John Ben DeVette's Blog

Thoughts experiences & learnings about the world of academic publishing …

The Key to an Efficient Archival System Must be How Quickly You Can Access the Content

Librarians have always been good at storage. And to a lesser degree, so have publishers. But the KEY TO EFFICIENT STORAGE MUST BE EASE OF USE. Most archival systems are evaluated in these terms:

– Permanence. Will it be there for the next generation?
– Responsibility. Who is going to build it? Who will maintain it?
– Buy-in. What percentage of our authors are contributing to the archive?
– Completeness. How comprehensive is the archive, how far back does it go?
– Copyright. What are the legal limitations of these archived materials?
– Cost. Can we afford to archive it?
– Accessibility. How do we get the data back out?

In my experience, the last requirement ACCESSIBILITY is not emphasized enough. From the design stages, the end user experience must be kept at the forefront. How user-friendly will the final product be is crucial to the success of all archival systems. If librarians and publishers have successfully stored away the past 200 years of scholarship, but you can’t find it on Google, how useful is it really? If the archived content is not being used, there is a danger it will be considered irrelevant and useless. Certainly, rarely accessed archives that receive little attention will find it difficult to raise funds when needed upgrades are due.

Archival solutions must fit the way humans think and must work with the tools we have on hand now. They must mesh smoothly with the popular search engines. A 2009 study by Dotov, Nie, and Chemero on the impact of inefficient tools on the human brain (citation into with DOI at bottom of this post), consistently shows that learning slows radically when the brain – tool link malfunctions.

If it takes too long to get there, the brain stops focusing on the subject, and starts focusing on packaging (the tool being used to access and evaluate the subject). Or in the case of online searching, if you are used to a search taking 3 seconds, and suddenly it takes 9, your rhythm is interrupted and your brain slows down. When I was at EBSCO we used to call it the “3-Clicks, You’re Out” rule.

An archival system that does not allow for near-immediate access is like frozen steak in the bottom of the freezer downstairs in the basement. If you’re hungry the food in the kitchen is what you’ll eat. Even worse would be a frozen steak in your neighbor’s basement!

Archival and storage systems from the onset must have the end-user access in mind. Just locking it away safely is not enough.

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Dotov DG, Nie L, Chemero A (2010) A Demonstration of the Transition from Ready-to-Hand to Unready-to-Hand. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9433. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009433

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20 March 2010 - Posted by | Archival, Digital Publishing, University Publishing | , ,

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