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published: April, 2002

Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License


Whaddya mean that's not on the Web? Using your website to provide access to your undigitized collections
Megan Lewis, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, USA

Demonstration: Demonstrations 2

Many people have written many papers about putting a museum's collections on the Web and improving visitors' access to that material, but what happens when a collection is not on the Web? How can a museum use its website to provide access to information in its undigitized collections? This paper will look at options a museum can use, particularly the ones used by the Registry of Holocaust Survivors (the Registry) at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Registry maintains a database of over 120,000 Holocaust survivors and is also the department of the Museum that answers research requests about the fate of specific individuals. Neither the Survivors Registry nor the majority of collections used in our research are on-line.

Several reasons exist for why a collection is not on the web: privacy concerns, copyright issues, other demands on staff time, or a lack of funds. However, the public often knows a collection exists, especially since many museums have their library and archives catalogues on their websites. Often, an outside researcher will email a museum asking that someone look up the information they seek. However, these emails can be vague or contain incomplete information, which necessitates a staff member email the inquirer back for more information-time that could be better used to check the collections. The Registry of Holocaust Survivors is working on several methods to streamline access to our non-digitized collections. These methods are:

1. Heading off questions before they are asked: Using FAQ's and educating the user on how to ask a better question

2. Using standardized research request forms to ensure the necessary information is submitted in the first email

3. Protective Queries: allowing limited access to sensitive information

4. Improving information about the collections: for example, putting finding aids for archival collections on-line

The paper will then examine how other institutions with missions similar to the Registry handle requests for information from their undigitized collections and compare them to the Registry's methods. We will use this comparison, user feedback, and user data to assess the success of our chosen methods.