Are Targeted User-Centred Interfaces the Key to Facilitating the Conversion of the Traditional Non-User to a User of Archives?

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Andrea Johnson

    University College Cork

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Archival digitisation brings limitless opportunities, the
advantages of which are obvious; however in the race to
exploit this new media fundamental user-centred design
principles have been ignored.
Based on body of research undertaken recently in the UK (Sabin
et al.), the Internet is now viewed as a key point of entry to
archival services. This poster examines the issues surrounding
traditional non-user groups and the challenges that the designer
faces when designing an interface to facilitate their needs.
The poster session will afford the opportunity of presenting the
first in a series of prototype user- centred designed interfaces
that aim to actively support the traditional non-user thereby
facilitating the conversion process to that of an archive user. It
will also examine the need for a cohesive national digitisation
strategy that sustains targeted, well designed interfaces.
Based on a MORI poll (2003) nine out of ten adults in the UK
aged fifteen plus are classified as non-archive users. This figure
indicates that there is vast scope to identify and target groups
within the non-user classification with the aim to persuade them
to use an archive service, whether that be locally, nationally or
via the Internet.
The MORI poll found that one in four people stated that making
information available on the Internet was especially important
to them with over a third of respondents stating that they are
most likely to use the Internet to research their family tree
within the next two years.
These figures are promising and suggest that the intellectual
barrier that exists on accessing archive material seems to be
dissipating. This is supported by research undertaken by the
LEADERS project who found that the majority of users in their
survey, 60%, could be categorised as 'personal leisure' users as
opposed to 22% categorised as 'professional or occupational'
users (Sexton et al.).
In response to this shift within the traditional user profile a
small body among the archival profession has begun to address the need for a user-centred approach when developing new
ways to support and develop archival access by online users.
LEADERS is one such project that has examined different types
of users and their requirements in order to develop a set of
open-source tools that can be used by archivists to create online
content (Sexton et al.).
Wendy Duff has called for the establishment of a global
research network of archival user studies. Her work and that
of her colleagues Joan Cherry, Catherine Johnson and Barbara
Craig has focused on the information seeking activities of the
user. She believes that a detailed understanding of the
information seeking behaviour of different types of users is a
pre-requisite to providing the archival services of the future
This growing interest in end-users and how they seek and use
information is a departure from the traditional archivist's
rationale. Wendy Duff offers an explanation as to why end-users
have traditionally been marginalised in the design process. "At
the heart of archival theory is the record, not its secondary use
nor the various types of researchers who visit archives seeking
information" (Duff).
This marginalisation of the user manifests itself in the
inadequate consideration given to them and their specific needs
in many of the digitisation best practise guidelines; the focus
being strongly on technical standards and material issues.
Therefore consideration must now be given to all types of users
in order to encourage the next generation of archive users. The
challenge that remote users bring is the inherent difficulty in
their identification and classification of use, this information
is vital when producing comprehensive user requirements.
Without a detailed understanding of the user and their
requirements, the fulfilment of the later is unlikely.
Amanda Hill acknowledges this in her research on the
characteristics of users of online archival resources.
Users of our online services are just as important as users who
enter our record offices and, if we are to form a clear picture of
the overall use of our services, we need to ensure that there are
processes in place to count those users
In order to engage key groups amongst the traditional non-users
it is essential to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of what
has gone before. With the advent of large scale digitisation
projects it has become possible to undertake summative
evaluations of the user's experience of archival digitisation.
My own research into a digitisation project highlighted the
pressures of a publicly funded scheme and the ensuing problems
of designing for the widest possible audience. As a consequence
the user was insufficiently defined which resulted in a poor
understanding of the user's requirements (Johnson).
The current process for bidding for funds for digitisation
compounds this approach. In order to attract new archive users
and offer previously 'unavailable' access of archival material
to the individual, the user must be placed at the centre of the
design process. One significant influence in this pursuit of
converting the non-user has to be a cohesive digitisation
strategy, with local projects uniting under an agreed national
strategy. This could generate a co-ordinated system where the
user could enter at any point and navigate according to their
individual needs.
The need for a targeted approach is the focus of this poster
presentation, the focus of my own research is targeted user
interfaces supporting all levels of users. These prototype
interfaces encompass all that user-centred design can convey
and aid in actively supporting the user in sharing in the vast
opportunities that archival digitisation affords.
A multi-method research strategy which reflects real life has
been utilised to produce a variety of data that provides a rich
picture of the current problem. A number of groups selected
from the non-user classification have been identified as suitable
subjects for prototype users.
Using both summative evaluations of existing digitisation
projects and analytic analysis of prototypes, the design process
is both iterative and ensures the empirical measurement of
prototype usage.
With an early focus on user requirements and tasks, the
prototype interfaces are to undergo a rigorous testing
programme. Understanding the behaviour of users when seeking
information coupled with the amount and type of information
requires further investigation with consideration given to the
presentation and the interpretation of archive resources.
The interfaces presented at the session will include many
features that the evaluation of current projects have shown to
be lacking or poorly designed. The features include a single
directory to help potential users identify what information may
be useful of interest to them, simple navigation tools, a
comprehensive help system and appropriate information of the
archive resources available to the user both locally, nationally
and via the Internet.
All prototype interfaces conform to ISO Standards 9241 and
13 407 and W3C guidelines.
This poster session marks the beginning of my research with
the prototypes being the first in a series, each placing the user
at the centre of the design process, which I believe is
fundamental in securing new audiences for archive services via
the Internet.
This targeted designed process hopes to overcome the
restrictions that funding can often apply to these areas. More research needs to be undertaken to examine at what point
users stop using archival web resources and for what reason
i.e. information overload, poor navigation etc.
Further research, in addition to what has already been produced
by LEADERS (Sexton et al.), Duff and Hill is required into the
types and categories of records users want to have digitised as
most of the current projects have been driven by funding
"Review is vital" (MORI) therefore in an effort to ensure that
archival digitisation delivers consequential accessibility,
computer science has a key role in providing innovative
solutions that actively sustain and promote the use by traditional
non-user groups thereby encouraging new audiences to access
archival material via this exciting media.
Duff, W. "Understanding the information-seeking behaviour
of archival researchers in a digital age: paths, processes and
preferences." Proceedings of the DLM Forum 2002.
Luxembourg, 2002. Accessed 2005-02-17. <http://euro
Hill, A. "Serving the invisible researcher: meeting the needs
of online users." Journal of the Society of Archivists 25.2
Johnson, A.C. "The Mersey Gateway project: How was it for
you?" A User Centred Evaluation of a Digitisation Project..
Dissertation, University of Lancaster, 2004, 1966.
MORI. Listening to the Past, Speaking to the Future. Annex
D: Non-Archive Users Survey :Omnibus Study. MLA
Publications, 2003. Accessed 2004-11-03. <http://www.>
Sabin, R.W., and L. Samuels. Listening to the Past, Speaking
to the Future. Annex E: Towards a better Understanding of
Non-Users . MLA Publications, 2003. Accessed 2004-11-03.
Sexton, A., C. Turner, G. Yeo, and S. Hockey. "Understanding
Users: a prerequisite for developing new technologies." Journal
of the Society of Archivists 25.1 (2004).

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None