OCLC Research 2012: ArchiveGrid

This is the fourth posting in a short series, looking back on just some of what we’ve done in the last year.

ArchiveGrid is both a discovery system for an aggregation for archival collection descriptions, and a research sandbox, where we can experiment with both tightly and loosely structured data, and also try out interface design and emerging technologies. The ArchiveGrid team has done a lot in 2012 — here are just some highlights.

Although connections to ArchiveGrid from smartphones and tablets make up a relatively small percentage of overall use (currently about 11%), it is double what it was a year ago and is expected to grow. So we developed a new ArchiveGrid web interface that used responsive web design principles, letting the system adapt to a wide range of devices. The new interface was developed and tested over the summer, demonstrated at RBMS and SAA, and launched in October.

Around 75 new contributors of mostly EAD, but also PDF and HTML finding aids, joined ArchiveGrid this year, helping grow the index to a record 1.8 million collection descriptions from WorldCat and from crawler sites that institutions host. In February, the Northwest Digital Archives gave researchers another access point to noted Pacific Northwest archival and manuscript collections by contributing to ArchiveGrid its aggregated finding aids from 36 colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and historical societies in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. In March shortly before St. Patrick’s Day, National University of Ireland – Galway joined ArchiveGrid in March as our first contributor from Ireland, with 164 finding aids harvested and indexed.

The team gathered data via a survey that went out in spring to archives and special collections researchers. The purpose of the survey was to update our findings from previous user studies about these researchers. We also wanted to find out how Web 2.0 technology had changed how archives and special collections research is done. Surprisingly, we spotted a shift in who archives and special collections researchers are, with “unaffiliated scholars” – those who are not genealogists, faculty, and graduate students – making up nearly a quarter of the total number of survey respondents. We also noted a smaller role than expected of social media in archives and special collections research and a simultaneous need for archivists and librarians to embed themselves online where the researchers are and give help that most researchers say they trust. Ellen Ast presented results from the survey at the June RBMS meeting in San Diego. Look for more next year!

The ArchiveGrid team has been busy promoting ArchiveGrid in various venues — at SAA and at regional conferences for archives professionals who may not attend SAA. I presented on ArchiveGrid at the Society of Southwest Archivists / Council of Intermountain Archivists meeting in May (via Skype, which was a new experience for me!) and Bruce Washburn led a 90-minute discussion about ArchiveGrid at Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in October, leading to a flurry of new and potential ArchiveGrid contributors.

Capping the year, OCLC Research secured an intern, Marc Bron, for 2013 who will develop a WorldCat and ArchiveGrid data mapping system in order to improve name-based discovery. Bron is a doctoral student from the Netherlands and will work in the San Mateo research office.

Lead by Ellen Ast, the ArchiveGrid team launched a companion blog at the beginning of the year as a new venue for project team members to write about ArchiveGrid, our research activities around archival research and discovery, and developments in archives and special collections. The blog tracks new contributors and index growth, announces system developments, explains how we build and maintain our system, summarizes activity at conferences attended, highlights collections, and notes current events relevant to our target audience: archives and special collections practitioners, users, and aficionados. If you want to continue to follow ArchiveGrid in action, keep up with us all year around by following our blog!