David Thomas, Director of Technology at The National Archives, has announced the concept behind The National Archives’ Rediscovering the Records project on his first TNA’s Labs blog
The Rediscovering the Record project takes in hand the redesign of TNA’s two major catalogues and some new search functions including geographic based searches making it possible to link from maps to related to records.
The TNA’s labs project is similar to the FamilySearch Labs projects that have been around for some time now. These labs projects include beta testing for developments within familiar sites such as the Familysearch.org, but without actually changing the main site. Putting the lab site up for a while means it can be thoroughly tested. I’ve been using the 1851 English jurisdictions date on labs.familysearch for some time now and it has a lot in common with TNA labs and had become more and more useful to me as it improved.
Comments can be fed back to the development team and these are open for others to see. Suggestions will lead to further tweeks and alterations. When I used the site there were obviously some teething problems – functions seemed to freeze but evidently I wasn’t the only one having problems. I got a good feel for some of the new possibilities within the proposed “person search” functions that should improve results when searching across name rich database and catalogue entries on the TNA website. The new person search makes it clear what sets of records with good name information exists at TNA and canny readers will have noted this search is being integrated as a beta test within he main TNA website.
I didn’t have such a great experience with the other “new” test areas. The Valuation Office Map Finder and the UK History Photo Finder potentially sound really interesting. Photfinder allows you to search and view digitised historical photographs of the UK and Ireland, starting with the Dixon-Scott collection, which holds more than 14,000 photographs taken in the 1920s-1940s. However in order to discover what places are covered both seem to rely on a wizzy map link from interactive OS mapping or a dedicated place name list in drop down boxes. Sadly neither of those worked for me. But I’ve done my bit and reported this as feedback so I’ll see what they do to improve it. Other comments show people have successfully seen it working and have suggested interesting ways to present the information and to link to similar initiatives using similar mapping and historic photo information.
Collaboration on sites like The National Archives Labs through its comments and related wikis and forums, draw upon the greater collective experience and knowledge the users often have about specific records. As more people can test and comment about the site the more user-friendly it might become.