Posts Tagged ‘Public Record Office Victoria’

Journeys – where history meets geography: Asa Letourneau

Journeys1a
My name is Asa Letourneau. I work at Public Record Office Victoria, in the Online Access team. I contribute to the team across a range of initiatives including online exhibitions, social media applications, and website development.

In early May this year I put a call out to all of PROV asking if anyone would like to put together a team for the App My State Hack Day. It was pretty short notice (the Hack day started in 3 days!) but fortunately I got a yes from a colleague, Abigail Belfrage, who works in Online Business Development at PROV.

With some trepidation but buoyed up with a healthy dose of WE CAN DO THIS!! we turned up to Box Hill TAFE for the Hack Day (really a weekend which neither of us could totally commit to because of children and lives etc…). Anyway we teamed up with two complete strangers (web developers/coders) and between the four of us came up with the concept behind Journeys. We wanted to build an app that overlays historic records over a contemporary landscape — bringing the past into the present. The rest is history. We ended up winning the Hack Day and had just enough of a taste of the dizzying heights of minor celebrity status to push on and make a go of it for the main prize — the App My State Open Competition.

What followed over the course of the next 12 days was a lot of blood, sweat, tears, Google waves, Skype calls, Tweets, numerous emails and, God forbid, a face to face catch up with the whole team. We made the competition deadline entering our very BETA BETA app Journeys (which is still so BETA!). Here’s some choice words from Abigail that she wrote for the App My State entry application and the Journeys site respectively.

Journeys is a website devoted to mapping digitised cultural collections such as maps, data and images. Utilising Google Earth functionality, it has a ‘tour’ feature that allows users to virtually fly over landscapes, populated with images or maps relating to that landscape. A user in the site can create a map by layering historical records over the contemporary landscape. People can learn about geography through history, and history through geography and, with the opacity functionality, experience a map merging into the landscape. Journeys can be a powerful research tool for learning about places, communities and individuals around Victoria.

We even gave the team the name Mappster. We are a team that began as strangers (and now are good friends) who busted a mighty move at the App My State Hack Day 8 May 2010, building Journeys in less than 24 hours. Emboldened by Journeys’ win on the day, Mappster resolved to grow the app, and enter it in the App My State competition 12 days later!

Who is Mappster?
Abigail Belfrage, content & design. History and archives nerd, budding geek. Dreams about maps and mapping in her spare time.
Asa Letourneau, content & design. web2.0 junkie
Nguyen Ly, coder & UX junkie who thinks sleep is overrated! By day he’s a professional .Net enterprise applications developer.
Gregor McNish, an old programmer trying to keep up rather than getting sucked into management.

While we didn’t end up winning the App My State Competition, we did learn an awful lot from the experience, met some great people and produced something that we are now going to take further. Even the team is still together! Despite Journeys being a private venture, we have started using the skills and knowledge acquired to promote similar projects back at PROV and feel confident that a culture of mapping historical records will grow from strength to strength.

So there you have it. Journeys: where history meets geography and where people can engage with historical records in a truly interactive way.

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PROVcommunity: a social experiment in a digital world

Asa Letourneau set up PROVcommunity for the Public Record Office Victoria just three weeks ago. It is a social networking ning for people to meet and discuss the Victorian archives. It also incorporates the PROV wiki where people can set up a topic or add information to an existing page. Asa works in the Online Access team across a range of initiatives including online exhibitions, social media applications, and website development.



More and more I have been looking at social media and considering how PROV might use these applications to increase public awareness of, and access to Victorian government archives.

To date PROV has experimented with Flickr and a wiki, however, we have not had a place where users and staff can discuss the archives free from the confines of a physical location or the limitations of Web 1.0 functionality. Given that the world of social media is so new (especially to the archives sector) and moving so rapidly, I thought the first thing I would do would be to take a leap of faith and create a PROV ning.

PROVcommunity came into the world three weeks ago and is a trial initiative to explore ways in which PROV can promote understanding of the state archives through community discussion in an online environment. It is a virtual meeting place where researchers can share, discuss and ask questions about the Victorian state archives in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Visitors can add photos and videos, check out the latest news in the archives world and hopefully get to meet some really interesting people!

Having a ning will hopefully allow PROV to not only communicate more intimately with our users, but also give us the opportunity to hear what our users are saying about PROV. What I’m personally really looking forward to is seeing the degree to which PROVcommunity brings people with similar interests together, and furthers their knowledge of the state archives.

I can see the ning providing a whole raft of learning outcomes for both public and staff alike: skills development (creating and using social media), crowd sourcing (evaluating information gaps in data sets), and opening up for public discussion draft initiatives/strategies on a scale that has not been possible before.

One of the best things about creating the ning has been the type of discussions it has already started within PROV itself: How best can we promote and make accessible the archives in a radically changing Web 2.0 environment? How are our users’ expectations changing as they become more familiar with the benefits of social media applications, that is, hyperconnectiviity, shared knowledge, shared power?

We all now have an obligation to tackle these questions in a timely fashion and I’m hoping that PROVcommunity might provide some of the answers and possibly some new questions for us all to think about!

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Key elements to a successful online collection

Daniel Wilksch, Manager, Online Projects, Public Record Office Victoria, spoke at the Collections and the Web conference, on 24 November 2008, at the Melbourne Museum.

Before starting to develop an online collection catalogue, it is a good idea to research how other organisations have approached theirs. The National Library of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum are leading the way in web-based catalogues. They have already considered questions like – What do people want to see? What should the online catalogue do? Developing online collection catalogues can be a large but necessary jump for small institutions.

Online catalogues command a different way of organising information from the traditional library catalogue and provide a wider range of benefits. Beyond being used for insurance purposes, they help people find your collection items – on site and online, offer information about the item, help with enquiries and act as a marketing service. Web 2.0 technologies can be used to start a conversation with the public about a collection, engaging and building audiences. The United States Library of Congress started this form of social networking when they uploaded their historic photographs to the Flickr Commons in early 2008. Using a similar principle, the Public Records Office Victoria has set up a Wiki on their site to build on their collection descriptions.



People in organisations have different needs to the public so the web team needs to separate management information from keywords, descriptions and object photographs the end user may need. Questions to be asked are – Is it just access or information people want? Should the CSV file be made available for download with all of the information about the object. The catalogue software should provide archival information about the item, as well as physical and digital information about the object.

Libraries, archives and museums demand slightly different function of catalogue software. Libraries hold a collection of books and so require subject thesauri and controlled vocabularies. Museum software needs to create lot of information around an item, such as photographs, places to add information, item description rather than just noting the item. Archives lead the user down a path of how to find a search result object so they can be led back into that search result.

Designing your website for people interested in looking at single pages is an effective way of maximising the Google search. People may not want to navigate your website but use Google as their collection search tool so you should try to accommodate both approaches. A library catalogue card is equivalent to a web page and each web page has a URL (address) used to organise and search for information in the catalogue. Try to provide a list of things in the collection so people can organise their own data.

The key elements to a successful online collection are:
*a page for a collection of items that can be clicked through to one page per entity, each object has a registered address,
*if there is a change of software the address should be transferred so links don’t break and gives items permanent place on the web,
*URLs should be descriptive with the object name and catalogue number,
*URLs should be intuitive so people can guess the URL if looking at another item.
*each page should have links back to the content of the item so people can explore the catalogue,
integrate catalogue information into the website,
*consider a system to store the image of object and its description because a catalogue holds the information not the actual entity,
*embed the catalogue in the website and allow the user to return to the same place to start another search so that information is not duplicated on the website.

Email Daniel if you have any questions relating to online collection catalogues.

Related links to online catalogue software
Online public access catalogue
Tabularium
EMu
OCLC

To listen to more talks from the Collections and the Web conference
Collections and the Web, Perth, September 9, 2008
Collections and the Web, Melbourne, November 24 2008

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