Research Box

An online cart and request management system to improve the research request experience for researchers and archivists

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THE PROBLEM

Archives are often a pile of unconnected databases. It takes time and determination to find what you might be looking for. Archives were quick to join the digital revolution, but haven’t evolved much since. They’re visually challenging and often hide, at surface level, the useful artifacts they hold. As a researcher, you often ask must ask an archivist for help, or you simply gave up. And, if you actually find items you want to look at, it’s not clear how to get your hands on them. How might we improve the research request process for both researchers and archivists?

IMPROVING THE RESEARCH & REQUEST PROCESS

Research Box makes it easier for researchers to navigate and find which (of the many) databases is the most useful by searching several databases simultaneously and showing the results on the same page. When researchers find the items they’re looking for, it makes the process easier to get the items pulled off of the physical shelf. And, if questions come up, it’s clear who to contact and how. Much easier than the current unstructured process of email, phone and fax.

STREAMLINING ARCHIVISTS’ WORKFLOW

Research Box simplifies the archivist’s process of responding to research requests. Requests are currently made over email, fax and phone with no standard communication structure. Once they know what researcher’s need, archivists must use multiple disconnected databases to search for content, locate items on the shelves and report fulfillment activity respectively. Research Box provides an infrastructure to handle the request process. They can coordinate who’s handling what request, get a clear picture of the researcher’s needs, and print a pull sheet with location information to find and reshelve items in the vault where there is no network access.

Not much has changed in the last 28 years I’ve been in the field.

// ARCHIVIST AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

PROCESS

We worked primarily with the Seattle Municipal Archives and spoke with different types of archivists from processing archivists, reference archivists and directors to understand archivists’ workflows. Through the process of semi-structured interviews, observation and site visits we were able to develop key insights into how design could help archivists’ workflow and make sure our ideas were relatively feasible with existing systems.

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PROCESS

Doing site visits at the archive gave us an understanding of how archives were structured and why.

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PROCESS

In these unstructured visits we learned a lot about how archivists go about their work. We also gained insights into pain points in their process; both in what they’re not able to do, and in what could be achieved more efficiently.

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PROCESS

As a team we synthesized our research to develop key insights and identify ripe areas for design intervention.

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PROCESS

We talked with archivists to clear up unanswered questions. During these sessions, we also shared quick prototypes to test the direction and gain further insight into how the direction could progress.

NEXT STEPS

User testing
During this project, we limited our interviews to only archivists. But, Research Box is intended for researchers, too. We’d like to expand prototype tests to both groups to evaluate whether the interfaces meet both groups’ needs.

Understand feasibility
We did our best to understand the structure and technical limitations of the archive’s databases. To our knowledge, our concept is feasible within the constraints of the archive’s current systems. However, consultation with the city’s IT Professionals would be wise.

Explore additional opportunities
From our insights, we identified several other opportunities to help archivists including streamlining the digitization process, maximizing physical space in the archives and investing in unifying and upgrading databases to improve functionality.

DATE

2015

This project was started as part of Tom Hobbs and Matt Turpin’s Graduate Design Studio on Contextual Inquiry at the University of Washington.