Meeting User Needs via Improvements to the ArchivesSpace Public User Interface

Hello, everyone! This is Alison Clemens, archivist at Manuscripts & Archives, member of the Yale Archival Management Systems Committee, and team leader of the ArchivesSpace Public User Interface (PUI) Settings & Enhancements Workgroup. Our workgroup is charged with reviewing and documenting any default changes we might want to make to the public user interface, and collecting and maintaining a list of possible future interface changes and enhancements. I’m pleased to give you an overview of some of our workgroup’s initial planning as we prepare to implement the ArchivesSpace PUI here at Yale.

Before I dive into our workgroup’s goals and progress, I’d like to emphasize that lots of behind-the-scenes data cleanup and enhancement work has been and will be instrumental in making the project successful. For example, we did a big project to clean up our people, organization, and subject records in ArchivesSpace, and we literally exorcised some ghosts in the process (no, really — did you know that the Library of Congress Name Authority File includes spirits?). But our ongoing data work will be the subject of a future blog post.

This post will focus on our shared raison d’être: our users, and ensuring that we are providing the best possible services and platforms to meet their needs. I’ll note here that as we consider how to serve our users, we’re thinking about both external users (i.e. patrons) and internal users (i.e. library staff).

Yale’s special collections comprise a fairly large data universe, and figuring out how best to serve the diverse user constituencies of our 10 campus repositories is a challenge. We’re lucky, though, that we’ve got a good team on the case. Our workgroup members include: Stephanie Bredbenner, Processing Archivist at Beinecke Library; Anna Franz, Assistant Head of Access Services at Beinecke Library; and Jonathan Manton, Music Librarian for Access Services at the Music Library. Each of us brings specific skills and perspectives to our work, and we share a focus on taking a user-centered approach to figuring out how to determine and prioritize settings and enhancements for the new PUI.

I’ll pause here to talk a little bit about the logistics of how we’re accomplishing our work. We’re using four platforms to communicate and coordinate: Google Drive, Asana, Slack, and in person and virtual meetings. These tools are invaluable to us as a workgroup, and especially to us as a larger team — there are 30 team members, working from a variety of physical locations, involved in the six workgroups that comprise the PUI project, and communicating about dispersed goals and tasks with a group of that size is a challenge. Fortunately, our virtual communication platforms have made this process easier to manage. We’re also providing ample opportunity for in-person communication via regular workgroup meetings, biweekly workgroup leaders meetings, and monthly open forums.

Now, back to the workgroup’s goals and tasks. Given our desire to put the user first, we naturally concluded that much of our work depends on the data gathered by the Usability & Accessibility (U&A) Workgroup. Although our workgroup members certainly have a sense of user needs, we want to be sure that we take every opportunity to actually hear directly from users about their needs and preferences. Working closely with the U&A Workgroup is instrumental in assuring that we’re successful in doing so.

The activities of the U&A Workgroup will be the focus of a future blog post, but in the meantime, I’ll mention that the U&A Workgroup has already conducted about a dozen user interviews with user constituencies and is in the process of designing and conducting user testing.

This brings us to the PUI Settings & Enhancements Workgroup’s starting point.

Essentially, our job is to take the out-of-the-box PUI (see screenshot below) and turn it into something that’s as responsive as possible to user needs. In order to do this, we revisited the Before Action Review (discussed by Melissa in our last blog post) and considered what we were trying to accomplish, what we thought would change, and how we might know we were successful. In this discussion, we agreed that the two most essential goals for our workgroup are to improve user experience (as demonstrated through metrics provided by the U&A Workgroup) and ensure broad and thoughtful staff input and buy-in.

Screenshot of the Yale ArchivesSpace PUI, titled “ArchivesSpace at Yale DEV INSTANCE,” with a search box and an upper navigation menu with "Repositories," "Collections," "Digital Objects," "Unprocessed Material," "Subjects," "Names," "Classifications," and a small magnifying glass listed as navigation options.
Screenshot of the out-of-the-box Yale ArchivesSpace PUI

To accomplish our goals, we’ve done a few things (so far, and more to come).

Our first task was to address some of the most obvious issues with the current PUI. We’ve discussed a lot of potential improvements, but two general categories of changes have risen to the top. First, we’ve identified some basic improvements we might like to make to the front page. Most of these things are small improvements to make the page clearer and more intuitive; we’re waiting for the U&A Workgroup user testing feedback before we ask for more major changes. We have, though, been examining some other examples of finding aid databases to see what features and framings we like (shoutout to the New York Public Library!), and we’re looking forward to digging more into how to make the PUI’s front page more compelling and user-friendly.

Our second task was to figure out how to address issues with search relevance. Relevance ranking in search results is a known issue in the ASpace PUI, and we wanted to get a sense of exactly how the search should be operating. To assess this, we solicited search use cases from all of the repositories via an online web form. The web form asked staff members to identify any two of their repository’s significant collections and answer questions about how they might search for known items from those collections. Specifically, we asked respondents to indicate a) what search terms they would use to find materials in their collections and b) what search results they would expect to see at the top of the search results list, based on their identified terms. We’re now in the process of analyzing this data. Hearing directly from our colleagues about their search cases and expected outcomes will help us determine a set of use cases to send out for development work.

Although the PUI Settings & Enhancements Workgroup has already done a lot of work, we still have a couple of months of the PUI project left, and our work has really just begun. We look forward to continuing our work and are particularly excited to review the Usability & Accessibility Workgroup’s user testing results and accessibility audit and determine how to prioritize additional changes based on that key data. Stay tuned — we look forward to keeping you updated!

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