Archive

Archive for July, 2012

Users and use cases: part one

This project can be said to focus on two broad categories of users. The first is archive professionals who would like to incorporate Linked Data into their online finding aids simply and within the usual constraints such as budget, lack of specialist technical knowledge and so on. The second are our archives end users – those researchers who depend on our finding aids to help them find the resources of use to their research interests. We hope that the Linked Data output produced during the project will open our resources up and make it easier for our researchers to find what they want. In this post we’re focussing on the latter group.

The Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives  attracts a broad range of users including undergraduates, postgraduates, academics, archivists, and genealogists. In most cases, users will search our catalogues using a combination of terms from the following categories: personal names, corporate names, place names, and subjects. It follows, then, that the more structured our catalogue data is, the more likely it is that our users will find what they are looking for. Focusing on the topic of the First World War, we are in the process of creating hundreds of additional authority terms, which will provide a new level of granularity to a large number of our catalogues (including one very important legacy catalogue). This will benefit all of our current users who have an interest in this subject.

As we create our new set of authority terms, it is important that we bear in mind the varying needs of our users, as these will determine the range of granularity that is required. Let’s take the example of First World War battles. An undergraduate may be asked to examine the conflict in a rather broad way, perhaps by identifying trends and patterns across different theatres of war. A genealogist, on the other hand, may be concerned only with the battles at which a particular soldier was present. An academic researcher might wish to study in great detail one important incident that occurred during a particular battle, whilst at the same time remaining aware of the context of that incident, i.e. how the incident related to (in ascending order) the battle, the operation, and the theatre of war of which it was a part.

Each of these scenarios demands a different degree of granularity: the undergraduate would be content with a set of quite general terms (e.g. France and Flanders, or Egypt and Palestine); the genealogist might be satisfied with a list of names of battles; the academic would be best served by a comprehensive hierarchy of events, beginning with the theatre of war (e.g. France and Flanders) and descending to specific tactical incidents (e.g. Second Defence of Givenchy, 1918).

In order to satisfy all of our users, we have to find an acceptable range from the general to the specific. In the case of First World War battles, we have opted to follow the guidance of the Battles Nomenclature Committee’s report, The Official Names of the Battles and other Engagements Fought by the Military Forces of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914-1919, and the Third Afghan War, 1919. The report tabulates all of the on-land battles and engagements according to a descending scale of levels. We have decided that we will include all of the information from ‘theatre of war’ down to and including ‘actions.’

 

Another thing that we must bear in mind is the fact that different users may use different terms to describe the same subjects. In any area of study, there will never be a complete consensus regarding which definitions are ‘official’ and which are not. Moreover, terminology may change over time as trends come and go. For a subject as widely studied as the First World War, there may be some contrast between how certain events or concepts are understood by academic researchers, and how they are known by amateur enthusiasts.  For instance, ‘Dardanelles Campaign (1915-1916)’ is the UKAT-approved term for that military campaign, but to many people it is better known as the ‘Gallipoli Campaign.’ When it comes to creating a subject term for that campaign, we can reflect the needs of both camps by including ‘Gallipoli Campaign’ as a non-preferred term.

These improvements to our catalogue data should give all of our users a better understanding of what our First World War-related records contain. The next stage of the project, the transformation of selected catalogue content into Linked Data, will go one step further:  by making this important body of First World War-related catalogue content available as Linked Data, we are trying to reach out to a wider community of users. As was mentioned in an earlier post, Trenches to Triples is strongly motivated by the concern that too few potential users of archives know the location of the sources that might be of interest to them. It is hoped that this project will demonstrate the potential that Linked Data has to attract new users to archives.

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