Towards Generous Interfaces for Archival Collections

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vague dissatistfaction Taylor 1962 Rather than an information need Belkin et al 1982. propose an anomalous state of knowledge and observes that in general the user is unable to. specify precisely what is needed to resolve that anomaly Some twenty five years later little. seems to have changed writing on grand challenges for information retrieval Belkin writes that. only considering specified search as the basis for IR models and techniques is clearly inadequate. and inappropriate Belkin 2008, Despite its flaws search has been so effective that other techniques have been largely neglected. at least in practice Browse is often offered as an alternative to search yet browse based. collection interfaces are typically impractical and uninspired By contrast researchers in information. retrieval suggest that browsing is a rich and fundamental human information behaviour Chang. and Rice 1993 More recently researchers have sought to extend or augment standard. paradigms of search Marchionini et al propose exploratory search arguing that while. conventional lookup search is effective for returning precise results to a well specified query. modern searchers are engaged in more complex open ended tasks learning investigating. analysing and synthesising information Marchionini argues that search interfaces should therefore. be more dynamic and interactive enabling users to explore by selecting facets or browsing. rather than requiring a specified query Marchionini 2006 writes that better tools to support. exploratory searching are needed and the same is largely true today Faceted search is one. exploratory technique that has been widely adopted in digital collection interfaces however while. this is a significant improvement on pure search facets are generally provided only after a. traditional query Search remains the only way in to these collections. One limitation in theoretical models of search and information retrieval is the highly constrained. functionalist philosophy that they reflect The task based paradigm embedded in information. retrieval is increasingly out of step with our ever more ubiquitous casual and everyday. experiences of information systems Happily alternative models are emerging Marian D rk s. Information Flaneur models a contemporary information seeker on the urban flaneur of 1840s. Following the aneur s attitude toward the city the information aneur sees beauty and meaning in. growing information spaces By envisioning the information aneur as a curious creative and critical. persona we promote a shift from negative concepts such as needs and problems towards positive. information experiences D rk Carpendale and Williamson 2011. D rk shows that the Information Flaneur is already with us in the diversity of our current. information experiences including exploratory browsing leisurely curiosity aesthetic pleasure and. serendipity He sets out useful principles for the design of information seeking interfaces that can. fluidly accommodate both high level exploration of large information spaces and immersion in their. Generous Interfaces, In the context of this work on the limitations of search and the need for richer more exploratory. modes of information seeking this paper proposes a single principle or ethos that can provide a. critical perspective on current and future collection interfaces That ethos is generosity. Generosity is normally thought of as a human attribute a quality of interpersonal interactions The. argument here rests on the assertion that the same qualities can apply to our digital interactions. with cultural collections The qualities of generosity I am interested in here are to be liberal in. giving or sharing also to be large abundant ample Both of these qualities seem well aligned. with the aims and missions of cultural collections Our digital collections are certainly large. abundant and ample and the charters of our cultural institutions place a high value on sharing. these riches liberally with the public Generosity seems to be very much in line with the aims of our. cultural collections, Our digital collections already embody the second sense of generosity large abundant ample. However collection interfaces often fail to be generous in the second sense to be liberal in giving. or sharing In considering what generosity means in the context of collection interfaces and. through analysing features of existing interfaces and some experimental prototypes the aim of this. paper is to provide a critical framework for analysing collection interfaces and set out a vision for. the next generation of digital collection interfaces. Current collection interfaces are dominated by search A cursory survey of the collection interfaces. of the national Archives of Australia New Zealand the United Kingdom and the United States. shows that the search box is universally prominent Generosity here provides an additional. perspective to the critiques of search already discussed it allows us to consider the interface as. the site of a crucial relationship between visitor and collection Viewed in this way search alone is. I would argue an ungenerous interface Search is ungenerous or inhospitable in that it demands. the user make the first move and enter a query Rather than offer information about the collection. the search box conceals or withholds it Thus search favours expert users for those who. understand a collection s contents and can query it effectively It is most ungenerous ironically to. those most in need of generosity visitors unfamiliar with a collection. Imagine the analogous situation at a museum or gallery The visitor enters the building whose. collection she hasn t encountered before Instead of expansive exhibition halls however she finds. a small drab lobby with an attendant at a desk The attendant asks the visitor to write her query on. a small slip of paper The visitor invents a query and the attendant disappears for a moment before. returning with a line of artworks on trolleys which are paraded ten at a time through the lobby. While search alone may be ungenerous the principle of generosity can be applied as a continuum. rather than a hard criterion Contemporary collection interfaces begin to show how we can be more. generous Faceted search results a hallmark of Marchionini s exploratory search provide an. excellent example Facets make search more generous by offering rich information and developing. a sense of context The UK National Archives provides results faceted by subject date collection. and catalogue level so after entering a search we immediately learn more about the collection s. structure and contents Unfortunately again these facets become available only after searching. so we can explore within the returned subset of records but not beyond them. Current interfaces also make some use of selection based or browse techniques Many archival. collections offer something like the US Archives Topics page a categorised list of subject. headings leading to relevant resources and collection subsets The UK Archives provides a similar. Categories page with a selection of online resources Such approaches are potentially more. generous again than faceted search they convey the scope and diversity of a collection and often. present evocative previews or samples of collection contents Yet as currently implemented they. also have significant limitations In the case of the UK National archives collection the trail of. exploration often ends abruptly at a search box specific collection subsets such as the Seamens. Wills demand a search in order to examine individual records Another major limitation is that they. are often partial representations of a collection perhaps selected or curated highlights or. exhibitions or the most popular holdings In their current form these devices play a valuable and. generous role in offering engaging content to a wide audience but they are not comprehensive. interfaces to digital collections This need not be the case for example the Art Gallery of New. South Wales provides a hierarchy of collection categories that covers the entire collection Like. facets these categories show their relative size such that we can immediately see for example. the relative distribution of Australian paintings drawing and photographs As well as quantity these. categories show samples of the collection content the combination of evocative sample and. structural and quantitative information effectively orients the curious browser within the collection. we can continue exploring all the way down to individual item level. Experiments in Generous Interfaces, Current practice in archival collections shows that while search remains dominant glimmers of. generosity are evident What would a truly and deliberately generous collection interface look. like Is such a thing even possible There are a number of examples within the cultural collections. sector that strongly suggest a turn towards more generous interfaces for example Discovering. Mildenhall s Canberra a collaboration between the National Archives of Australia and the Museum. of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House presents an immersive exploratory view of. some 7700 historic photographs The National Library of Australia s Australian Womens Weekly. project is a similarly rich browsable interface and the Irish in Australia Wall from the National. Museum of Australia shows how multiple collections can be combined into a generous mosaic of. intriguing connections and contexts Figure 1, Figure 1 The Irish In Australia History Wall National Museum of Australia developed by Tim.
Drawing on this work as well as our own prior work in visualising digital collections see for. example Whitelaw 2009 Hinton and Whitelaw 2010 my colleagues and I have been testing the. limits of generous collection interfaces in the web browser This work is informed by the principles. and approaches of data visualisation in particular Schneiderman s influential Visual Information. Seeking approach 1996 Schneiderman s mantra overview first zoom and filter details on. demand is a powerful recipe for generous interfaces These prototypes demonstrate the feasibility. of creating rich explorable interfaces to large collections and also illustrate some characteristic. problems strategies and challenges in the creation of such interfaces. The Prints and Printmaking Collection of the National Gallery of Australia contains records of some. 40 000 works by more than 4 000 artists We have developed several different parallel interfaces. to this collection with the aim of revealing different aspects of the collection structure through. multiple views, The All Artists interface sets out to provide a rich overview of the collection focusing on the. creators printers publishers and artists involved The interface shows each artist as a small. rectangular tile a compact display that includes name birth and activity dates gender and number. of works in the collection Visualisation techniques are used to represent gender and number of. works gender is represented in a colour coded left hand border while number of works is reflected. in the width of the tile Thus on scanning a page of these tiles we can immediately see the. distribution of males and females as well as companies classified in this dataset as a gender. Similarly the distribution of works within the collection is clear we can see that most artsts. contribute only a small number of works while a few artists contribute many works this long tail. pattern is evident in the texture of the display, Figure 2 All Artists interface prototype for the Prints and Printmaking Collection of the National. Gallery of Australia, While it s possible to browse all 4 000 artists using this interface a panel of facets or filters enables. us to limit the display according to role work count and gender so for example we may focus on. female artists or female printers or only female printmakers with more than ten works in the. collection In this way the scope can be quickly narrowed from several thousand to ten or a. hundred records These facets also show distribution and relationships within the collection. selecting one facet updates the others dynamically showing for example the different distributions. of male and female artists for different roles, Finally we can also explore and investigate these artists in greater depth within the same display. Selecting an artist opens an inset display showing their works as well as additional data such as. collaborators We can open multiple artists and compare their works when the display is sorted. chronologically this enables us to explore the work of contemporaries or observe stylistic changes. and distinctive period aesthetics Works are displayed in situ that is maintaining the global. context of the artists display Like the infinite scroll technique described earlier this removes a. potential obstacle to exploration allowing the user to browse the collection without opening a new. page and adjusting to a new context By maintaining the user s exploratory context this in situ. display also enriches it the works enrich our understanding of the collection even as the collection. provides a context that frames our encounter with the works. A second interface to the Prints and Printmaking collection focuses on works rather than artists. The Decade Browser presents an overview of the collection organised by decade with a horizontal. bar graph showing the relative number of works in each The graph is segmented in turn into. Towards Generous Interfaces for Archival Collections Mitchell Whitelaw Faculty of Arts and Design University of Canberra mitchell whitelaw canberra edu au Abstract This paper considers the challenges and opportunities of access to digital archival collections After the era of digitisation collecting institutions hold vast digital treasure troves But the techniques we use to access these

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