An Analysis of Two Very Different Online Collections: Use, Users and More

The two collections discussed here are the Japanese Woodblock Print collection at the University of California-San Francisco, representing a digitized version of physical holdings, and Arts Journal, a gateway to third-party public domain sources on the internet. While the collections share a few surface similarities, their intended user groups and organizational schemes have little in common. Users navigate them in very different ways, but both collections serve their intended users effectively.

The Woodblock Prints and Arts Journal both deal with themes of art and culture and they feature carefully selected collections that can be either narrowed by category or directly searched by keywords. Beyond that, major differences include scope, layout, organization and methods of accessing the collections.

The Woodblock Print collection, digitized versions of 400 seventeenth- to twentieth-century Japanese woodblock prints depicting health and its relationship with disease, religion and the West, is meant to serve a very specific user base. Intended users include researchers studying Japanese medicine, the history of Asian health practices or old Japanese art. The digitized images pertain to a narrow topic, so the collection would not likely attract many users from outside those areas. However, this unique collection is of interest to scholars worldwide, and its online presence means that researchers who are not able to travel to California are still able to benefit from it.

Arts Journal, on the other hand, appeals to a completely different type of user. The collection consists of links to articles taken from nearly 200 online newspapers that have been hand-selected by the editorial team. These articles cover a wide variety of topics in fine arts and culture in nine major categories, and new stories are posted every weekday, so the collection is constantly growing. The intended user group includes students, scholars, artists and art enthusiasts browsing for interesting and current news and commentary, most likely not trying to locate a particular article.

A scholar visiting the web site of the Woodblock Print collection would have no trouble understanding the scope of the collection and its organizational scheme, as it is all clearly laid out and well explained. Each of the 400 prints has its own page and all are accompanied by very detailed descriptive metadata. There are multiple ways to access the prints: narrowing by theme, performing a search by keywords or for an artist, or scrolling through a list of all the prints. The collection’s homepage is simple and clearly laid out with a horizontal navigation bar and a right sidebar that show the different ways the collection is arranged and the methods to search it. After browsing, the user will discover that there is some thematic overlap, but this is not problematic since they are all interrelated.

This organizational system serves the needs of the users very well. It is flexible, allowing them to retrieve and view prints using both known item searching (entering a specific artist or title) and exploratory searching (browsing a theme or entering keywords.) Right next to the search box is a link to a page with tips for Boolean and exact phrase searching and truncation. Finally, the homepage for each theme contains a helpful introductory essay describing the historical background and significance.

In contrast, the scope of the Arts Journal collection and its organization is significantly more complex. The outgoing links to the news-selected articles represent only one component, as the collection also includes about 25 in-house blogs written by staff writers and a section for a selected video of the day embedded from YouTube. Both the news articles and the blog posts can be narrowed by topic, but there is not much functionality to support known-item searches (it features only a Custom Google Search box that does not provide good precision due to the high volume of keywords on every page).

Arts Journal is also a commercial operation, so there is a separate classified section as well as banner advertisements. These resources, which include job listings and additional arts and culture websites, are often of value to users, but the fact that Arts Journal accepted money for their placement damages the credibility of their inclusion in the collection. Also, the third-party newspaper websites often have their own system of providing links to related articles. These two points reflect the idea that in this type of online gateway, the boundaries of the collection are often difficult to determine (Lee 2000).

All of Art Journal’s different elements are thrown together in a three-column layout that is almost exclusively text, so a user might initially be overwhelmed. The horizontal navigation displays the different topics of the articles, but it does not stand out. To view all the information on the homepage, the user must scroll down a long way, and certain sections including the list of blogs and the day’s headlines by topic are near the bottom.

Despite this home-page clutter, however, Arts Journal serves its users in several other important ways that make it much easier to manage. Users can sign up for an email newsletter covering all the top headlines that can be delivered either daily or in a weekly digest format. There are also various RSS subscription options. Users can sign up using the feed reader of their choice and subscribe to either all articles, articles on a particular topic or one or more of the blogs. The email subscription list boasts 30,000 subscribers, so it appears that the majority of the users are accessing the collection by means other than browsing the webpage.

Despite the major differences between the two collections, both the Woodblock Print collection and Arts Journal serve their user groups in effective ways.

 

References

Lee, Hur-Li. “What Is a Collection?” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51.12 (2000): 1106-1113. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.

Marchionini, Gary. “Exploratory Search: From Finding to Understanding.” Communications of the ACM 49.4 (2006): 41-46. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.

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