by Torra Hausmann
Welcome to the International Research Portal Project (IRP2), where historians, archivists, graduate students, programmers, and information professionals work earnestly to discover the true meaning of a research portal. What does it look like? And how does it work? And crucially, are we creating a search engine or a simple aggregator?
Before IRP2 and the work the DCIC has done, the iterations of this project could be traced back to 2011 when the National Archives set out to compile a list of institutions that housed records relating to Holocaust-era cultural property. For two years, NARA reached out to institutions ranging from domestic institutions like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to international institutions in countries as far away as Israel. The only stipulation was that the institution house relevant records in such a way that those records or the finding aids of those records could be accessed remotely and digitally.
And what are relevant records? Well, that’s complicated, but suffice to say they’re records pertaining to property that was in some way looted, seized, stolen or otherwise compromised during the Nazi-era. The term property can be applied as loosely or as stringently as the user sees fit, but that’s a discussion for another blog. As I found out when signing on to this project, as it was set up by NARA stopped at compiling the institutions. There was no aggregator or search engine. There was just a simple list of institutions and a link to each of the relevant collections. Each search required a new tab, a new search, and a series of ever increasing headaches if one had a specific topic of research in mind. The portal as it was didn’t look a lot like a portal and that’s where the DCIC stepped in.
IRP2 aims to create this missing functionality, enabling provenance researchers, historians, lawyers, and family members to search across all of the
participating institutions to get the best picture of what resources are really out there. While we explore this functionality and what it might look like, the team endeavoring to accomplish this task tackle questions of design interface, user experience, and the multilayered needs of a potential user.
Through several different prototypes, we have not only created a platform to simultaneously search across different collections, but we’ve also added a unique search features that allow the user to taper searches in a more clearly defined way. Although the prototype is far from finished, the team has successfully answered some very fundamental questions about what a research portal should look like and what a research portal should do. In this blog, we will take a look at the answers to these questions and how they shape up to best serve the user. Moreover, we look at what a potential user might look like and why a potential user might need our services. Finally, we’ll take time to consider the role of other stakeholders and what it means, if anything, to subscribe to NARA’s International Research Portal. Stay tuned! And until then…A search engine by any other name is a….federated search