Hi there! This is the Collections Management Systems Analysis for the Collections Care and Management class. It is a review, and thus has my personal opinion included. Your mileage may vary.
Review of SIRIS The Smithsonian’s Research Information System, or SIRIS, is precisely what it claims to be: a system for researchers to access information about the Smithsonian collections. It provides an excellent resource for academics and amateurs with very focused interests. I find that the entire system is overwhelming and not particularly friendly to casual browsers. The starting page is difficult to navigate simply because there is so much detail available to the user at the very start of their experience with SIRIS. Having so many options for refining a search creates another layer of customization, but having such a long list of possible factors for restricting the search seems like it would be overwhelming to the casual user. It was overwhelming for me, and I have been known to get excited about being given the ability to refine searches ad nauseum. For scholars and researchers, this will probably work well, and in all honesty that’s the audience that the Smithsonian is most likely focused on for their database. However, whether one is designing for the casual or professional user, making an interface user-friendly, simple, and self-explanatory should always be a primary concern for database designers. I was most interested in finding images first rather than catalog records first, which I imagine is probably the way most non-professional people want to go about searching for cool things in the Smithsonian collections, but the image gallery was available at the very bottom of the opening page. I had to scroll down to find it underneath a whole heap of text, and there was no indication higher on the page of where I might expect to find that option or that it existed at all. This seems like bad planning. Honestly, academic researchers are more likely to be willing and able to spend a few moments rooting out the precise searching method that makes most sense to them than casual users. It is casual users who will spend maybe thirty seconds looking at the opening page of SIRIS, shrug, and move on to Google, Flickr, or some other source. Perhaps this is not a concern for the Smithsonian, but making average people feel intimidated or frustrated by the Smithsonian’s website seems ill-advised. If the idea of SIRIS is to create a searching system that allows average people to enjoy browsing the collection just as easily as researchers can plow through the reams of data available in this vast database, what you ask the average person to do has to be easier than this.
Review of Indiana SOS The initial and most obvious issue with the Indiana Save Outdoor Sculpture! survey is the fact that the information collected during the survey is not available online. The Internet is the first way that most people find information these days, and for many people, especially those under thirty years of age, it may well be the only source that they check. To not have this information available online seems to me to be rather a waste, although I certainly understand that it takes time, money and manpower to put anything up on the web, and more of each when the information one hopes to broadcast is analog at the beginning. The “file cabinet of twelve hundred individual folders on the sculptures documented by SOS!” that Glory-June Greiff describes as her material for the book Remembrance, Faith and Fancy: Outdoor Public Sculpture in Indiana is an impressive and daunting thought (xi). The fact that the survey was able to mobilize such a large number of people and collect such a massive quantity of data stands as evidence that the survey was well conceived and well executed. The book that Greiff produced to contain the data from the survey is organized nicely and easy to read or to use as a tool (although its size is likely to deter anyone from carrying it around as a field guide). However, this data is trapped in this one form. As a book, it works well; as a data management system, less so. The only ways to get at this information are through this book or through the original files. There is no way to search, collate, or sort the information, so that in order to get to information about a particular variety of sculpture, one must carefully (and manually) search through book or files, a process that could take hours or days. Images are not available for all of the works, and words can really only go so far in describing a work of art. For example, despite the fact that Greiff dedicates almost an entire page to describing the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument (Indianapolis) on the Circle, I doubt that I would be able to imagine it if I did not already know what it looked like. In short, the amount of data that Greiff has gathered is admirable, but without the information being easily available and easy to manipulate, it is not particularly useful.
Review of Wikipedia Wikipedia has quite a bit going for it. Finding the information that you are interested in is quick and simple, and finding information that you had no idea that you were interested is also very easy (although potentially devastating to one’s schedule). For my examination of Wikipedia articles, I decided to use what I consider to be three good articles of different sizes. The first article I looked at, the Dungeons & Dragons article, is definitely large. The article has benefitted from the fact that players of Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D, are excited about the game and often passionate about its history. What makes this a good article is both the organization of the article and the use of the box on the top right hand side that contains basic facts. The organization splits game play and history, putting game play first. By locating the most basic information first (that is, what do you do in D&D), the article makes itself more user-friendly, as most casual readers are not going to be very interested in the pedigree of the game. I am disappointed to see that the fact box does not include a link to the article on the role-playing game as a whole and that a user can’t get from the D&D page to the page of another RPG, like Vampire: The Masquerade, within a few clicks. The article is useful, but its links with articles not directly related to D&D leaves something to be desired. Dungeons & Dragons is both an article and a category, encompassing a wide range of articles, some more related than others. A good medium-sized article is the one on Pierre Bourdieu. This article makes good use of its table of contents, making it easy for a casual reader to access precisely what she is interested in reading. This article also uses the fact box on the right hand side, but this article does it better than the D&D article. The box is capped with the category that Pierre Bourdieu resides in theoretically: Western sociology, and more specifically 20th-century sociology. This helps to identify precisely the theoretical framework within which Bourdieu was working, which is important information for anyone trying to understand his work. I appreciate the thorough linking that happens in this fact box, allowing me to access his school of thought, notable ideas, main interests, influencers and those he influenced in a single click. I particularly like that I can get directly from Bourdieu to Marx without even having to delve into the article’s text. The article on the Big Dam Bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas is an example of a good small article. It uses a fact box on the right to get the most basic information across: its official name, other name, what it carries, what it crosses, where it is located, its dimensions, and its opening date. Above this box are the GPS coordinates for the bridge. Because it is such a short article, there is no table of contents, but the brief text is still well organized and to the point. The article includes four images of the Big Dam Bridge, and each image provides a different perspective on the bridge, so that a reader can get a good idea of what it looks like from all sides. However, the article is missing citations, and this is problematic when it is providing such specific data. For our project, there are a number of categories that could apply. The category Outdoor sculptures in Indianapolis certainly applies. However, because it is currently such a small category and does not link to larger categories, it should certainly not be the only category we use. The category Public art is larger and may help direct more readers to our articles.Sculpture may also help with this issue.