Collection Online: Opening the Floodgates

Today, we are going from 12,598 records to more than 94,000 in our collection online and this increase represents a substantial change in the way we are releasing information on the web.

With the launch of the collection online in July 2008, we began with a policy to release only records that had been properly vetted.  The curatorial staff felt that the data released needed to be both accurate and best reflective of the various collections, so in our original spec we created a multi-layered approval process to publish an object.  The vetting process would start in curatorial, allowing them to vet certain parts or an entire record, then the final release would come from our collections staff after an additional once over.  Even though the vetting process worked very well, we were finding that it was taking an awfully long time to publish objects to the web.  For instance, in July 2008 we started with 5168 objects, but eighteen months later we had only grown to 12,598.  While that represents a substantial amount of good data going online, behind the scenes we were seeing long queues of objects ready to release, but hung up somewhere along the way for little bits of final approvals.  In the end, keeping up with the demand of approving records was causing us a great deal of work and getting information out the door was problematic, so we’ve changed course.

At this point, records get published by default and information is added or corrected as we go.  While there are still tons of records that are restricted for various reasons, what we are seeing at this point is much more representative of our holdings. Of course, the release of more records means we had to rethink some aspects of the user experience, so I’m going to run through some of these changes now.

Record Completeness Meter:

One of the most important changes is the visual meter that indicates the completeness of the record.  We want to give our users a very visual way to understand where a record may stand in terms of the overall picture of our data.  As you move your pointer over the meter, the ratings are explained in a tool tip.


Release of Study Images:

Given that we have a lot more records going online, one thing we are lacking are photographs for many of them.  Often our curatorial staff will take study shots with point and shoot cameras just to have something on file for reference.  Internally, we find these shots very helpful and figure that our web visitors may feel the same, so many of these images are being to be released with an explanation regarding the quality.


Comments Overhaul:

We’ve had comments enabled on our object records since the beginning and have received an entire range of responses.  One of the things we noticed is many of the same questions pop up over and over again, so we’ve overhauled the comments area to include a FAQ.  We are hoping this will cut down on some of the more routine questions by putting the information right where people are asking for answers.  Here’s a great example showing why we enable comments on collection objects—you just never know what will come by allowing this kind participation, but we hope the added FAQ will provide better communication all-around.

Browsing, Searching, Sorting:

When browsing, quality records are being pushed to the top of the pile.  When searching, we default to showing relevant records, but users can re-sort the results on demand by relevant or complete.