Krause & Yakel Polar Bear Digital Collections

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Krause & Yakel Polar Bear Digital Collections


  • 2005 U of M school of information formed the Finding Aids Next Generation (FANG) Research Group to re-think and reimagine the display and functionality of online finding aids using web 2.0
    • used the Polar Bear Expedition Collections at the Bentley Historical Library on campus to experiment their ideas. These collections comprise items from/about the US soldiers sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks - American Intervention in Northern Russia 1918-1919. Many of the soldiers were from Michigan. These collections have been digitized.


  • FANG team inspired by sociotechnical systems and selected the following features/functionalities to enhance the finding aid:
    • bookmarks (can be saved in users account)
    • visitors can add comments (searchable the identified as comments in search results)
    • link paths (footprints/navigation of visitors to the site) which shows relationships between documents, like Amazon suggesting books  - recommender/reputation system that uses the judgments and or behaviors of earlier users to help current visitors make navigational decisions
    • large number of categories from which to browse the collections
    • searching
    • user profile


  • 2006 - site launched, FANG set up an evaluation program for the site; wanted to explore visitors' initial reactions, use patterns and interactions with this new type of finding aid


  • research questions: does some level of interactivity increase the accessibility of archival materials? how will/do users interact with one another, augmenting their archival experience? Can social navigation features be used to facilitate the accessibility of archival materials? In order to answer the following:
    • What features facilitate/hinder this accessibility?
    • How does the finding aid address the expectations and predispositions of various users?
    • How do people interact with one another in this finding aid?


  • methods used:
    • quantitative/qualitative data collectd
    • content analysis
    • online survey
    • in-depth structured interviews
    • another purpose of the study was to test viability of data collection methods for reuse in future investigations


  • four themes emerged from their research question: accessibility, common ground, awareness, interactivity.


Archival Literature 

  •   accessibility: users' ability to make meaningful use of descriptions of archival materials or to enhance their understanding of archival materials; not just about ease of access to the materials physically/virtually but also related to the background a user brings to an archives, the "'intellectual and cognitive abilities required to make effective use' of archival description of materials."
    • they argue that by allowing arhiv. researchers to contribute descriptive notes and other information about the items in the collection, materials will be more intellectually accessible to a wider variety of users and researcher participation will enhance the meaning of the materials
    • this is important as the voice of the user, language user employs, the meaning that arises from a record's use is rarely captured in arch. desc.
    • authors reference Duff/Harris article, Stories and Names which calls for archivists to make apparent/transparent their biases and world-views and their presence known to users
    • archivists could create colophons that include insights about their thinking, knowledge of the materials, decisions and even biographical information. All of this would show to users that this is one viewpoint on the materials, and not the only. Also might help users understand the rationale for the processing of the collection, and provide authorial contribution to the archivist.
      • questions to this approach: can archivists identify biases so easily?
      • would this information diminish the authority of the finding aid?
      • would the colophons truly be useful to users amongst the vast amount of text that comprises many finding aids?
    • Light and Hyry recommend use of web based annotations (additions, amendments, references to other materials) to allow multiple voices to be heard about and item after processing is complete


Human - Computer Interaction Literature 

  • Dourish and Chalmers: social navigation - info. system that supports collaborative activity...
  • Dieberger et al: social navigation  - type of navigation "through which decisions are informed by the behavior of other people"
  • Wexelblat and Maes: interaction history - records of the interactions of people and objects (one view of this is a highlighted passage in a book, made by a previous reader)..historical traces which can be used; they are clues to content and can be used to assess and navigate the information
  • Lee: social interaction. Considers
    • place-making
    • common ground,
    • awareness and
    • interaction enablers
  • Place is important in both archival and HCI literature. Places have social meaning, develop over time and can mean different things to different groups. (Harrison and Dourish). Created by their appropriation and adaption by users; information architecture can facilitate this - bookmarks, internal page consistency etc)
  • Common Ground: requires shared assumptions about an activity, the meaning of artifacts, common knowledge about language and terminology.
  • Awareness: knowledge about the presence of other users
  • Interaction enablers: synchronous encounters via chat or information left as a byproduct of someone's activities
  • authors mention the influence of a 5 month study on social navigation tools used on a website (Svensson and Hook) on their work - the study provided the best model for the research described in their article



  • used web analytics - how people got to and navigated the site
  • survey questionnaire on site; asked people to rat various features and provide information about their use of the site
  • semistructured interviews: asked about accessibility, expectations of the site, site features, awareness of other users and social interaction
  • analysis of user comments



  • from user profiles and survey - genealogists were the more engaged visitors to the site
  • bookmarking was not a popular consider for future would be to foster community
  • comments by visitors:  error correction and information sharing (archivist responded to these, making transparent archival decision making process), and gives support to the idea that users' knowledge is needed/important for enriching archi. descr. and users gain a sense of ownership and vested interest in the site
  • link paths: ambiguous response to these, led researches to add the line "researchers who viewed this page also viewed..."
  • browse: popular and used more than advanced search
  • problems with search function (me - perhaps not a robust enough taxonomy/vocabulary?)
  • user profiles not that important to people, so perhaps the social aspect of the site was not that important to users?
  • digitized collections very important


Table 2. Four Elements of Social Interaction in the Polar Bear Site
Four Social Interaction Elements1 Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections
Place-making: Digitized resources, bookmarks, consistent style

Common Ground: Genealogical interests; Polar Bear Memorial Association

Awareness: List of “new users”; user profiles, simultaneous visitors

Interaction enablers: Comment feature, bookmarks, link paths



  • researchers found that direct and indirect interaction and technological features enhanced the accessibility of archival materials. social tools can enhance the depth and accuracy of descriptions. but, there was limited use with the interactive features..perhaps this type of community building takes times, or maybe there were other factors (types of materials, what people want to do on the site) that influence whether a person will be online social...


  • frustration (me): this site, what this team created, no longer exists. (I remember looking at it in March 2012.) The Bentley Historical Society decided it was too difficult to manage.. Much, if not all of the social interactivity functionality is gone. No more comments, user profiles, bookmarks, linked paths. What does that say about archivists and their work? The archivists/researchers created an online "place," a common ground, a socially interactive site, but then, did not have the resources? staff? infrastructure? in place to sustain it. Or perhaps something else influenced the taking down of the site?