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Response to Review of The Churchill Archive

Dear Professor Capet

Thank you so much for your detailed and insightful review of the Churchill Archive. We appreciate the time you spent on it and would like to take this opportunity to respond to your comments in detail. We would also like to apologise for any frustration you experienced while using the site.

You correctly mentioned that the version you were using is a beta (trial) version and some of the points you mentioned were already due for change. We have worked through all your comments now and we have logged each point you raised for review.

We are sure you appreciate that a site such as this is complex and unusual. The diversity and volume of physical material in the Churchill Archives Centre is awe-inspiring: there are almost 3,000 boxes containing files and each file can itself contain many documents; close to 800,000 documents in all. Whilst the entire collection has been catalogued, with key sections of the collection catalogued in detail (i.e. at document level), it has not yet been possible to catalogue every individual document.

The vision we have, to create an accessible but detailed tool to access so much complex data, cannot be realised without some difficulties being encountered on the way. One of the main challenges with has been in presenting the material catalogued at file-level on the same site as material catalogued at document-level. We considered limiting the online archive to the fully-catalogued documents. However, our research indicated that scholars would prefer to have the full archive available online immediately, accepting that access to certain documents may require effort equivalent to the use of the microfiche facilities in the Churchill Archives Centre when browsing through files.

As your scenarios demonstrate, the navigation around such material needs further improvement – this is a key area of focus for us.

Your comments regarding the resources for lecturers and teachers were positive but noted that there was a small number of essays and lesson plans available. There will be more resources available when the service is launched and these resources will increase in volume over time.

There are detailed and very helpful comments regarding the complexity of searching for specific items. This has been noted during our extensive testing process and amendments have been made where possible. As mentioned before, we are working with a huge volume of data and a complex classification system that means the user is required to follow a process that may be longer than is ideal in order to access a specific item within topics or sub-topics. There is enormous complexity in, for example, being able to go directly to one page in a lengthy document when following an author’s reference to a specific quote. It is hoped that, in time, the site can be progressed to achieve this level of specificity and detail. Taking this into account, we feel that your comment regarding the search you undertook being a ‘trial-and-error method – the opposite of a rational, scholarly approach’ is inappropriate as we have designed and tested the site with academics and scholars as our target users at each stage. We do agree that the processes can be made clearer to first-time users.

The comment regarding resources that were not available, such as material relating to Roosevelt, have been noted and any missing resources or discrepancies on items listed compared to items available will be dealt with. With reference to your third test: the letter from Lord Fisher to Churchill is, as you deduced, part of a separate collection. The Fisher papers are held at the Churchill Archives Centre. We have spoken to the Centre on your behalf – the archivists encourage you to contact them at [email protected] to order photocopies, for which there is a charge. We will add information to the site to cover this situation.

There are a number of points raised referring to unknown or unclear symbols or boxes. It is intended to clarify these areas and also to provide an improved ‘Help guide’ to ensure that all users, irrespective of their computer knowledge or confidence, can learn to use the site in a time-efficient and stress-free way. It is also important, having read your feedback, that users understand when difficulties are related to the natural complexity and limitations of the site rather than user error or inexperience.

We note with some concern that there are issues with the zoom facility that are variable depending on the internet browser used. We tested the site on different browsers to ensure that this would not be a problem and were reassured that we had dealt with this. Internet Explorer 9 is indeed one of the principal browsers for which the site was developed. We will revisit this issue as a matter of urgency.

Finally, we would like to assure you that at no time would we consider any user’s attempts to navigate the site as ‘clumsy’ or ‘amateurish’ nor would we ‘laughingly point to the gross mistakes’. We, as a company, pride ourselves in providing a user experience of the highest quality and supplying systems that are user-friendly. We take comments and concerns very seriously and we hope that our response demonstrates this. We would be interested in your comments on future versions and we appreciate your continued involvement in the process of developing the Churchill Archive further. In fact, over the next few months, we will be further developing the subscriber part of the site which I hope will address many of your points.

Yours sincerely

Eela Devani
Digital Development Director
Bloomsbury Publishing plc