maintain their archivist-oriented internal systems and workflow.

We are delighted with the new site, and the feedback we have received from OJA staff has been incredibly positive:

“I would like to extend our thanks to all of you for your hard work over the last year in helping make our new site a reality. This has been a monumental undertaking for our tiny staff of three. I think the site accomplishes what we first set out to do – engage users with different interests and skill sets and expose the richness of the records that we have been entrusted to safeguard on behalf of the Jewish community of Ontario.

Your professionalism, skills and problem-solving abilities have been of tremendous value to us and we are grateful for the time that you have spent trouble-shooting to make sure that everything works at its best. It has been a pleasure working with you.“ [Donna Bernardo-Ceriz, Assistant Archivist]

Elgin County Archives Launches New Archival Search Interface

by Jonathan Jacobsen Wednesday, March 12, 2014 11:31 AM

The Elgin County Archives, in St. Thomas, Ontario, has been using Inmagic DB/TextWorks for many years to manage its collections.

Recently the DB/TextWorks databases and interface were upgraded with the Andornot Archives Starter Kit, to provide a RAD-compliant structure and easy-to-use search screens and forms.

This month the web interface was also upgraded. The new interface uses a similar layout and design as the main Elgin County website, for a seamless transition for users. Both sites use a responsive framework, so they are as accessible on mobile devices as in desktop browsers.

View the new interface at http://inmagic.elgin-county.on.ca/ask/

The searchable database contains over 120,000 records, with high resolution photos available for almost half the records.

Popular topics include:

(The above are canned queries created with the Andornot Search Cannery Wizard; click the links to view results).

Contact us to upgrade your archival collections to a modern interface.

Galt Museum and Archives Artifacts Collection Now Searchable Online

by Jonathan Jacobsen Wednesday, January 22, 2014 8:13 AM

The Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge, Alberta, uses Inmagic DB/TextWorks, WebPublisher PRO and the Andornot Starter Kit to manage its archival, museum and library collections. The archival and library collections have been searchable through the Galt website for sometime, and recently, the museum artifacts collection was added as well.

The latest addition, the artifacts collection, contains records for over 12,000 items collected over the past 50 years, reflecting the culture and history of Lethbridge and southwestern Alberta. Photographs are available online for about 10% of the collection right now, but more are being added all the time.

Collections Technician Kevin MacLean and his small team of assistants, interns and volunteers take care to go beyond the physical acquisition of an artifact: they also collect the stories of the people it belonged to and its significance to them. Now, these artifacts and related stories are accessible beyond the walls of the museum, a goal the Galt staff have finally realized with this project.

The three search sites share a common look and feel, with colour-coding to match sections of the website.

Canned queries guide users to popular topics, while quick and advanced search screens, with browsable indexes, allow them to find relevant results.

Search results are displayed in a functional, easy to view layout with simple navigation through records and back to search pages.

A selection list allows users to save records as they browse, then email, save or print the list, as well as request more information on the items from Galt staff.

On the server, each time an image is requested for display in search results, the Andornot Image Handler dynamically generates a thumbnail or enlargement, on-the-fly, from the master image. This saves time over manually creating each needed size.

Contact us for help making your artifact collection searchable using the Andornot Starter Kit for Inmagic software, or other search systems.

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