Tag Archives: Access

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.


Checkout System: Trial Run

In the last post, our hypothetical team of researchers finished its emulation research and the pages successfully reshelved the console and its associated peripherals.

In this post, I will discuss the trial run that we conducted at the Briscoe Center in which we actually requested the Mattel Intellivision II and watched the process throughout. At this point, I would like to say a HUGE “Thank You” to the Briscoe staff and Pages for helping me with this aspect of my project. The trial run (user study) was an incredibly valuable learning experience and I am grateful for everyone’s participation.

Preparing for the Trial Run:

Before we could test the system, I had to get the items ready and create the access tools I mentioned in earlier posts. A quick note for the reader: many (if not all) of these access tools have been discussed in our blog, especially in the last 5 posts. Please revisit those posts for actual images. 

Stage 1: Stabilize & Maintain the Hardware

I ‘bagged and tagged’ all collection materials, created the abbreviated hardware list, and took pictures of the hardware. The hardware list was available on the UTVA Wiki and all images were uploaded to the computers in the Reading Room.

Stage 2: Request the Hardware

I created (and printed out) the UTVA Hardware Request form and the UTVA ‘Informational Packet’, also on the UTVA Wiki. One might recall that the packet contains, among other things, instructions, guidelines, resources, and helpful tips.

Stage 3: Locate & Retrieve the Hardware

I took images for navigation including ones of the Reading Room, the hardware’s location in the Briscoe, and the shelving system. And again the UTVA Informational Packet.

Stage 4: Assemble & Use the Hardware

I took images of the console and its peripherals during the assembly process and created written step-by-step instructions to accompany the images….and the UTVA Informational Packet.

Stage 5: Reshelve the Hardware

I wrote instructions for the Informational Packet.

With respect to the Informational Packet, I used the Mattel Intellivision II when creating the different components. At the same time, most of the instructions and resources are system agnostic and can be applied to UTVA hardware requests in general. The gaming system worked for me leading up to the test which gave me hope it would work during the trial run.

Training the Pages

I conducted a training session with two pages the morning of November 9th. I showed the available resources to them, including the images, the UTVA cabinet, the UTVA collection in the Briscoe, and the UTVA Informational Packet on the Wiki (after getting them access). In an earlier post, I mentioned undergoing a brief training session similar to one the Pages experience when hired. Training is also revisited (when needed) anytime collections are added to the Briscoe or procedures change.

The Trial Run

The trial run took place the morning of November 12th. Due to an earlier cancellation, we had a different set of pages, one of whom had been trained while the other had not. I feel this worked in our favor as it provided us the opportunity to see how a person with virtually no prior UTVA experience would interact with the system. We had only one hour to test the system, the hour after reshelving and before the Briscoe opened.

I “requested” the Mattel Intellivision II for emulation research by filling in the top of the UTVA Hardware Request slip with the console’s name and SKU#. I handed the slip to the pages and they got to work. Please note that, by design, I stayed in the background taking notes and stepped in only when it was clear that the process needed a nudge. And since we had only one hour, I was a touch proactive in “nudging” so we could hit all of the stages. I asked the pages to narrate the process and talk openly about what they were doing and thinking during each stage.

In the next post, I will discuss the results of the trial run.

Checkout System, Stage 5: Reshelve the Hardware

In the last post, the Pages assembled the system, a suitable location was selected, and the researchers began their emulation research: playing Frogger on a Mattel Intellivision II.

In this post, we approach the final stage of the checkout system/workflow: reshelving the items.

At the end of a normal business day at the Briscoe, researchers have two options. If they are not finished and plan to come back, they can place a ‘hold’ on the materials. Otherwise, the materials are ready to return to their ‘home.’

Considering that maps are usually reshelved soon after a researcher is finished, most objects used in the Reading Room are reshelved the morning of the next business day before the Briscoe re-opens. Until then, the collection materials are stored in the stacks area for safekeeping and security purposes. If a researcher does put a hold on the gaming system, the system will be stored in the same secure place after the RF Switch Box is disconnected from the TV. The system is returned to the Reading Room for the researcher the next morning.

If there is no hold, the items are returned to their respective ‘homes’ the next morning. It is this moment that tracking locations becomes crucial. It is likely that a different set of pages will reshelve than the set that originally retrieved. This can be an issue because, as is, there is no readily apparent relationship between an item’s SKU# and its location. For other archival material, Pages can deduce the ‘home’ location by looking at the label of the box. For UTVA hardware, the Hardware Request slip can aid in reshelving provided the items are returned to the correct polypropylene bags before being reshelved. If the items are not returned to the correct bag, the link between the archival ID tag and an item is broken. I included written instructions for reshelving in the UTVA ‘informational packet’ hosted on the UTVA Wiki.

UTVA_ReshelvingHardwareDigital images of hardware are available on the desktop computers in case someone is unfamiliar with a piece and wishes to double check.

UTVA_Hardware_ResourcesAnd the UTVA Master Hardware Inventory list should still reflect the appropriate ‘home’ location as locations are not changed for research requests. Things would get absurd otherwise.

Proof-of-Concept_CheckOutSystemIn an earlier post, I mentioned a tentative citation format for a researcher wishing to cite game play. For this scenario, the citation should reflect both the game and the console (artifact + activity).  I felt that the following might be a good start:


  • Frogger. Sega Enterprises Inc., 1983. Intellivision cartridge. Mattel Intellivision II (SKU#: 2010_231_00063_002). Billy Cain Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Video game. Publisher/distributor/manufacturer, Release date. Format. Platform (Inventory Number). Collection name, Repository.

Once the materials have been returned, we have come full circle and return to Stage 1: Stabilize and Maintain the Hardware. As suggested earlier, hardware should be inspected yearly and these inspections represent a unique opportunity to begin (and then leverage) relationships with other departments in the UT community for help with the process.

And we await the next researcher!

In the next post, I will discuss the preparation for, and the results from, testing the checkout system/workflow. Stay tuned!



Checkout System, Stage 4: Assemble and Use the Hardware

In the last post, the Pages received the UTVA Hardware Request slip that the team and Briscoe staff filled out. By using both the UTVA ‘informational packet’ on the UTVA Wiki and the UTVA Master Hardware Inventory list, the Pages were able to intellectually locate the console and its associated peripherals. After completing the Request slip, the pages were able to physically locate the items within the Briscoe by using, if needed, navigational images and pre-existing floor-by-floor maps of the Briscoe.

In this post, we move to the fourth stage of the checkout system/workflow: assemble and use the hardware.

Once the console and the peripherals have been assembled, the gaming system must be set up. For this step, it was possible that both the Reference staff and the pages would be unfamiliar with the Mattel Intellivision II. Considering that this system was first produced in the early 1980s and that the pages are college freshmen, our system might be twice as old as those responsible for putting it together. With this in mind, I took steps to help in the process.

First, I wrote some assembly instructions that were added to the UTVA ‘informational packet’ shown in the screenshot below. These instructions are system agnostic and can be applied (hopefully) to all hardware requests.

UTVA_HardwareAssemblyInstructionsSecond, for the Mattel Intellivision II specifically, I wrote step-by-step instructions and took digital images of the system along the way. The instructions and digital images are labeled using the console’s SKU# and hosted within the console’s folder on the desktops of the Reference and Page’s computers in the Reading Room. I felt it best to keep all of these access tools together in one place. The console’s folder made the most sense.

Mattel Intellivision II (SKU# 2010_231_00063_002a)2010_231_00063_002_img_052010_231_00063_002_img_062010_231_00063_002_img_072010_231_00063_002_img_082010_231_00063_002_img_09


















To complete the system, one piece of non-collection material is needed: a TV. The TVs are located in, or near, the UTVA cabinet. I used a Panasonic TV when I wrote the instructions. Digital images of the TVs and the UTVA cabinet are hosted on the desktops of the staff computers. As I mentioned in the last post, the “Resources” page on the UTVA Wiki presents a list of the locations of the photos.









So we have the objects and are ready to assemble. But where?

Deciding where to set up the system presents an issue because the games have sound. The A/V stations in the Reading Room come with headphones. But we currently do not have a dedicated spot for game play because the hardware is collection material. As such, it cannot remain in the Reading Room and must be reshelved. For the class tours, we set up in a conference room on the opposite side of the Briscoe as the Reading Room.

And the Briscoe’s public service space will be undergoing renovations starting February 2016. Researchers will be directed to the Benson’s Special Collections Reading Room instead. Unfortunately, requests that involve game play will not  accommodated during our time at the Benson due to space and patron traffic. It is possible that, after the renovations, there will be a location reserved solely for A/V equipment. Game systems would be set up in this room as well. Perhaps with a TV reserved for such a purpose.

Finally, after working with the system, I tried to predict some potential problems and wrote a troubleshooting guide. The guide is also included in the console’s folder.

Mattel Intellivision II (SKU# 2010_231_00063_002b)Once a location is selected and the system assembled, the researchers are able to get to work. In the next post, we will move to the final stage of the checkout system/workflow: reshelving the hardware.


Checkout System, Stage 3: Locate and Retrieve Hardware

In the last post, the imagined research team has made its request and, with the help of reference staff, filled out the top portion of the UTVA Hardware Request slip using the name and SKU# of one of the Mattel Intellivision IIs. In this post, we move to the third stage of the system/workflow: locating and retrieving the hardware.

At this stage, the responsibility shifts to the page(s). In an earlier post, I mentioned that pages would likely be the ones to retrieve and assemble the gaming systems. And recall, in the imagined research scenario, there are other patrons in our reading room and the reference archivist tends to all their needs.

Finding objects in the Briscoe’s collections is a two-part task. Items must first be located intellectually via access tools. Then items must be located physically within the building via navigational tools.

Once given the UTVA Hardware Request slip, the pages access the UTVA Hardware Master Inventory List hosted on the UTVA Wiki page.

Proof-of-Concept_CheckOutSystemUsing this list, the pages can fill out the rest of the request slip by writing down the location of the console and the SKU#s, names, and locations of the associated peripherals. Please recall that this in an excerpt of the real list. When using the bigger list, utilizing a search feature will likely be helpful.

If needed, there are written instructions available for this stage in the previously mentioned UTVA ‘informational packet.’

ResearchRequest_UTVAWikiOnce the request slip is complete, the pages have to find the different locations in the building. Note that one item is in the UTVA cabinet in the reading room and the others are in SRH 2.322 (SRH as the Briscoe’s building).

As I mentioned earlier, I took digital images of many things during this project in order to give people as many different access tools as possible. Some of these images reflect the different locations in the Briscoe: the Reading Room, the UTVA cabinet, SRH 2.322, etc. Some examples are below:














Along with images of hardware, navigational images are found in folders on the desktop of the staff computers in the Reading Room. I created a “Resources” page on the UTVA Wiki that staff can use when looking for access and/or navigational tools.

UTVA_Hardware_ResourcesPreexisting floor-by-floor maps of the Briscoe that indicate the locations of the various collections and rooms are already posted in the staff elevator and on every floor, usually multiple times.

The UTVA-specific access tools that I created were designed to help staff and pages get started on a UTVA hardware research request. Once locations have been identified, the retrieval process folds (hopefully) into existing Briscoe practices.

In the next post, the pages will have gathered the collection materials and will move to assembly.



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.