Today is my last day at Tufts DCA, and I keep dwelling on all the things I love about this place. There’s what I I love about Tufts University; today on my way into work, as I walked past the straw bales they put against trees so local kids sledding down the hill won’t hurt themselves, I thought about how one of the things that drew me to Tufts in the first place was how it is a member of the surrounding community. There’s also DCA, and everything I will miss here. Of course there’s the people and the work and everything that we’ve accomplished in the time I’ve been here, but let’s face it, it’s easier to blog about my favorite elements from our collections. Therefore I present for you:
Deborah’s list of five treasures she’s enjoyed finding in our collections, in no particular order:
- “Outerbridge Horsey“. I know this record doesn’t look like much but I am so fond of Mr. Horsey. He’s my favorite name in the entire A New Nation Votes project. One thing I love about the Outerbridge Horsey family is that they understand how truly wonderful the name is: Outerbridge Horsey VII is alive and a practicing architect in Georgetown.
- “Dog with sign protesting new dorms“, 1978. How can anyone not love this beautiful dog, who is very adamant that there should be no dorms.
- “The Ginger-Beer Man“, 1890. This gregarious fellow has been my go to image for testing search for years.
- “Marine Technology Transfer and the Law of the Sea“, 1984. This is a doctoral dissertation, submitted to the faculty of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, by the current dean of the Fletcher School. In between that dissertation and his current position as Dean, he was NATO Supreme Commander Europe. I am always so fascinated by the non-academia experience of the Fletcher faculty.
- I don’t have any particular favorites from the This I Believe collection, but I like the collection so much not just because I’m proud of how much work we put in to making this audio + transcript interface have lovely usability and accessibility, but because the content in general makes the 1950s real to me. Here’s a nice sampling: Annie Fisher, 1954, Nazrat Farooki, 1954, Vita Sackville-West, 1953, Yaroslav Chyz, 1952, Louis Brandeis, 1952, Violet Bonham Carter, 1952. What I love about This I Believe is how it blends famous people and regular Joes so seamlessly, without any presumption by either the show or the speakers that the two classes of speakers are any different from one another.
Diane Pilson, November 1979
We all know what accessibility means, right? It means designing physical spaces for wheelchairs and websites for screenreaders.
Hmm. It’s clearly nonsense when I say it like that, isn’t it? We know that there are a multitude of different disabilities, and we need to design both our physical spaces and our software to accommodate those disabilities.
Do you see the major error I still have in the previous sentence? We shouldn’t be designing for disabilities, we should be designing for people. Just as we have to design our finding aids and discovery tools to serve people with a variety of different backgrounds — scholars, archivists, genealogists, undergraduates, hobbyists, etc. — we need to design our physical spaces and software tools to serve people who might have a variety of different needs. It’s universal design, baby.
There’s a lot of back-office work that goes on in archives, enabling us to describe, curate, and preserve our collections. And sometimes, we have to do that back-office work with tools which have not been written using universal design principles. In fact, as a general rule, when people think of accessibility they think of accessibility for end-users, not back office users.
I’ve made a couple of screencasts of me accessing objects in our Fedora Commons repository using the Fedora Commons client tools. I’m not picking on Fedora because it’s a particularly egregious example. In fact, Fedora provides something most other tools don’t: command line interfaces to all of their administrative commands. I generally don’t use the graphical interfaces I’m demonstrating below (for reasons which will become obvious). Usually I work at the command line, where I can use dictation macros I’ve written to speed up my tasks. And we should remember that the list of tools with accessibility problems is exceedingly long. During the course of making these videos and writing this post, I fought with accessibility problems in my screencast software, Adobe AIR, Windows Media Player, the WordPress dashboard, and the Java installer. (Guess who was worst? I’ll give you a hint: it was Adobe AIR.)
We get a lot of queries at DCA about Fedora and whether other archives should use it, and in general our answer is “It depends on your development support structure”. To that I’ll add “As with any tool, make sure your back-office users can use it before you commit.” Archivists, this should be our mantra: We will not have usable and accessible software unless we demand it.
Enough babbling. Here are the videos, both with closed captions, and transcripts included below. The first is of the legacy Java interface to Fedora, and the second is to the vastly-less accessible web interface. (The web interface was written with Adobe Flex, incorrectly identified in the screencast as Adobe AIR. Flex is just the framework used to write the tool, which is presented to the user as a Flash application; I don’t make this clear in the screencast.)
Dictating into the Fedora Commons Java client, transcript
Dictating into the Fedora Commons web client, transcript