This panel explored the ways and means of enhancing the discoverability of collections through online search platforms. The panel considered the process of aggregating multiple catalogues into single ‘search destinations’ and the lessons to be learnt from factoring in the experience of end users in their design and development.

Jonathan Cates, The National Archives

For the past few years The National Archives has been working to completely rebuild its online resources and extend our Discovery service to describe records held by other archives. The end result is the largest online archival finding aid, containing more than 32 million descriptions of records from The National Archives and more than 3,000 archives across the UK. Discovery will help to realise a long-held ambition to develop a comprehensive and collaborative resource discovery tool for archives and their users.

Discovery has now been extended to include data derived from a number of legacy systems, including the National Register of Archives, Manorial Documents Register, ARCHON Directory, and Access to Archives. Building on this achievement, The National Archives remains committed to what it calls the Finding Archives project, which aims to ensure that Discovery will always be a comprehensive, accessible, innovative and popular portal to the widest possible range of archive catalogues and related finding aids.

This paper will outline the rationale for the project, its goals, progress so far, and next steps, including the development of a suite of tools to enable archives to contribute data to Discovery. Particular attention will be given to the collaborative approach underpinning the project, the philosophy of user centred design, open use of data, and the ways various information and archival standards helped to shape Discovery.

Jo Pugh, University of York

Visitors to archival reading rooms receive a considerable amount of help and support from archivists and overwhelmingly report positive experiences from their engagement with professionals. Conversely, it is an uncomfortable fact that users of large scale digitised archival catalogues and collections spend much of their time very confused.

In this talk we will examine why users find working with archival collections online so difficult and what strategies we might employ to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety they report. In order to answer these questions I will present the results of a series of studies carried out at the National Archives. We will consider the range of channels through which the 21st century archive receives enquiries, explore what happens when we eavesdrop on archivists attempting to answer them and examine how and why users succeed and fail to make progress in online search. Gathering all of this evidence together we will weigh up a series of techniques which could be applied to digital catalogues in order to better support users to locate the material they need.

Archivists have erased themselves from the digital systems they have constructed, leaving nothing to mediate between readers and documents. Are catalogues best left as tools or could they become partners in research? What is the best way to digitise an archivist?

Jane Stevenson and Bethan Ruddock, Archives Hub

How do you communicate successfully with your audience when you are an online service? The aim of the Archives Hub is to work for our contributors, to promote their collections, to increase use of their content. But we do not have a physical space; we have a website and we have the tools that technology puts at our disposal.

In this presentation we want to share the experiences of the Archives Hub, coming from over 15 years experience of building an aggregation service. We work hard to achieve a quality service with good reputation with high user numbers, and we strive to be approachable and to create our own identity. We have a good understanding of what technology can offer us and we work to employ methods of engagement that are efficient, effective and entertaining.

We want to present our top 10 methods of engagement. We will reveal our results in reverse order, one by one, as a kind of ‘hit parade’. We will describe the importance of each method of engagement, the practical approaches that we take, and how successful they have been for us. We will chart the investment in different methods of engagement versus the impact. We will lead up to our number one method of user engagement, which may not be what many people would think. We aim to give a thought-provoking presentation, and one with entertainment appeal and practical application.