Suggestions for improvements of the California Heritage Collection

From the students in Howard Besser's Multimedia: Issues in using Visual Material in Cultural Heritage Organizations

student observations
developer reactions to students' observations

Student Observations

From: "alen keshishyan"  <>

As far as the design of the database is concerned, the structure of it requires a little more attention. It is understandable that in the beginning it was kept as simple as possible to complete the project but it would be a good idea to further analyze it now. The reason for this is that while doing a search if one types the word architecture the resulting list is not as long as one were to type buildings instead of architecture. With both of those words the same listings comes up yet the listing with the search for the word "buildings" contains more information. Therefore, to have an efficient program it would be a good idea to merge some of those terms that are similar to one another. [[explode searches to lower-order terms]]

Another suggestion is to look at the encoded archival description closely. While doing a search one is not really aware of where to look for what. In other words if one did a search for paintings, to actually display those paintings, one may have a hard time with it since the words used in the program are "Container Listing" and this doesn't really describe the fact that it does contain those pictures under that category. Consequently if it can be simplified it would be a good idea to do it.

The main issue here is that even though the program started out as something simple now it has progressed and it has become something very complex. Therefore to do a search one needs a program that is reliable and simple to work with. This simplicity is what the program should represent and if the suggestions above are taken under consideration it will be somewhat improved.
From: Lisa Parks  <>
I looked at the photographs of architecture, both homes and public buildings, and was disappointed not to find information relating to the buildings themselves. The photographs were very antiseptic, rarely including inhabitants or neighboring buildings. Additions such as these add context to the photographs. The breadth of the material represented is limited, but this is not the fault of the library. These photographs may represent biographical or historical perspectives, and the record of their existence may be as important as the details of the photographs themselves.

Navigation within the California Heritage site is clumsy. For continued use, a means of verifying one's position in the hierarchy of the site is useful. The outline is useful, but little topical information is given. The basic structure is useful to manage the data, but it is not ideally suited for an outside user. The frames option can be helpful, but the transitions between collections and items in a collection are still rough. The organization of the information is suited to information storage, not information retrieval.

I would suggest that site navigation be simplified for users, so that the user can determine his location within the site.

Contextual information for photographs should be improved, so that a statement is made about the surroundings or circumstances of the photographs. Some of the entries do not have statements or descriptions of the photograph content.

The search function is valuable, and is necessary for the user to select photographs that directly pertain to his research. I suggest that the collections be grouped by content or photographer. This would allow for easier location of subject materials.


  • Clarify the ordering system of the site to simplify navigation for the user.
  • Standardize the inclusion of information for all holdings. In other words, the same fields should be completed to the same extent for all photographs.
  • Include a statement of description that refers to the circumstances or context of the subject of the photographs."
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    From: "Jeffrey A. Ow"  <jeffow@OCF.Berkeley.EDU>

    Simple exposure to the California Heritage Collection provides an invaluable resource to a California historian such as myself, allowing access to such a rich collection of primary visual documents, relatively unencumbered by the bureaucracy of exploring the archives onsite. Yet the online archives does have its own deficiencies, creating some dissonance between other types of “WWW surfing” (through a limited search engine) and physically rifling through onsite archives (ease of “eyeball searching.”) Thus, to take Apple’s catchphrase, one needs to “think different(ly)” about what an online archive is and can do.

    Accessibility: I’m thankful that the collection is accessible from ISPs not associated with the University, which enables the collection to be viewed and researched by anyone with online access. However, certain collections could be better optimized for dial-up modem users. Although I understand that your online archives are grouped very similar to its physical grouping, opening an online group folder which contains many thumbnail photographs (over 20) becomes very taxing for the relatively slow speed of modems, even 56K modems. For the ease of the online viewer, some of these groups should be broken down into further sub-groups to facilitate browsing. As an alternative, perhaps an option to turn off the automatic uploading of thumbnails can be implemented.

    Design: I appreciate the fact that the finding aids have been constructed in a standardized way both within the California Heritage Collection as well as across other collections in the UC system and beyond. However, the user interface would benefit from a redesign in format of the icons to make navigation more intuitive

    Content: The sheer amount of information that has been transferred into digital format is amazing, yet some of the collections would benefit from the creation of some sort of “content filters” to assist the text searches . As I understand, the exact texts of the hard-copy finding aids as well as the photograph captions were inputted, yet perhaps some sort of “smart text search engine.” could be implemented that would associate older, “archaic” terms with terms more commonly used. For example, searching for historical photographs of the Japanese American experience, I found that searching with the derogatory phrase “Jap” gave me different results than the phrase “Japanese.” I am not advocating any censorship of the original documentation, but am suggesting that an intelligent cross-referencing index be created to assist the search.

    I enjoyed the fact that you are supporting secondary analyses of your collections, thru such programs as your California Heritage Pilot Program for K-12 which more clearly describes the content of some of the collections, and would urge the expansion of these programs.

    There's the "old" adage that EVERY web page is "always under construction," and I am certain you are already working on some of the issues I've detailed. Hopefully some of my comments and ideas have been helpful.
    From: Qunyan Mao  <qunyan@SIMS.Berkeley.EDU>

    1, The collection is well organized comparing to some other sites.each unique archival collection is grouped by archivists and original organization ofthe collector or creator. Under each group, there are Descriptive introduction, Administrative information, scope and content, and Container listing. Under each container listing, there are different groups: group1, group2,... It's very clear. but if there are some desciptive words for each group telling what each group is about, it will not only help people better understand the structure but also help searching.

    2, In term of navigation, When the first time i went to this site , I couldn't find a easy way to go back to its homepage. Here is what happened: I started at California Heritagge Collection home page, and went to the collection page, then browse through the container list to group1,group2... After that, I used the navigation buttons in the site to go up until "contents of the california Heritage Digital Image Finding aids Collection", and I couldn't back further to the home. The home icon on the page pointed me to the California Digital Library home page.
    From: JoAnne Allen  <>

    My name is JoAnne Allen and recently, I explored your site for a class assignment. I think your ideas and intentions are very noble, however, I have a few concerns that I would like to bring to your attention. The first one is with the captions that accompany artifacts and pictures. I found that there is a lack context for the pictures and artifacts. I am referring to the African American and The Native American collection. I read that in the African American collection, the captions posted with the pictures are the captions written by the photographers themselves at a particular period. I think it is good to have these captions because they reflect the mentality of the time however, I do not think they provided enough context for the pictures. An individual who knows nothing about social conditions in which the pictures were taken would not come away with any more insight or knowledge. When I looked at the Native American collection, all I saw was the artifacts. There was not even an caption, just a word or two. I wanted to know more about these artifacts and it would have been nice to read more information about them. The other main concern I had actually something my classmate brought up. He said that when he typed in "Japenese" he didn't get any results. But when he typed in "Jap" he ironically, got many results. I understand that this word too, no matter how ugly, carries some history with it, but I find it very disappoiting that this derogatory word would bring up more results. If anything it should be the other way around. This also makes me wonder about the kind of impression this makes on someone who knows little to nothing about an particular group and so instead of being educated or enlightened, they are miseducated. I hope these comments can assist you creating a site that can fulfill its potential.
    From: Camille LeBlanc <>

    Heuristic Evaluation of California Heritage Online


    Developer reactions to students' observations

    Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 09:18:58 -0800 (PST)
    From: Merrilee Proffitt  <>

    Did you go over finding aids with the students? Some of the comments seemed like they were expecting a database rather than a conversion project for existing finding aids. It might be helpful (since they are in the information sciences) to have a real finding aid and a real collection, so that they can see the correlation. I think it's important to have the concept of item-level versus collection-level description clear in order to understand and properly utilize the resource.

    Here's a question for the students (and you), albeit a rhetorical one. If we had more funding, should we go back and make the descriptions better and more uniform, or should we do more digitizing from the collection?

    I'm very happy that students are getting a chance to look at this stuff, and that you are giving it as an assignment.

    Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1999 15:52:33 -0700 (PDT)
    From: Roy Tennant  <>

    I agree with Merrilee that it appears that from their comments they weren't clear about the difference between digitizing archival finding aids and an image database. Or, to put it differently, the difference between collection-level and item-level metadata. I find that I use the Cal Heritage collection and the prototype Digital Image Catalog (at a lot to illustrate these differences in approach.

    On the other hand, it also points up the difficulties we face with users who may drop into the Cal Heritage collection with very different and specific expectations.

    Their comments also point out the fact that indeed the finding aids themselves are far from uniform, and rather than forcing the finding aids into a new, standard structure the decision was made to "grandfather" in their diversity in favor of getting more digitizing done. The correctness of that decision could be argued either way. Discussing some of these issues would be fertile ground for exposing your students to some of the very real consequences of decisions made in digital library projects.