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.

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