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The project I am evaluating is the Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project(SW). For comparison, I am also evaluating the Charles Darwin Library Project (CD) and the London Lives (LL) project.
SW: A University of Virginia affiliated project, the material “consists of an electronic collection of primary source materials relating to the Salem witch trials of 1692 and a new transcription of the court records.” (Project Introduction)
CD: This project is one part of the larger Biodiversity Heritage Library collection. From their “about” page, “The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”
LL: Full name of the project: London Lives 1690 to 1800 ~ Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis. Produced by affiliation of two UK universities (U of Sheffield and U of Hertfordshire), and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Navigation / Search:
SW: The layout of the project is very simple, but it is lacking any comprehensive search tools. It is also lacking a site map feature. The landing page reads more like a table of contents than a dynamic information site; the information is divided into logical categories of records, maps, archival collections, and contemporary books. Each section is then subdivided into more specific research paths. Within each section, there is limited search capability, but only within the same section’s materials.
CD: This site offers several navigation options, including a comprehensive search tool, an advanced search tool, and a graphic link guiding users to browse the site and materials by title, author, date, or by collection. Using the site is fairly intuitive to use and easier to navigate overall than the SW project site.
LL: The site is dated April, 2012, and is the best design of the three projects. There is a comprehensive search tool, and various browsing options. The navigation is intuitive and the site is easy to move around, making random exploration possible.
SW: This project site is dated 2002, and it shows. Exploring the site, it is clear that there are a lot of information and media materials available to review. My complaint, though, is that the design is completely static, and feels boring to the user. Because the site has such an old feel, the information feels dated (no pun intended).
CD: This project site is dated April, 2011. Compared to the SW project, the site has a better first impression / initial appeal, but it also has a streamlined, simplified look that feels unfinished and underdesigned.
LL: The site looks fresh, but feels a bit cluttered. The design is easy to navigate, though, and the information in the site is easily accessible for random browsing. It is easy to make discoveries in the information stacks without knowing exactly what you are looking for – a bonus over the other project sites.
SW: I am not impressed with the organization of the site. Again, a comprehensive search function is sorely needed to improve usability of this site. The user, to gain any useful information, has to know exactly what he or she is looking for to track down the information. Useful information could be easily missed or overlooked.
CD: The landing page offers general information on using the site, including screenshots to help guide the user to the specific parts of the site he or she will find particularly useful.
LL: Overall, this project has the best usability factor. The landing page gives you an instant feel for the type of information that is available to the user, and clear navigational tools give the user instant access to the archives. The word cloud feature in the search results leads the user in new and unexpected directions for research.
SW: The project introduction page offers a genealogy of the project. It offers names of leading project researchers and affiliated libraries and historical organizations that contributed to the research. It received a 2.61 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, a number that is generated based on view count, unique visitor count and unique content data.
CD: This project received a 2.86 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, placing it slightly above the SW project in visibility and reach.
LL: This project received a 1.95 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, placing it below both the SW and the CD projects.
SW: The landing page of the project lists partnerships with the scholars’ Lab of the University of Virginia Library and the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities. On the project support page, the project lists the NEH, the IATH, and the ECAI as financial supporters of the project.
CD: On the landing page, the project clearly lists its sponsors and affiliation list, including the NEH, the JISC, and the London Natural History Museum. A fully foot-noted and cited article explains the evolution of the project and the goals and methodology.
LL: Produced by affiliation of two UK universities (U of Sheffield and U of Hertfordshire), and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Rigorous in Scholarship?
SW: The project’s credentials are prestigious, and the project has been awarded multiple national grants and fellowships, proving the materials have been peer reviewed. The site was created under the guidance of several Ph.D. level experts, and has rigorous documentation for all of the materials it provides.
CD: The credits for the project include references to the American Museum of Natural History, Cambridge University, the London Library of the Natural History Museum, and the original, handwritten documents of Charles Darwin. That’s pretty authoritative.
LL: The project was produced by the creators of the Old Bailey project, a prestigious DH work. The London Lives project also resulted in several awards, including the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Prize for Digital Resources, and co-directors Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker were awarded the Longman-History Today Trustees Award for their “major contribution to history over the past year or years” with the Old Bailey and London Lives projects.
Of all three sites, the London Lives project had the best design, the best search and discover features, and regrettably, the worst rated impact overall. All three projects were authoritative and had clear genealogy and documentation for all of their sources and materials. Overall, though, each of the sites could use work to make them more accessible, more useable and contribute more effectively in the advancement of DH knowledge.