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:
- 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:
- 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. 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. These 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.
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]