Checkout System & Capstone Project: Final Thoughts

In the last post, I described some of the results and lessons learned from the different stages of the checkout system during the trial run. In this post, I will discuss some of my thoughts and impressions with respect to the checkout system and the overall project.

Before I began this project, there was no system in place at the Briscoe that specifically dealt with the UTVA and its hardware. Any use and requests were handled in an ad-hoc manner, usually by the videogame archivist or the digital archivist. Now we have a system that can used by other staff members which, hopefully, increases the collection’s accessibility.

There exists tension with the item level control necessary for processing the unique artifacts. One can think of a gaming system as one distinct culturally artifact or as one console plus the appropriate peripherals. One of the Pages suggested using  one checkout slip for each item instead of one slip for the entire system. Using multiple slips would be more in turn with already established Briscoe procedures yet the relationships among all the components must be made visible. The key is preserving the artifact and the activity. In the hypothetical research scenario, our visitors are attempting to interact with an authentic gaming performance.

While not a perfect solution, the workflow I established is one potential answer to this issue. The test run generated recommendations for improving the checkout system. For example, I created second versions of the access tools that incorporate the results and lessons learned that I mentioned in the previous post. We kept both versions so anyone who comes after me can see the evolution of our thinking.

I also drafted a complementary workflow that can be implemented when accessioning any new UTVA collections that contain hardware. This workflow essentially covers the first stage of the checkout system: Stabilize & Maintain the Hardware. Coupled together, the Briscoe will be able to impose greater intellectual control over the UTVA moving forward. And as the collection grows, the system can be revisited and improved.

And I wrote a series of short-, mid-, and long-term recommendations that can be taken to prolong the life of the UTVA and its materials. Unfortunately, the consoles will last only so long. We will reach a point at which they simply will no longer work. But, until that moment, the Briscoe is better prepared to handle researcher requests and we hope better access leads to increased use. We have the objects and take pride in helping others interact with them.

Throughout this project, I had two global questions guiding me: 1) How can we best operate in the space between researcher and collection? and 2) How can we make access more accessible? While the UTVA is a specific collection at a specific institution, these questions apply to virtually all archives and every archivist.  I have found that one answer to both of these questions is simple: work with a group of incredible people.

While working on this project, from starting in August 2015 till December 2015, I have had the pleasure of working with, and being supported by, amazing people both at the School of Information and the Briscoe Center.  There is virtually zero chance I could have made it through (and graduated!) without them.

From the iSchool, I would like to thank Tara Iagulli, the iSchool’s Director of Career Development. She helped to find the project and put me in contact with the right people. I would also like to thank Professor Diane Bailey, the faculty supervisor for the capstone projects during the Fall semester. She was a great resource during all 4 months of the project for myself and the other iSchool students.

At the Briscoe, I would like to thank Lynn Bell, the Assistant Director for Exhibits and Material Culture, Daniel Kaufman, the Reference Archivist, and Margaret Schlankey, the Head of Reference Services, for taking time out of their schedules for stakeholder interviews and all the other times I popped in with questions. I deeply appreciate the Pages, Kate and Kathy, for testing the checkout system. I also would like to thank Briscoe staff in general for being so welcoming, especially as they got ready for a year-long renovation!

Finally, I would like to thank Ms. Jessica Meyerson, the Briscoe’s Digital Archivist and my project supervisor. I could not have done this without her. Not only was she involved with my project, she gave me the opportunity to accompany her to meetings as she worked as a professional archivist within the University system. Her wide-ranging knowledge and acumen is nothing short of spectacular.  Thank you for everything.


Checkout System: Trial Run Results/Lessons Learned

In the last post, I described both the steps taken to prepare for the trial run and the trial run itself. In this post, I would like to discuss some of the results of that run and the lessons learned. I will approach each stage separately and will leave until a later post some overall thoughts.

Stage 1: Stabilize and Maintain the Hardware

As one might recall, this stage happens before a request can even be made as the collection items have to be assessed and processed. BUT, the Checkout System returns to this stage after the items have been successfully reshelved. As such, I will revisit the results applicable to this stage later in this post. Stay tuned…..

Stage 2: Request the Hardware

The major issue with this step was getting started. The pages had trouble remembering where to begin, which resource to use. This is understandable because only one had experienced a single training session and a cursory one at that. Once the pages navigated to the UTVA Wiki page, the same problem occurred: which resource in the UTVA Informational Packet to use first?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was concerned about UTVA documentation becoming unwieldy. Item level control and description can lead to an explosion of records. In this stage of the Checkout System, I created the opposite problem. By trying to (gently) cram all of the relevant information in one ‘convenient’ location, the Pages were overloaded with too many options. It reminds me of shopping for toothpaste…my mind shuts down whilst looking at the wall of choices. My instructions and labels were less than clear. The Pages mentioned that there were “lots of links”, a “lot of steps”, and the process was a “little confusing.”

As I described in an early post, the best part of the Wiki is its currency. As a living document, we can revisit it and make improvements. For example, we plan to create a uniform starting position by removing some options and bringing others forward.

The Pages did successfully complete the UTVA Hardware Request slip by filling in the SKU#s, names, and locations of the console and its peripherals.

Stage 3: Locate & Retrieve the Hardware

The major result – and likely the one that most surprised me – for this step was that the Pages pulled the boxes instead of individual items. This was totally unexpected for me and it should not have been. The peripherals were individually bagged and placed within their appropriate boxes. With the item level control, I assumed they would grab only the console and the peripherals and move back downstairs.

When Pages at the Briscoe service archival requests (compared to maps or photographs as examples), the entire box is retrieved and brought to the patron. Since the peripherals were in boxes, naturally they pulled the boxes. When I asked the Pages about pulling individual items instead, one responded that the Pages reshelving the next morning would have no clue where to return the items since the individual archival ID tags did not come with the item’s AR# and/or location. In an earlier post, I described how Pages can ‘deduce’ a box’s home location by its tag. In the case of individually pulled items, the reshelving Pages would have to use the original request slip or the UTVA Master Hardware Inventory List. It simply did not make sense to the Pages to leave the box behind.

The Pages located the objects and brought them downstairs.

Stage 4: Assemble & Use the Hardware

This stage went quite smoothly. The major issue was the setup location. I had originally planned to assemble the system in the Winkler Study Room instead of the Reading Room because I was imagining a scenario in which we want to minimize the potential for distraction for the other patrons. Unfortunately the assembly instructions and digital images are all on the computers in the Reading Room. So…we set up there instead. One page would read aloud the instructions while the other was looking at the digital images. I’ll put in a request to get the Pages some IPads so we are not tethered to the desktops.

The Pages assembled the system and we played some 1983 Frogger with some incredibly unresponsive controllers.

Stage 5: Reshelve the Hardware

The major issue here was the written instructions on the Wiki. The instructions were written with respect to reshelving the individual items, not the boxes. This created some confusion especially if the researchers wish to place a hold on the items and use them the following day. What happens to the system? What happens to the boxes? Do we leave the system assembled yet detached from the TV? Etc.

Since we had only an hour, we ended the scenario by imagining that the researchers are indeed finished and did not place a hold. The white UTVA Hardware Request slip proved useful because the box ID tags do not intuitively point to a home location.

The Pages successfully returned all the items and boxes.

And back to Stage 1: Stabilize & Maintain the Hardware

After wrapping up with the Pages, two suggestions were provided. If the UTVA items are to be pulled individually, the AR# and location need to be added to the items’ archival ID tags. If not, the boxes’ tags need to be amended to include location.

Second, we bandied about the idea of adding an item’s digital image to the tag as well to help with identification purposes. We take the photos of the items when processing but we don’t know how big the ID tags would need to be to accommodate photos.

This was an incredible experience for me. Watching the Pages interact with the Checkout System shined a massive spot light on pain points to which I was utterly blind. Due to creating and working with the system for months, it ‘seemed’ perfectly natural to me. Now, I can revisit the access tools and make them even more perfectly natural.

In the next post, I will discuss my overall thoughts and impressions.