As part of his portion of our SAA 2008 panel in San Francisco, Max Evans demonstrated his prototype for a new way to view an EAD finding aid. You can download his presentation from the SAA’s site: Finding Aids for the 21st Century: The Next Evolution.
Max’s prototype of Susa 2.0 is now online! He asked that I make sure you know it works best (showing all the intended mouse over text for links) with Internet Explorer version 6.0. The prototype presents the finding aid of the Susa Young Gates Papers from the Utah State Historical Society. His design tackles the major issues that plague large finding aids normally displayed in traditional single page layouts. Anyone who has looked at a large finding aid online has had the experience of being scrolled down somewhere in the middle and realizing they have no idea what they are looking at. What folder is this item in? What box is this folder in? Am I reading through a list of letters from 1950 or are these the ones from 1970?
Context is hard to communicate when you are dealing with long lists of folders that stretch longer than the length of the screen. Max’s design uses a three column approach to provide context from left to right. His design also gives users a way to look at the full list of either items or folders, independent of their originating containers – each list then sortable in three different ways: ‘as arranged’, alphabetically or by date. I love this page which shows how a scanned document might be displayed within the proper context of the collection – in this case, page 2 of document 1 of the General Correspondence from 1886-1909. All of these ideas get at the heart of giving researchers more control over how to tackle the records in a collection while making sure that they don’t loose the tools that ordered documents in a folder would provide them in the research room.
His prototype takes a step beyond just changing how the finding aid itself is presented – but also considers how the work flow of a researcher can be improved while also simplifying the record request processes. The prototype gives the patron the option to request the scanning of specific folders or items. They can also add records to their ‘research cart’ to either request the proper boxes be retrieved or to store the records in a personal research area within the archives website – both possibilities sound useful to me.
Max’s prototype is such a great example of rethinking how people are expected to work with archival records within the confines of the information we already have available in finding aids as they exist today. I highly recommend you give Susa 2.0 a look. It is a testament to Max’s incredible patience that he was able to create this prototype using over 200 separate HTML files – but it also sets the bar high for what we could be doing with our interface design!