“Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections” is in the most recent issue of the Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ; 2015: Volume 9: Number 1), and it’s an excellent article on the issues and limitations of search alone as an ungenerous interface. The article begins:
Imagine yourself outside an art gallery in a far-off city, with a collection you don’t know well. You enter the building to find a small, drab lobby with an attendant at a desk. The attendant asks you to enter your query on a small slip of paper. Not knowing the collection, and not seeking anything in particular, you write down something arbitrary, and pass it over. The attendant disappears for a moment before returning with a line of artworks sitting on trolleys. These are paraded, ten at a time, through the lobby. You can submit another query at any time, calling forth more trolleys, but there seems to be no way to explore the gallery beyond this small lobby. As absurd as it seems, this scenario is played out daily on the web sites of libraries, archives, galleries and museums around the world, where keyword search is the central — often the only — way to access the collection.
This is a fabulous way to describe and communicate the problems of search alone. Yes, users/patrons/people do want to be able to search, and they should be able to search within curated collections as well as through major search engines like Google to find materials in curated collections. Search alone is not enough. Users also need ways into collections with example/canned searches, highlighted items, contextual guides, exhibits, and other ways to glimpse, seek, be inspired, have evoked senses and views into materials and collections that don’t require the user to input/respond before ever having something to respond to. The UF Digital Collections and Digital Library of the Caribbean both utilize the SobekCM Open Source Repository Software which supports advanced searching features within and search engine optimization for searching from outside for searching needs, as well as integrated support for browsing in a number of ways and types, highlighted items, contextual guides with information pages and canned searches, exhibit support, and more. Notably, the SobekCM Software includes integrated support for digital production and curatorial tasks with the workflow tools and Curator Tools, which are critical because creating evocative, generous interfaces and experiences require collaboration among many people and Collection Curators are essential voices in making generous interfaces, so our tools need to support engagement and inclusion of them. We all certainly need to do more to support generous interfaces, and our full communities will need to be engaged in the processes. For this, “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections” is an excellent article that explains the problem of search alone, the need and examples of explorations beyond search, opportunities, and possibilities. This is highly recommended reading for anyone working with libraries and digital collections and interfaces that should be generous. Again from the article:
Generous interfaces use multiple, fragmentary representations to reveal the complexity and diversity of cultural collections, and to privilege the process of interpretation. While they draw on techniques and models established in information retrieval and visualisation, generous interfaces emphasise process, pleasure and thoughtful engagement rather than the functional satisfaction of an information need. Like any interface or visualisation, these interfaces are inescapably contingent and constructed; as the representational scope of the interface multiplies so do the cultural stakes, and the need for critical attention and reflective practice. Yet if there are risks in doing too much, they are outweighed by the opportunities of doing more with the immense riches of our digital cultural collections. As the experiments presented here show, much more is possible.