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Susa 2.0: Max Evans’ Finding Aid Prototype

Susa Young GatesAs 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!

Posted in EAD, interface design, SAA2008, software


  1. Dharma

    Hi there,

    I attended your session in August and really enjoyed it, esp. the invovis talk. I think it’s wonderful that people are thinking about how to retool the finding aid. I was just recently the project manager and archivist on a digitization project at the University of Michigan. Most of our efforts were put to copyright issues, but we also designed a different type of view for finding aid data. Shhhh, we don’t even call it a finding aid.
    There are a lot of resources that still need to be digitized and put in the collection, which is why this is beta. Anyway, just wanted to share.

  2. Barbara Aikens

    It seems that many of us are beginning to think this way! For the last 2 years, we’ve been repurposing our EAD finding aids to serve as the metadata AND the primary online navigational tool for fully digitized collections. We recently did a major overhaul of the online presentation of the rest of our EAD finding aids as well. I just posted this to the EAD listserv this week and have received a lot of very positive feedback. We have more changes in the works as well, where users will be able to link to selected digital images from the front page of the finding aid, rather than drilling down to a link embedded within. (This is for finding aids for collections that we have not fully digitized, which, of course is the majority!) We’re trying to bring the two interfaces (Collections Online and the EAD findign aids) closer in both look and functionality.

    What is also exciting about our project is how we’ve managed to integrate large scale digitization into the archival workflow of processing and description.

    Max gave us some valuable and much appreciated feedback on the Collections Online interface last year.

    There is an old comment on this blog from 2006 when we first started the project and presented at SAA, and the user was somewhat confused because she ran across an old version of digitized microfilm. The Collections Online site is much more polished and fully functional now – take a look. We now have digitized 65 collections and welcome all feedback!

    Check it out at

    and to see collections digitized in their entirety, see

    Barbara Aikens
    Chief of Collections Processing
    Archives of American Art
    Smithsonian Institution

  3. Lea Osborne

    Have you done any assessment with users concerning this finding aid? I’m at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University and we were shocked by some of the responses of our focus groups when we showed them our new EAD finding aids. What we had imagined to be of utmost importance was not and vice-versa. We incorporated many changes in our first roll-out and will continue to do so in the second phase.

    Lea Osborne
    Processing Archivist
    Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

  4. Pingback:Usable finding aid web interfaces « Touchable Archives

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