We have only had our finding aids up for a little while, but I would
echo Jennie's observations. Online finding aids are resulting in more
work for the reference staff; and in particular, more work providing
materials and information to remote researchers. This is good, but it
may require us to adjust our service models.
Online finding aids have helped more researchers (both academic and
non-academic) to locate materials at Emory that may be relevant to their
interests. They come to us with a list of folders that they would like
to see, which gives us a place to start. Because users now have lists
of materials available to them, their assumption is that they should be
able to order the materials (much like they do at amazon.com or
iTunes.com). In response, we are beginning to rethink our service model
to see if we can find a way to more efficiently and cost-effectively
meet remote researcher needs. My unscientific observation is that the
majority of our onsite users still locate our materials through online
catalogs, footnotes, guides, and conversations with our reference
staff. It will be interesting to see if our annual statistics support
The presence of online finding aids seems to result in fewer requests
for research ("could you tell me whether there are any letters from x in
your collections") in favor of more direct requests for copies of
materials that may be relevant. More users who are unfamiliar with
archives are finding materials, which is good; but they will need more
help in navigating finding tools and understanding the context. ("Why
are my grandfather's papers at Emory?" "Why doesn't the collection
include his letters?")
I'd be interested in participating in a more scientific attempt to
document the impact of online finding aids on reference work.
With best wishes, Naomi
Naomi L. Nelson, Ph.D.
Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library
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Jennie A. Levine wrote:
> I keep meaning to do some sort of formal evaluation, but never quite
> get there. I have reference data recorded, but have to actually put it
> together...Informally, I can say that having our finding aids online
> has resulted in much more frequent reference questions. I do know that
> the number of researchers in my particular unit have been like this:
> 2004-336 researchers
> 2005-346 researchers (finding aids went online April 2005 - not picked
> up by Google for a few months after...)
> 2006-475 researchers
> What percentage of those increase in researchers came to us via our
> finding aids I do not know.
> A lot of the "unsatisfactory" hits we get now on our finding aids are
> genealogical queries. "My family is the Hamilton family and I see you
> have their papers..." That said, not all the hits are false. We've
> joined quite a number of family members with their papers and have
> often received additional materials to our collections as a result.
> Then we have the random hits - people who ask for something based on a
> folder heading they have randomly Googled. These are the types of
> connections we either never would have made with print finding aids,
> or might have easily overlooked when dealing with a long-distance
> research request. An example would be someone researching an area of
> Montgomery County, Maryland, called "Tobytown." We have several
> folders on this in one of our collections, but I didn't know, and
> wouldn't have brought the researcher to it as quickly as his search
> engine did.
> I get a lot more specific, direct queries like this now. "I would like
> access to Series III, Box 1, Folder 2 of such and such collection..."
> I think having our finding aids online in EAD helps us answer
> questions more quickly. Although I suspect our researchers don't use
> our advanced search page that lets us search only the scope or only
> the box inventory, we do, and it's certainly helped me pinpoint
> things. That said, I don't think the researchers necessarily need
> less assistance. I can spend a lot of time via email, sometimes up to
> ten email exchanges, helping the researcher figure out what they want.
> Because even with the finding aid, a finding aid can still only get
> you so far...
> One thing EAD has most certainly done for us that has been burdensome
> is that it has increased the number of photocopy requests! It's only
> burdensome in that we have a hard time keeping up sometimes. That
> said, this kind of service seems to make our researchers really happy,
> and since I am in full support of as much access as possible, that
> makes me happy.
> Hope this helps a little.
> Michele Combs wrote:
>> Has anyone done any formal or informal evaluation of the effect of
>> EAD on the public service staff? For example, does posting finding
>> aids in EAD result in more reference questions for those collections?
>> Better questions? Different kind of questions? Does it speed up
>> public service staff's ability to answer reference questions? Do
>> researchers need less assistance in figuring out which boxes they
>> need, thus freeing up public service staff to offer assistance of a
>> more sophisticated sort? Any information would be welcome, and of
>> course if anyone knows of any studies on this topic please share :)
>> Thanks *
>> Michele C.
>> -=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=- Michele R. Combs
>> [log in to unmask] Manuscripts Processor Special Collections Research
>> Center Syracuse University Library 222 Waverly Avenue Syracuse, NY
>> 13244 (315) 443-2697 -=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=--=-