In my last blog post I told you about the work we have been doing to upgrade our catalogue, Discovery. This innovative upgraded version of Discovery has been in ‘beta’ for many months and we are now preparing to put it live. It will fully replace the current version of Discovery on Monday 1 September.
The new version of Discovery enables archive users to search, browse and tag 32 million record descriptions of records held by The National Archives, alongside the collections of over 2,500 archives across the UK.
It now incorporates an extra 10 million records from:
- National Register of Archives (NRA)
- Directory of Archives (ARCHON)
- Access to Archives (A2A)
- Manorial Documents Register (MDR)
Along with adding this data to Discovery, we have also upgraded the platform to make it even easier for researchers around the world to find the information they need.
Features, functionality and improvements
There are now three main data types, the records themselves (records), those that made them (record creators) and where they are held (archives). Discovery enables users to switch between record information, information relating to the creators of records, and contact details for archives – all in one place. You can browse for all of these too.
A new search engine, enhanced filters and improved advanced search features mean that everyone can search and explore archive collections more easily. We have added common search terms on the homepage, which are derived from your most frequent searches.
The ability to search The National Archives’ and other archives’ content is the default setting but you can restrict searches to The National Archives and The National Archives’ digitised content on the homepage, enabling quick and easy access to this material.
We have also added a new and improved image viewer along with improvements to downloading results, sorting and sign in.
We have completely redesigned the user interface to incorporate the new features and functionality. We have also made it responsive so we offer a much better experience across a range of devices.
The methodology we adopted for designing and producing Discovery has been very user focused. We have undertaken extensive engagement and sought feedback throughout the lifecycle of the project, updating, improving and re-testing Discovery as we go. Many of the enhancements have been made based on user feedback and requests.
What is Discovery and how do I use it?
One of the key themes from the feedback has been giving Discovery a stronger identity so you can understand exactly what information is included and how to use it. Some of the concepts and information are also very complex, such as the hierarchy of record collections and what a record creator actually is.
To help with this, we have added elements to the home page such as ‘What is Discovery?’ and added explanatory text throughout to aid understanding. We have also fully updated all our help guidance.
We have explanations about where content is held, especially when it is not available for download. For example, records could be held by The National Archives at Kew or the Royal Armouries Library, Leeds or National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh. This enables you to understand who you need to contact and where you need to go to access these.
Feedback and the future
We will continue to improve Discovery after ‘beta’ is live, and welcome feedback from all our users to help us do this. Please tell us what you think in the comments below– it is such an important part of how we design our digital services. So far, the response has been very positive.
Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex said:
‘As a single search box in the centre of a blank page has come to replace the card catalogue, how we find what we need has simply changed. Discovery makes the collections of the National Archives accessible to generations of scholars more familiar with the online than the physical… Discovery represents an important milestone in the process of turning the archive inside out – flattening its hierarchies and allowing it to be read in new ways.’
We are currently working on plans for further major enhancements. We will involve you and keep you updated as these move forward. Making Discovery even bigger, better and bolder…