A number of years ago I came across the extremely valuable Culture Victoria(CV) Collection Search service and couldn’t help but wonder why Public Record Office Victoria (the State archives) was missing from the list alongside memory organisations such as the State Library Victoria, ACMI, National Gallery of Victoria, and Museum Victoria. One possible reason was that we simply didn’t have the capability to offer up our content at the granular level necessary to make search viable. A number of months ago I started working with Culture Victoria and my I.T colleagues at the Archives to remedy this. I knew that the wiki held a significant amount of item level content and that its API, (Application Programming Interface – or data stream) would serve as a mechanism to serve up search results to the Culture Victoria Collection Search service.
APIs are an amazing resource because they allow machines to ‘talk’ to each other. The software that drives the Culture Victoria Collection Search can literally ‘ask’ the software that drives the PROV Wiki a question in a common language (the OpenSearch protocol) such as “Do you have any content related to Ned Kelly?” and the wiki will respond with a bunch of search results if it does. APIs , however are not just for machines. Anyone out there with even a slight amount of tech nous can use them to access the raw data underpinning the collections they are attached to. For an excellent introduction to the technology and how it’s used by State Records NSW check out Richard Lehane’s blogpost here http://data.records.nsw.gov.au/?p=248
So, to cut a long story short, PROV and Culture Victoria used API technology to connect and make the Wiki content searchable and discoverable! After much emailing, researching and testing we finally came up with a solution that would make this all possible. The PROV Wiki is now on the list of search options for Collection Search which means you will hopefully have one more option for discovering content relevant to your research.
Try it out!
To get an idea of what Public record Office Victoria can offer researchers try using these queries; eureka, royal, record, Robert Hoddle, Ned Kelly, Charles Hotham, Peter Lalor, Irish, Victoria, athletics, FAQ, Chinese, application, outward, squizzy, records.
To view all the results for a given search ensure to click on the ‘View More’ button and you’ll see many more results available as the Collection Search query matches text across hundreds of wiki pages.
About this author:
Asa Letourneau started working at Public Record Office Victoria ten years ago curating physical exhibitions full of archival gems across many record series. In the last 4-5 years he’s been working predominantly in digital with a view to engaging new audiences using some of the new technologies appearing in recent years. He’s written previously about one of those technologies here cv.vic.gov.au/blog/archive/eureka-gets-an-online-makeover/ .
Asa’s foremost desire has been to increase usage of the records by increasing their discoverability. His first effort at doing this was to support the redevelopment of the PROV Wiki into a tool that could provide an alternate gateway into the archives at an item level not previously offered. http:wiki.prov.vic.gov.au is a treasure trove of both staff and public researcher content, with crucial links back to records series and the creating agency. The wiki is not only human readable but much of its metadata can also be parsed by computers making it discoverable to researchers, developers and digital humanists who may want to re-use its content in a myriad of ways.