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Section 4: A Practical Evaluation of XML Technologies and TEI P4 for Archaeological Markup and Multi-layered Presentation

4.1.2 Review of users and user needs


In an early discussion of the potential of hypertext techniques for presenting archaeological reports, Rahtz et al. (1989) identified that few people actually read the whole content of an archaeological report; they look at it from different perspectives and want different things from it. It is widely recognised that fieldwork reports are used for many different reasons, and that each user has their own specific needs that may change over time.

With the ability of electronic means of producing access statistics, it is now possible to explore how an online report is being used. Statistics have been published by Wickham-Jones (1999) on the use of different aspects of the report on the mesolithic site at Fife Ness, Fife, Scotland published in Internet Archaeology 5 (Wickham-Jones and Dalland 1998). Because readers of Internet Archaeology have to register, a user profile can be compiled for individual papers. In the first six weeks of publication, there had been over 11,000 hits to different parts of the paper, the majority, c. 42%, being to the main text and images. Many users never went any further than the table of contents, and it could be seen that more people access the initial pages of any section, with readership tailing off for the further pages. However, it could be demonstrated that people were making use of all the different aspects of the report, as Wickham-Jones (1999) points out, something that would be hard to demonstrate with a paper publication.

There is no doubt that an Internet publication reaches a much wider audience than its paper equivalent, with no barriers of geographical location, but it can also provide the audience with different levels of information to suit their own particular needs. At its most detailed level, raw data about the site stratigraphy and finds, for example, can be integrated within a report for specialist readers to manipulate as they wish. Less keen readers can read the results of the specialist analysis, and those interested in the site, but not its particulars, can read the summary information that sets the general context (Wickham-Jones 1999). In an earlier volume of Internet Archaeology, Vince et al. (1997) also presented the results of analyses of user statistics. They too show a similar pattern, that users want first to see a summary of the contents and scope of a paper, then they want to look at the illustrations, and finally they will begin to read the paper.

It is important to be aware of user needs, as Wise and Miller (1997) point out. In order to describe the archaeological content of a report adequately, there needs to be an understanding of what people will want to know about it; this determines what metadata and markup will be important. They also note another important factor, that what people will want to know about the data may change as they become more familiar with what is available. The process of document markup is a time-consuming one, with significant resource implications. It is essential, therefore, to understand the projected audience of the end product to ensure maximum use and reuse potential.

User groups

Within the archaeological community and beyond there is a large and varied audience for archaeological information. Whilst there has been no detailed survey of this varied audience with regard to publications (the PUNS survey discussed below assessed only users within the profession), Robinson (2003), has looked into who uses Historic Environment Records (HERs) and how they use them and has found that there is no commonly agreed definition of user groups. Analogies can, however, be made between those who use HERs and those who read archaeological reports. There is a wide range of users consulting HERs, who will access the primary sources held, including grey literature, and/or secondary sources, such as the Monument and Event HER database records extracted from these documents.

Baker and Baker (1999) have also assessed volumes and types of users of HERs. The majority of usage of an HER is in-house for the provision of planning and other resource management advice. External users include both public and private organisations and individuals, including academics and students, both in higher and further education, national bodies, media companies, museums, freelance specialists and researchers and commercial contracting and consulting bodies. It should also be recognised that an individual user may fall into a number of different user groups, depending upon the nature and purpose of their enquiry. An archaeologist, for instance, may be accessing certain reports for information in a professional capacity on one occasion, and for private interest or academic study on another.

Different users search for data in different ways, depending on the nature of their research or enquiry. Many want to locate data geographically, within a specific area, or within a particular radius of a specific site. Others are interested in a specific class, or classes, of monument, event or archive. Broader searches may focus upon a specific period, or may range more widely over themes, personnel/organisations, or artefact or building types, with queries such as who, what, when and where?

The CBA Publication User Needs Survey (PUNS)

In 1998, it was recognised within the archaeological profession that although there has been lengthy debate about the nature of archaeological reporting, there was little understanding of user needs. The Council for British Archaeology was, therefore, commissioned to undertake a detailed survey throughout the profession to obtain information both on the actual use of different parts of archaeological reports, and on needs and expectations. The results of this survey 'revealed patterns with major implications for publication rationale and practice' (Jones et al. 2001). These results throw particular light on grey literature usage and are summarised and discussed below. What is particularly important with reference to the present case study is the acknowledgement 'that a single print publication for one project cannot usually satisfy even a majority of expectations'. A key recommendation from this survey (no. 3) is that there should be multiple forms and media of dissemination, and that a suite of means be employed, each tailored to particular purposes or consumers. The authors propose 'that experimental projects be set in hand forthwith' as there is a need to develop diverse solutions oriented to specific audiences. They envisage the production of 'layered' reports, which exploit the strengths of different media (Jones et al. 2001).

A recurrent finding of the survey is that those questioned generally found the Internet the least useful source of information at that time. The majority used libraries and journals, or bought their own books. It should be borne in mind, however, that it is now six years since the survey was carried out, and that use of, and access to, the Internet has increased dramatically since then (see 2.8.1). It would be useful to undertake such a survey again to see if this finding has changed. However, it is also worrying to note that respondents also rated HERs and the NMR among their least-preferred methods of obtaining archaeological information. In the north of England in particular, over 70% of respondents felt that there was often, or sometimes, relevant information that they were unaware of; perhaps this is because of their under-use of the HERs and NMR?

In relation to use of various types of archaeological publication, only 22% of respondents used grey literature reports frequently, and 17% did not consult them at all. The most frequent users, unsurprisingly, were Local Government archaeologists (over 50%) and contractors (over 40%). Other users (over 30%) comprised archaeologists working for national bodies and consultants. The most infrequent users, as was suspected, were proven to be university staff and students, specialists and museum archaeologists. The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that these unpublished reports have a very limited audience beyond the curatorial and contractual environment within which they are produced (Jones et al. 2003, fig. 11).

With reference to the use of different components of reports, it was found that the most frequently used are the introductions and conclusions/discussions, followed by the illustrative material – maps, plans, sections and photographs. As has been noted above (4.1.2), only 19% read the entire publication. Other parts of reports were used by specialist readers, the majority of whom (77%), always use artefact and ecofact reports (Jones et al. 2003, fig. 12).

With regard to the preferred publication media for different types of archaeological documents, there was overwhelming preference for material to be available in print format. However, it is especially interesting to see that of all the categories of reports and books identified, it is grey literature that respondents most want to see available via the Internet (Jones et al. 2003, fig. 21). This may be the result of a general desire for a better system of reporting of developer-funded fieldwork and dissemination of results. The survey found that 57% of those questioned favoured brief summary reports, and 48% wanted a simple listing. However, it is a concern that nearly a third of people when questioned about grey literature were unaware of it, or ignorant about what it is. Those who are aware, indicated a general dissatisfaction, centered upon problems of access, and knowing what exists (Jones et al. 2001).

In summary, the survey report concludes that grey literature is neither being read by many of those who would find it useful, nor is it liked by those who produce it. Many never consult these unpublished reports, and half the respondents consider its ballooning quantity to be a problem, particularly in England. The advantages of the Internet are seen to be immense as a means of giving access to, and disseminating, these reports (Jones et al. 2003).

User surveys of online content

Whilst the above has focused on the user needs of those who seek information from hard-copy archaeological reports and records, there is a related issue of the user needs of those obtaining electronic access to material via the World Wide Web, which would also need to be considered in providing grey literature online. This latter topic has been the focus of a number of recent surveys and reports, several of which were discussed at the 'Opening Doors' conference held at the British Museum in 2003. The papers from this conference provide an excellent overview of the issues facing those who are providing online content, and the feedback from their users.

The National Archives, for example, has found that their online users are predominantly using the website of the Public Record Office for personal leisure pursuits (65.3%), with professional and occupation use at 12.4% and as an education/training source for 10.3%. Their findings indicate that overall, users want rapid and simple access, to see the full content of records, assurance of authenticity and accuracy of information and an understanding of its context. Within this, however, different customer segments have different requirements, and there is a need for appropriate presentation of material for these different segments (Hallam Smith 2003).

Another project that has looked at users of online resources is the NANURG survey, which undertook a qualitative evaluation of the four archive strand websites: A2A, AIM25, Archives Hub, and SCAN, part of the National Archive Network. This showed similar results to the National Archives' research in that users were looking for improved usability, searching and navigation, and the addition of more content to make sites more comprehensive. Overall, it was also felt that wider publicity and advertising at different levels would increase the profile of the sites among the various targeted users (Economou 2002). A similar exercise in user testing has recently been undertaken by the LEADERS Project outlined in Section 3.7 (Sexton 2003).

A survey in 2002 by the Cultural Heritage Consortium of the users and their uses of Historic Environment Information Resources (HEIRs) found that little is known about actual users, and still less about their uses of services (Cultural Heritage Consortium 2002). This research showed that there is a large and increasing demand for HEIR resources, and that users prefer online access. As users become more familiar with material, their enquiries become more complex and specific because their expectations have been raised. There is a need, therefore, for increased depth of information, as well as more interpretation to develop new audiences.

Alice Grant Consulting (2003a; 2003b) has also undertaken research to synthesise results from existing surveys, of user expectations and experience with electronic cultural heritage, with the aim of informing the development of future evaluation and user research strategies (Grant 2003). The results of this project will form essential material for any potential future project to make archaeological grey literature available online, particularly in relation to the development of, and research into, user profiles and metrics (see Conclusion).

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