British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Channel 4 Press Packs 1982-2002

A Contextual Approach
Context is a late Middle English word derived from the Latin contextus; the sum of con – ‘together’ and texere ‘to weave’. Back in 2008 when Justin Smith (University of Portsmouth), Paul McDonald (University of Nottingham) and I were hatching this AHRC project we were all clear that we wanted to do more than digitize a collection and create a searchable online database. We wanted to weave together the research and digitisation elements as much as possible. In many research projects the digital element is a stand-alone output that often only engages with its own researchers at the point of publication. Our aspiration for this project was to literally thread the members of the research team, the Principle Investigator, the Research Assistant and the PhD students, into the digital process from the digitisation of the press packs to the development of the web interface. We were a little vague on how this would be achieved but it clearly meant that a fundamental change to the way we both worked was needed and this required time, energy and a willingness to learn from each other.

… as content duplicates itself at an increasing rate, it is the contextual element that will add value to digital collections

From a BUFVC perspective a key objective in adopting this approach was to instill a higher level of digital literacy, both in terms of skills and critical understanding, with the research team. This would then enable them to make truly informed decisions about the development and design of the resource, from the search interface to the layout of the site itself. This meant not only explaining technical digital processes but crucially how they linked up and affected each other. On a personal level, having delivered one ‘basic’ explanation to a room full of blank faces, it really forced me to think about the language I used and the knowledge I took for granted. How could I make these technical processes more transparent and worthwhile knowing? Basically I had to start de-constructing what we did in order to give it relevance. For example, one of the first statements I made was that the filename given to each scanned page is one of the most important decisions made in a digitisation project.  Now I had to justify it, explaining that the components of that filename are the means by which we can identify the page as a single element, separated from the rest of the pack. It is therefore fundamental to access not simply in terms of retrieval but crucially how we search for and present it online. These decisions made at the beginning of the digital process are key in the final stages.

c4_pp_1996_cove-CE-webGradually we each gained a greater understanding of our work and started to speak a little of each other’s language. This really bore fruit when we delivered the search prototype for the digitised press packs.  This included the search form, the search results page and the page with highlighted search term displayed within our bespoke pdf viewer. One of the major requirements we took away from this workshop was that a separate browse mechanism was essential. Users had little idea of a whole pack or indeed the collection itself. Within a digital environment the sense of the whole takes on greater significance because by its very nature, the process of searching reduces everything within its scope to fragments. This is especially pertinent in the case of print collections. As a result you can see the veins of the leaves with astounding clarity but lose sight of the tree and ultimately the wood entirely. In order to correct this myopia we integrated the browse capability into the pdf viewer. So once users had found their highlighted search term on a page, they then had the option either to move to the next result or to browse that pack, either by page or through thumbnails. Essentially we were restoring context to the packs.

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