Archive for December, 2006

Responding to users

December 15, 2006

My one-on-one focus groups were very productive. I chose this format to begin site evaluations because it is a handy way to assess user needs and was helpful in giving me a clearer picture of the types of tasks that users would bring to the website. I divided my results into three groups, suggestions, observations (that I made during the session), and bugs.


Citations – All of the users suggested that we provide some sort of citation or citation help. Suggestions included a citation on each item page, or a link to a “how to” guide on citing online resources.

I added this feature as soon as testing concluded. It is a dynamic citation created by pulling information from the descriptive metadata. We are using Chicago Style as our default citation style. It would probably be fairly easy to allow people to select a preferred citation (out three or so) and dynamically deliver the requested format, perhaps as a future feature.

Download/Save records – All of the users also wanted a way to print and save pages/items. Several people suggested that it would be nice to have the ability choose to print/save a single page, or the entire item, with citation information included.

I knew this was a feature that we wanted to add, but was unsure how people would want to download items and pages, so this feedback was pretty helpful in clarifying that. I’m still working out the format the items will be downloaded in (maybe PDF) and how the options will look in the interface.

Browse by people – Two users suggested that it would be useful to have someway of finding out who the people listed in the subject headings are. We don’t currently have this information. The names are from LCSH authority records, and I don’t know that we have the staff to create a solution to this, but it is an interesting idea that I would like to keep in mind, in case I can come up with a creative solution.

Full text – Users asked about full text searching and were disappointed when they were told we do not currently search full text. Users also expressed a desire for full text to help with reading some of the handwritten materials.

This is something we are currently working on. We are doing dirty OCR and using it for searching. The handwritten material is more difficult because we will need someone to transcribe them.

Search/browse results – Two users suggested that search and browse results should be returned by date and also add an limit by document type to search and search results. One user also requested adding checkboxes to the search results so that users could save and download selected results sets.

I’m holding off on these until I investigate Lucene, and have some idea how long it will take me to get it integrated with eXist. I don’t want to invest a lot of time into code that will be subsequently abandoned, but they are high on my list of improvements.

Faceted browsing – One user suggested taking the browsing options that I have provided a step further and provide some sort of faceted browsing.

I would like to investigate this idea, because I think it would not be too hard to do, and could be very useful. I also had several comments about how users would like to be able to “poke around” to find materials, for non-research projects and faceted browsing might be a step towards this kind of browsing.


All but one of the users used the browse boxes on the homepage, collection pages, and item level pages. However, some of the collections have pretty limited metadata making browsing difficult. When faced with these collections, most users ended up either searching or, if the collection was very big, scrolling through the list of items. I think the collection level pages would benefit from more metadata, either more data in the record, or aggregated metadata from the items in the collection. (I’m a little hesitant about aggregating the metadata every time someone calls the collection page, seems like this would be unnecessary and would slow things down the page.)

Also it might be useful to make the browsing options more prominent (provided we can commit to the necessary metadata to make this feasible). I’m also wondering if providing the results on the first page of the collection is too much information. Currently the page includes an introduction to the collection, browsing/searching options and then lists the items in the collection, with titles, authors, and descriptions (and thumbnails if available). I may try just having an introductory page that users have to click through, using either a search or a browse option to get to the items in the collection. I’m torn because it adds another click, but it might make the page more approachable.

In addition one of the users found it confusing that the search results returned both collection and item level pages. Although the results specify document type this distinction was not clear to the user. I think one way of handling this would be to allow users to limit the results by type, collection, image, text etc. I like the way this project uses tabs to accomplish this.


  • Search results display smooshed together terms. This was a xsl stylesheet issue is already fixed.
  • Search within this collection was broken (fixed after the first session).
  • Searches do not pay attention to stop words. Something is wrong with my set up in eXist, I haven’t solved this one yet.
  • If you put a # in keyword search, like a date, you will get no results (I think this is because of typing)

Next steps

Once these adjustments and additions are made I’ll be ready to do some more formal user testing including task based tests, and heuristic reviews of the site.

In the works

December 11, 2006

I haven’t done a progress report in a while, so here goes:

User testing
I finished up step one of usability testing this morning (actually I have one more user, but she had to postpone because she is sick). For step one my goal was to get an evaluation of the site and the site functionality. The sessions were arranged as one-on-one interviews, structured around a research question. The research question served as a way to frame the discussion and to make sure all the functions of the site were explored. There are some obvious trends emerging and I expect the later half of this week and early next week to be taken up by making changes to the interface in response to the tests.

Developing additional XForms

I’m currently working on a METS XForm, and will probably start working on a MODS form as well. I need to have at least a rudimentary MODS XForm in place before I can make the switch from Dublin Core to MODS.

I have successfully used xf:bind to calculate all the values in the mets:file from two data entry fields. This was a bit difficult for me because the mets:file element is a in an xf:repeat, and I had trouble getting the index in the bind statements to work correctly. I’m now working with some success on getting the mets:file data to generate a mets:strucMap (without doing post-processing).

On the horizon

  1. I need to start exploring using Lucene with eXist. There are several people on the eXist mailing list who have implemented this and there is also the code4lib pre-conference workshop, that I imagine will be helpful, though I hope to have this working before then.
  2. I also need look into OAI-harvesting for our data.
  3. I have some cleanup to do on the EAD finding aid part of the website, mostly just fixing bugs found in the XSL stylesheets.
  4. Add XSL-FO stylesheet for the finding aids.

Loose ends

  1. The about section of the website is still completely bare. The mission statement is in progress (not by me) but the rest of the content needs to be added. In addition to generic about pages, we will be including guidelines for project proposals and perhaps an online project proposal form that will be submitted to a committee for review. I would also like to include documentation about our metadata standards, some discussion of eXist and also scanning guidelines and resources.
  2. Enable sessions in searching.
  3. Also enable sessions for saving search results/or items to a “favorites list”
  4. Optimize eXist indexes