Checkout System, Stage 2: Request the Hardware

In the last post, I discussed the first stage of the checkout system/workflow: stabilize and maintain the hardware. Processing and cataloging the hardware on site – and hardware in future collections – gives the Briscoe an opportunity to prepare the items for and track them during in-Reading Room research requests.

In this post, the hypothetical research team has arrived at the Briscoe to make their request. They would like to checkout a Mattel Intellivision II in order to research game emulation.

The team enters the Briscoe and approaches the information desk. After the preliminary orientation and paperwork, the researchers discuss the reason for their visit:

“We wish to do some research on video game emulation and would like to use some of the materials in the UT Videogame Archive.”

Information Desk: “Great! Do you already have an idea about which materials? Which collections?”

Researchers: “We do. We are looking to work with the Frogger game that works with the Intellivision II. We checked through TARO and noticed that there were 2 Mattel Intellivision IIs in the Billy Cain Collection.”

For the purposes of the trial run, I created an abbreviated TARO record for the appropriate section of the Billy Cain Finding Aid.


Note that the SKU#s are the same as those on the Master Hardware List.

The staff and the researchers use the TARO record to find the console. The request is made using the console’s SKU# with the UTVA Hardware Request Slip (seen below) that I created specifically for this project. As previously mentioned, the relationship between an item and its SKU# is considered unbreakable. Using a SKU# allows one to request an item even if its location has shifted over time, provided the location has been changed on the Hardware Master Inventory List.


One might notice that the slip is rather large, especially when compared to other request slips used at the Briscoe. I designed the slip to handle both a research request for an entire gaming system and one or more objects like when Rachel Simone Weil created her exhibition “Hardware Not Responding”.

In the previous stage, I introduced the UTVA Wiki page that is hosted on the Briscoe Center’s Digital Archive Wiki when talking about the UTVA Hardware Master Inventory List. During the preparation for the checkout system and its trial run, I also created a UTVA ‘informational packet’ that Briscoe staff can use when a patron requests hardware. This packet is hosted on the UTVA Wiki page in the “Reference and Access” section. Part of this packet includes written instructions and guidelines that can be referenced during the different stages of the process. The image below shows instructions that pertain to the request stage.


One of the best aspects of the informational packet (and, to a larger extent, the UTVA Wiki) is its currency. The Wiki is a ‘living’ access tool that can be updated as necessary. It will make appearances in the stages that follow.

Reference staff and the team use the SKU# from the finding aid to request the console via the request slip.

In the next post, we will shift to the 3rd stage in the process: Locating and Retrieving the hardware.



Checkout System, Stage 1: Stabilize and Maintain the Hardware

In the last post, I introduced both the checkout system/workflow that I created to accommodate in-Reading Room research requests and the imagined research scenario that I used to picture the process.

In this post, I would like to discuss the first stage of the system/workflow: stabilizing and maintaining the hardware.

This stage occurs before any potential UTVA user interacts with the Briscoe. In order to increase accessibility and impose greater intellectual control over the collections, the artifacts need to be processed and cataloged.

UTVA hardware is cataloged and processed at the item level. Each piece receives an inventory number (SKU#) for tracking purposes. I am continuing to use the numbering system introduced by the previous UTVA-intern Matt when he began cataloging and processing the artifacts.

UTVA items are also photographed so the item can be easily identified and tracked. Photos help to diffuse collection knowledge throughout the institution especially for staff members unfamiliar with legacy gaming systems. The digital images are named by using the item’s inventory number plus a sequential numbering suffix.

The particular Mattel Intellivision II used for the trial run lacks its original packaging. The console and all relevant peripherals have been individually placed in separate polypropylene bags with associated archival identification tags. In an earlier post, I mentioned that the objects and tags were placed in sealed polypropylene bags to connect the object to its SKU# and to keep the object’s environment moisture free-ish.

The archival tags for the components display values for three metadata fields:

  1. Collection name
  2. SKU#
  3. Artifact name












The images of the items are stored on the computers in the Reading Room that are reserved for both the reference staff and the Briscoe Pages. At a future date, the images will be migrated to the Briscoe’s server for preservation purposes.

Matt also created a UTVA Hardware Master Inventory List that displays various metadata fields. This list is hosted on the UTVA’s page on the Briscoe Center’s Digital Archives Wiki. The Briscoe Center’s Digital Archive Wiki is an internal, web-based access tool that “provides a place for staff of the Center to develop and share ideas, processes, and documentation, for the capture, storage, retrieval, and sharing of the Center’s intellectual assets.”

Including the three fields, listed above, that are documented on the archival identification tags, the list includes each item’s location within the Briscoe and the relationships between a console and its related peripherals. Recall that one of the unique challenges associated with the UTVA hardware is the need for peripherals to render game play. Requesting only a console will not allow for emulating the activity.

The image below shows an abbreviated hardware list that I created specifically for the trial run.


The field “Associated Peripherals” is designed to display the relationships between consoles and components. The SKU#s of related elements are listed in this field for easy reference:

peripheral 1 | peripheral 2 | etc.

The field “Notes” indicates that a TV is necessary.

Briscoe staff with editing privileges (e.g., curatorial and reference archivists) can update the UTVA Hardware Master Inventory List anytime an item’s location changes. Locations are not updated if the hardware is requested by a visiting researcher as the items will be reshelved once the researcher is finished. Locations will be changed when an object’s ‘home’ within the archives changes or when an object is pulled for an exhibit.

The Briscoe Pages were given viewing privileges to the Wiki so they could access the list and its information during the trial run.

In the next post, the imagined research team will arrive at the Briscoe and make their request!


Proof-of-Concept: Checkout System/Workflow

In the last post, I discussed the third and final method used for designing the checkout system: previous use cases. Compiling a list of previous uses allows the Briscoe to plan for future uses and generate a framework for vetting research requests. Now, after interviewing stakeholders, shadowing Briscoe staff, and delving into the UTVA’s history, I was ready to apply the lessons learned and create a checkout system/workflow that can accommodate in-Reading Room research requests.

The Checkout System

Briefly, the checkout system I created has five distinct stages through which the materials flow:

  1. Stabilize and maintain the hardware
  2. Request the hardware
  3. Locate and retrieve the hardware
  4. Assemble and use the hardware
  5. Reshelve the hardware.

In this post and those that follow, I will discuss the checkout system and its five stages in two ways. First, I will describe an imagined research scenario in which a team comes to the Briscoe and requests specific UTVA materials. I used this specific scenario to help picture the interactions among the visitors, staff members, and internal and external access tools.

Second, in the next series of posts, I will discuss each of the 5 stages of the checkout system/workflow as they relate to the specific hardware request. By imagining the console moving through the system, I worked to create the access tools that would help Briscoe staff successfully service the hypothetical team’s research needs. The same tools that will be used in the actual trial run!

The Research Scenario

A PhD student in the Radio, Film, and Television (RTF) department at the University of Texas has arrived at the Briscoe Center with a research partner and wishes to use the Mattel Intellivision II.

The team is researching video game emulation and wants to experience authentic game play with the original system in order to investigate significant properties of that game experience.

Which, if any, significant properties are lost playing Frogger on an emulator when compared to Frogger on a Mattel Intellivision II?

The team arrives at the Briscoe Center on a Tuesday morning around 10:30am (roughly 30 minutes after the Briscoe opens). The team is arriving unannounced; the Briscoe has received no prior notification for their visit.

The team has knowledge of the Mattel Intellivision II because the team knows about the University of Texas Videogame Archive at the Briscoe and did a search of the finding aids on TARO. A manifestation of the Mattel Intellivision II was located in the Guide to the Billy Cain Papers. Frogger is also a part of the video game library at the UTVA (Brown and Cain collections).

Reading Room: The reading room has five people already paging boxes, one of which is an out-of-town visitor who has seven boxes on hold.

Reference Archivist: The Briscoe’s Reference Archivist has an M.S.I.S. from “School” and five years of professional experience. The Reference Archivist has been on the desk for one year and currently has one reference shift per week.

Reference Pages: There are two reference pages working in the reading room when the research team arrives. One page has been working at the Briscoe for 2 years; the other has worked at the Briscoe for 3 months.

In the next post, we will tackle the first stage of the process: Stabilize and Maintain the Hardware. This step occurs before any potential UTVA user interacts with the Briscoe. In order to provide access, the artifacts need to be processed and cataloged.

Proof-of-Concept: Potential Use Cases

In the last post, I described shadowing Briscoe staff members in order to see the archives through their eyes. Watching and participating in normal business operations combines with the stakeholder interviews to create a more nuanced picture for designing the checkout system. In this post, I would like to discuss the third method employed while creating the checkout system: compiling previous use cases of UTVA hardware (and other UTVA materials).

As I noted in an earlier post, UTVA hardware has been used in exhibits and in both undergraduate and graduate classes at the University of Texas. These different examples of use speak to the value of the materials as primary resources and provide clues about possible future uses of the collections. Not only can we think about providing access to the materials, the history of the UTVA’s uses can help in sketching a framework for vetting research requests.

When compiling these cases, I primarily used our blog, Continuous Play, and my experiences working with the UTVA during the Fall 2015 semester as sources. One key observation is the overlap between categories of use. For example, materials can be used for creating an exhibit as a class project.


Undergraduate Classes:

This semester the Briscoe was pleased to host tours for two UT classes:

Ms. Meyerson selected UTVA materials from several collections, including a Vectrex, an Atari 2600, a ColecoVision, and a Nintendo NES. We created internal exhibit documentation using aspects of the metadata schema introduced by Matt for his capstone project. For each class, the students were split into two groups with each group spending some time with the materials and with Briscoe staff for an orientation.

Ms. Weil’s class had a specific course objective related to the UTVA: “demonstrating the value and limitations of video game histories and archives”. Her class visited the archives during her first module: “The History of Video Games.”

In Mr. O’Brien’s class, the students had a group presentation project that required a visit (more likely visits) to the archive after the initial tour. The project required students “to conduct archival research in the [UTVA] in order to examine the roles that Austin has played in the development of the larger gaming industry.” Ms. Meyerson and Mr. O’Brien selected archival boxes and reserved them for student use. Students came to the Briscoe individually or in groups to work on their assignment.

When I was researching archival reference for my literature review, I read AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise by Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah Torres. One of their findings related that archival novices often lack “both a well-defined research strategy and any prior knowledge of the archives.” These users have difficulty formulating ‘good’ research questions and understanding how an archives can be used for primary source material, especially with respect to artifacts. Structured undergraduate experiences like those above can help increase both archival intelligence and artifactual literacy.

Graduate classes & Individual work

As I can attest, the Briscoe Center has a great working relationship with the School of Information. Students have worked with UTVA materials for class assignments or for Capstone projects. Students in the Digital Archiving and Preservation class have preserved digital audio files, performed small scale emulation research, and archived George Sanger’s workstation. Matt Cepeda created an exhibit “Experience Gained/Level Up!” for his capstone and this project is mine.

This relationship with the iSchool is sure to continue and the UTVA hardware presents a unique opportunity to expand the Briscoe’s relationship with the University of Texas in other, exciting directions. In my post about the preservation and conservation of plastics, I discussed the need to perform yearly inspections on the console systems, including checking game play. I also mentioned some spectroscopic techniques that can be used to identify mystery plastics in the hardware casings. Both of these tasks would be wonderful hands-on learning experiences for UT students in the Chemistry, Physics, Electrical Engineering, and/or Computer Science departments. While many, many details would need to be worked out, reaching out to these departments to gauge interest might be a great capstone project in its own right.

All of these different uses shine a light on possible future uses. And the accumulated experience allows us to try to plan for these cases. We need a way to show that materials are unavailable once pulled for exhibits. We can work with undergraduate classes to create semi-structured archival experiences that hopefully encourage younger students to come back. Finally, we can offer to graduate students fertile ground for new research and opportunities to gain real world, resume-ready experiences working with collection materials.

Proof-of-Concept: Shadowing

In the last post, I described stakeholder interviews and some of the main issues drawn from those conversations. I ended that post by mentioning some steps taken while designing the checkout system to address these issues. In this post, I would like to discuss further a second method used in the design process: shadowing Briscoe staff.

During my time here at the Briscoe, I was able to shadow both staff members at the Reference desk and Pages as they reshelved materials and serviced researcher requests. I wanted to see 1) how the Briscoe operates during normal business hours; 2) what resources staff use to help locate materials, and 3) any potential pain points for the checkout system. In addition, I underwent a training session for newly-hired Briscoe pages to get a better understanding of their workflows and procedures.

If you recall an earlier blog post, shadowing can allow one to see and understand the Briscoe’s social context. The Reference Desk is the first point of contact for researchers in the Reading Room and the first place they turn should something go wrong with the UTVA hardware. And pages will likely be the ones to retrieve and assemble gaming systems.

I’ll start by talking about some of the experiences from the reference desk. As noted, the reference desk is the first point of contact for guests while in the Reading Room. How can we help when UTVA-related issues arise? Game systems are similar to A/V equipment found in the Reading Room. The Briscoe has dedicated stations for researchers to interact with phonographs, DVDs, VHSs, microfilm, and other media. Written instructions and guidelines have been prepared by Briscoe staff and are available at these stations for quick reference. I mentioned in the last post about taking digital images for identification purposes and we also plan to write a set of console-specific instructions for the test runs. As we look towards the future for the UTVA, similar instructions for each console will hopefully be generated. At the same time, the A/V equipment is non-collection material and, as such, remains in the Reading Room. The UTVA hardware is collection material and will have to be stored at the end of the day and then reshelved.

One researcher interaction raises an interesting issue for UTVA materials. A guest had a question about proper citations after coming across an unlabeled folder within a labeled box. This represents a granularity question: How close can a citation direct a person to a resource? The consoles and peripherals will likely be described and cataloged at an item level. But how to cite actual gameplay? Emulation research represents a popular use for consoles and a researcher might need to be able to cite the gaming experience: the artifacts plus the activity. We are working on a tentative citation format.

The Briscoe allows guests to bring in cameras and take pictures provided they sign a camera agreement. With respect to emulation research, I can imagine a researcher wanting to record gameplay. This consideration raises copyright issues. Do fair use exceptions apply to video games used for research? Do copyright protections apply to the computer code? Or the visual presentation of the program? Or both at the same time? Or both separately? Fortunately, this lies outside the scope of my project.

Shadowing the pages and participating in page training helped me fully appreciate the need for clearly written procedures, complete floor-by-floor indices, and labeled navigational maps. I plan on creating written instructions for console setup and troubleshooting suggestions to accompany the digital images and the generalized step-by-step instructions for checkout.