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All,

While I wholeheartedly agree with Bill's last three points, I feel I must
respectfully disagree with some of his comments regarding customization.
Quite frankly, a finding aid is not only a way of accessing one's
collections, but a way of publicizing one's institution, just like the
published repository and collection guides we used to (and still do)
create. A nice layout also helps with donor relations. So from place to
place one can expect that there will be some customization of the design
and layout--the "look"--of the finding aids in order to assert one's
corporate identity and make it clear that this collection is made available
through the unstinting efforts of your organization. If you are part of a
larger organization, you may have to follow design guidelines on color and
layout to fit within the corporate web. For example, here at Clemson the
Libraries has decided not to use frames, which will certainly impact the
way we present our finding aids on the web. And one must not forget that
changes in design and layout can be a useful navigation tool by showing the
user that they are in a different part of the site.

Beyond the surface manifestations of our web sites lies the question that
Bill brought up about how users *find* and *use* the information we provide
in our finding aids. And I would argue that because we are in the early
stages of researching these areas we should not have a "standard" format
but should embrace the freedom to experiment a little. Users may have
difficulty articulating their needs; it may be easier to *show* users their
options and receive feedback from them than simply asking them what they
want. The nice thing about style sheets is that, if you know how to
manipulate them, you can do this kind of experimentation and, if the
experiment does not work or a standard is developed, you can make the
change by changing the stylesheet and not every finding aid instance. The
design we intend to use for our finding aids pushes most of the information
about the collection to the "top" of the finding aid, while relegating most
of the purely administrative information to the "bottom." Why? Because it
seems to us, based on comments from some of our users, that they want to
get at the information about the "stuff" first and foremost, and that the
other information is less important. (Although after Wendy Duff's
presentation at SAA, we may rethink the location of the bio note!)

Jim Cross
Manuscripts Archivist
Special Collections
Clemson University Libraries