Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.

Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks

Expert searchers know that one of the best strategies for getting precise search results quickly and effectively is to use metadata when constructing searches.

Many have dedicated countless hours learning the search fields, subject headings, search syntax and interface functionality of numerous databases in order to efficiently satisfy information requests. But in today's world, user expectations are higher than ever. Not only do they expect precise results quickly, they expect to be able to do it themselves without having to become expert searchers. Learning the advanced functionality of various interfaces or Library of Congress Subject Headings is not on their agenda.

Thus, the challenge for designers of information products is to expose those capabilities in a way that puts precise results within easy grasp of any user. The integrated browse/search design of the Readex Archive of Americana collections is an example of how to approach this challenge, and based on customer and user feedback, it appears to be a success. The following are the core principles behind the design:

Principle #1: Just because it's powerful and sophisticated doesn't mean it's advanced; presentation makes all the difference.
In most databases, field searching is relegated to the advanced search portion of the interface. Even when it isn't, users are generally expected to know what the fields represent, what values might be useful as search terms (e.g., Library of Congress Subject Headings), how to combine fields with other fields or full-text search terms, etc.

Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks

The Power of Suggestion: Two Search Tips

Pronunciation: s&g-'jes-ch&n, s&-'jes-, -'jesh-
Function: noun...
2 a : the process by which a physical or mental state is influenced by a thought or idea suggestion> b : the process by which one thought leads to another especially through association of ideas
(Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

The power of suggestion—that's really what the BROWSE feature found in most Archive of Americana collections is all about.

Sometimes researchers have a specific destination in mind when they approach an online resource, but more often than not, the journey begins with a somewhat vague idea lacking specifics. BROWSE is a powerful tool that allows researchers to begin with a general idea and then to select additional terms to narrow the search, or to move in a slightly different direction. In a sense, BROWSE helps the researcher by providing "suggestions" as to how he or she might proceed.

TIP 1: While genre, subject and author are frequently used BROWSE categories, other categories should not be overlooked.

The Power of Suggestion: Two Search Tips

User-Centered Design for Digital Collections

The ultimate point of sharing collections online is to deliver information that people need. Curators and librarians have buildings full of information and thousands of users seeking it, but too often neglect a fundamental way to bring the two together. By putting users first when digital collections are envisaged and created, benefits to audiences and institutions can be increased.

"User-centered design" (UCD) is an approach that industrial engineers and commercial enterprises have employed for decades. After all, a business that fails to understand what its customers want is a business likely to fail altogether. UCD therefore sprung up as a discipline that integrates the needs and wants of users into every stage of the design process. For digital librarians, this means talking to audiences before, during, and after an online collection is built. We don't need M.B.A.s to do this successfully—just a willingness to share some of our professional authority with our users.

The first step is to precisely define the intended audience for a new digital collection. Do you want to reach history majors on your own college campus, genealogists with Irish ancestors, school teachers across your entire state, advanced scholars within a specific discipline? Identify who they are, where they are located and where they turn for information.

For example, when the Wisconsin Historical Society wanted to reach K-12 teachers who are re quired to cover state history, we obtained a database of mailing addresses from government education officials. Teachers also consistently told us that their school librarian was the person whose advice they most trusted about new Web resources, so we obtained members' email addresses from the state's school library association.

The next step was to find out what they needed and draw them into the process of selecting and presenting materials.

User-Centered Design for Digital Collections

Welcome to The Readex Report

This online publication explores diverse aspects of digital historical collections and provides insight into web-based resources, including the Archive of Americana and Archive of International Studies.

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