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Author: Jessica Lacher-Feldman
Title: Presenting Historical Resources Information on the World Wide Web: A Case Study of the Development of the New York State Office of Cultural Education's Website and the OCE History Advisory Council History Resources Web Pages
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 1999

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Source: Presenting Historical Resources Information on the World Wide Web: A Case Study of the Development of the New York State Office of Cultural Education's Website and the OCE History Advisory Council History Resources Web Pages
Jessica Lacher-Feldman

vol. 2, no. 2, August 1999
Article Type: Article
PDF: Download full PDF [84kb ]

Presenting Historical Resources Information on the World Wide Web: A Case Study of the Development of the New York State Office of Cultural Education's Website and the OCE History Advisory Council History Resources Web Pages

Jessica Lacher-Feldman

School of Information Science and Policy
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy
University at Albany, State University of New York
May 1999

The New York State Office of Cultural Education (OCE) in Albany, New York has three major units, the State Museum, State Library, and State Archives. The OCE is also responsible for Educational Programming and Public Broadcasting. These agencies provide history-related services for the citizens of New York State. These services include advisory and technical services, grants, exhibition of collections and research opportunities. Since it is often difficult for the public (both the general public and history practitioners in New York State) to access these services and know which unit of OCE is responsible for a particular service, there is need to present an integrated, attractive and useful finding aid for a broad audience of users. This case study is an investigation into not only the technical and design aspects of creating this website, but also the issues surrounding funding, resources, and depth of information presented. The final product in the creation of this website is the methodology that can be generalized to the creation of other such sites. The paper ends with a discussion of these issues and recommendations.

.01. Introduction

The World Wide Web offers a sense of flexibility in presenting information and resources that has never been known. While a pamphlet, booklet, or white paper presents information as a flat and self-contained entity, there is a growing opportunity to use the World Wide Web as a tool for presenting valuable information in a unique and highly integrated format. This notion relates to the fundamentals of Aristotle's organization of knowledge, and the very principles of library science and the humanities. Students of library science are trained in creating unified and organized presentations of information in all areas of knowledge—places which hold the potential for answering the questions that have not yet been asked. The World Wide Web in many ways is beginning to take on that same responsibility.

The idea for this project originated from an interest in history as well as the notion that the World Wide Web serves as an ideal tool for presenting and integrating information. This interface could serve the general public as well as the constituents of an institution by presenting them with an enormous depth of information regarding operations, services, and programs. This depth is achieved through the use of hyperlinks to outside sources as well as development of the institution's site through content contribution from staff, virtual exhibitions, and digitized images of the institution's collections.

The project of creating a website for the New York State Office of Cultural Education (OCE) was originally to be only the Historical Resources aspect of the OCE website, but because so much of the essential basic information was already in place, and the need was so great to complete the site and allow public access, the researcher's role increased to encompass the entire site. Upon beginning work on the site, the researcher stated that she would work on the entire site in order to create continuity in both design and structure. The expansion of the project met with great approval from the members of the OCE staff as well as the History Advisory Council (HAC).

The website development was started in January 1999. The site came out of a need to present the public, many of whom are history professionals in New York State, with integrated information about the services and programs under the umbrella of the Office of Cultural Education. This case study discusses the needs of the institution and its constituents, the original conception of the project, the modified project, and best practices for undertaking a similar World Wide Web project.

.02. Related Literature and Research

"Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual."

-Vannevar Bush- "As We May Think" 1945

There have been more technological innovations in the second half of the 20th century than in any previous period in man's history. We have seen with earlier innovations such as the television, the telephone, and the airplane, that the world has grown smaller and more connected. Information that used to take weeks to get from one end of the nation to the other can now be transmitted in seconds. A trip abroad could be done in hours and not days or weeks. As the 20th century draws to a close, another scientific innovation is proving to reshape the way we access information. The World Wide Web is rapidly becoming an essential element in the lives of most Americans, serving as a teaching tool, an information resource, and a source for entertainment and commercial activity. Since its invention "in 1989, the web has grown from a high-tech communication tool used by scientists and academicians to an omnipresent marketing and information dissemination medium" (Hinman, 1). The development and maintenance of websites with a broad range in content and purpose has become a new career path for many MLS graduates and information professionals. Many see the role of the new information professional as a guardian of the World Wide Web.

In investigating the vast content of the Internet and the World Wide Web, it is evident that there are many ways that it could be improved. Websites of important institutions are presenting themselves in a less than flattering manner. This factor has caused a rapid growth in the production of World Wide Web style guides and content guides that cater to a broad audience concerned with the construction, appearance and content of websites. The role of the information professional is expanding from within the confines of the library or archives to all realms of World Wide Web development and management. [1] With more information being presented in HTML format, there will be a greater need to apply the same standards for academic publishing of print materials to materials presented on the World Wide Web. Graduate training and hiring practices are beginning to reflect this growing need for trained information professionals taking on the roles of webmasters, web developers, and web editors. They are also taking on the role of highly paid researchers who use the web as their primary resource.

03. Theoretical Foundations

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG) "is an applied research centerdevoted to improving government and public services through policy, management, and technology innovation." [2] CTG believes that "the World Wide Web as a Universal Interface to Government Services" provides a foundation for potential information providers to present themselves in a clear and well-structured manner. CTG also provides insight into the development of prototypical sites, incorporating "technical evaluations of a wide variety of web-based tools for information sharing, business applications, group collaboration, and education" (DiCaterino and Pardo, I.). CTG's white paper serves as a foundation for undertaking a web development project. The web developer will ultimately create a better product with this type of guidance. Simply creating a website and mounting it to the World Wide Web is a relatively straightforward task. It is necessary to go much farther and review research in web development, information technology, user needs, and financial issues in order to create a product that adequately represents the organization or institution.

.04. Research and Website Evaluation

Over the last year there has been an increasingly refined web presence for historical and cultural institutions, thus indicating that more funds and staff time are being allocated to create an ever-better web presence. This is reflected not only in the quality and size of these websites, but also in the fact that new positions are being created at these institutions to improve this web presence. Senior managers are beginning to recognize the importance of the World Wide Web to the future of their institutions. For some users, the website may be the only exposure to the institution available. Elements such as depth of information covered in a site, as well as overall appearance and style, readability, use of graphics, and seachability all are critical factors to investigate when evaluating the websites of other institutions. It must also be borne in mind that the structure and content of well-established institutions might not be practical or possible for a smaller institution with limited budget and staffing.

As a general rule, larger institutions are attempting to put forth guidelines for their institutions and departments to follow when creating websites to be linked to the parent organization or institution. It is evident that for many institutions, the idea of creating a unified style and agreeing upon that style is a very difficult task. Style guides help to outline this task. While it is evident that some sort of criteria should be in place and different site designs should be tested before the site goes public, there should be a degree of flexibility in those style guidelines that allow for rapid developments in graphics as well as PC and browser capability.

A host of style guides for web developers are have become available recently. One such guide, the Yale's Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites is a carefully researched manual which provides guidelines and principles to follow in order to make a site clear, concise and user-friendly. [3] Other websites such as Webmonkey and offer valuable information to beginning as well as expert web developers. [4]

.05. Primary Source Historical Documents on the World Wide Web & Websites in 1999

The World Wide Web has seen enormous growth in sophistication and reliability of information. Nonetheless, there is still more need for creating websites with increased authority and accuracy.

There are some sites available on the World Wide Web which stand as exemplars in presenting information to the public. One of the most intriguing types of information being presented is in the form of digitized primary source materials. By creating a digitized image of a 19th century document or series of photographs, the host institution allows access to a resource that previously would have been only available through an on-site visit.

There are several well-funded primary source projects that have appeared in the past two years. The Making of America Project is a prime example of using the World Wide Web to allow access to primary source materials for historical research. The project "is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. The collection currently contains approximately 1,600 books and 50,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints. The project represents a major collaborative endeavor in preservation and electronic access to historical texts. The Making of America collection is made up of images of the pages in the books and journals.... A scanned image of the actual pages of the 19th century volume [are presented on the website. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) has been performed on the images to enhance searching capabilities]." [5] It is evident that more institutions will invest the time and funds needed to promote collections through digitization projects such as this.

Every day more websites appear which allow greater access to a wide range of information and educational tools. The vast majority of the websites that provide this type of top quality content and design are most often large and well-funded research institutions. This medium is so new and so rapidly changing that much can be learned by using a search engine and seeking out established cultural institutions to see how they present themselves on the web. [6] There are some websites online at this time that illustrate the enormous potential not only in the offering of content, but in the style and structure of the site. Some such sites are the Smithsonian Institution, [7] The Library of Congress, [8]and the American Museum of Natural History. [9] These sites can be used as a benchmark when developing a website for a cultural or historical institution. It is understandable that these institutions have vast resources both in terms of collections and funding compared to other institutions. The World Wide Web provides a medium to showcase an institution and its resources with only a small budget and a good deal of ingenuity. The web developer can benefit from the work of the larger institutions as models to create an exemplary web presence for his less prominent institution.

.06. Historians, Archivists, and Web Site Developers: A Logical Match

The role of the librarian and archivist as an arbiter of technology and information has replaced in many ways the traditional librarian and archivist. It is now well recognized that the new information professional, trained in evaluating information and understanding and implementing information technology, is an ideal educational choice for those interested in web development and web design. Non-library jobs for library professionals are continually increasing as students of library science and archives are beginning to train more heavily in cutting edge skills such as interface design, web development, and information management. As the Internet market increases, more jobs will emerge that require both the traditional skills taught in library science programs, as well as more technical skills which are beginning to be taught alongside the traditional. [10]

.07. The Importance of Presenting Historical Resources on the World Wide Web

  • Access

    Access issues are prevalent in the realm of all information professionals and graduate students in library and information science. The World Wide Web is a tool that has the potential for providing access in ways that were never before possible. Presenting historical resources has a particular appeal. Providing information from several different units in an integrated format to a wide range of constituencies can bring an institution much more recognition and therefore can increase its effectiveness. It is also providing an invaluable service to its patrons.

    New levels of access to information that have never before been realized can also be attributed to digitization of documents. Using optical character recognition (OCR) to create a searchable document has saved countless hours for scholars seeking access to particular information. Historical agencies such as the New York State Archives are beginning to present some of their holdings in digital format as well as some of their finding aids on the World Wide Web. By providing an integrated site that allows history professionals and students to access information on grants, workshops, fellowships and other services, the agency provides increased incentives to attract users to its institutions. This can have a positive effect internally by potentially increasing funding for the institution as well as increasing the number of creative products actualized by researchers using the primary source materials available to them.

  • Preservation

    Digitization projects in many forms have become widely implemented in the fields of archives and library science in the past few years. Archival repositories and special collections libraries are concerned with protecting rare and fragile documents from the hazards of light, air, and human contact. Digitizing rare books and documents allows for simultaneous viewing and access to facsimiles of documents without the need to travel.

    Software can also be used to enhance the readability of a digitized text document. Using a graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop allows for the digital "cleaning" of a document, thus making something formerly illegible, readable again. Companies are beginning to emerge that specialize in these types of digitization projects. While this does not alter the condition of the original document, it does offer stability by preventing some potential future handling of the original document. This is especially helpful for very thin paper where text has bled through to the reverse site or where surface discoloration has obfuscated the original text.

.08. The Office of Cultural Education

"As one of the five major program offices of the New York State Education Department (NYSED), the Office of Cultural Education (OCE) is located in the Cultural Education Center of the Empire State Plaza complex in downtown Albany, New York. It is part of The University of the State of New York, which encompasses all educational endeavors in New York State." [11] The Office of Cultural Education, under the leadership of Deputy Commissioner Carole Huxley, oversees the New York State Museum, New York State Archives and Records Administration, New York State Library, and Educational Television and Public Broadcasting for the State of New York. Each one of these institutions is a large and autonomous entity with a large and diverse staff, a substantial budget, and a unique mission related to the education of the people of New York State and preservation of and access to information related to New York's past.

The Office of Cultural Education is concerned with those learning resources located primarily outside of the formal educational setting, as well as with the kinds of learning made possible by those resources. OCE has the responsibility for overseeing and supporting the work of government records and archival repositories, historical societies, libraries, museums, public and educational broadcasting, and other cultural institutions, recognizing them as fundamental resources for lifelong learning and citizen access to government information. [12]

OCE provides on-site services directly to individuals and government agencies at the State Archives and Records Administration, State Library, and State Museum. This office also distributes aid to libraries and library systems, local governments, records repositories, and public broadcasting stations. It provides instructional television services through the Office of Educational Television and Public Broadcasting, and collaborates with other statewide agencies to promote the use of cultural resources for both classroom and lifelong learning.

.09. Constraints and Issues Surrounding Presenting Historical Resources on the WWW

  • Style Constraints

    As a general rule, larger institutions are attempting to put forth guidelines for their institutions and departments to follow when creating websites to be linked to the parent organization or institution. NYSED is no different in that regard. But it is evident that in many institutions, the process of creating a unified style and agreeing upon that style is a very difficult task. NYSED has had a difficult time establishing standards to adhere to with regard to websites under its umbrella. As of the completion of this case study, no formal standards were in place for the creation of this website. There must be careful consideration as to the style and structure of the website and how it reflects the mission, goals, and role of the institution.

  • Large Institutions and Issues Surrounding Bureaucratic Authority

    The project of creating a historical resources website for the Office of Cultural Education was initiated by the Office of Cultural Education itself. A task force was formed that brought together one individual from each of the three main OCE units under the direction of the Office of Cultural Education: the New York State Museum, the New York State Library, and the New York State Archives and Records Administration.

.10. Types of Historical Resources Available through OCE

The types of holdings of a cultural or historical institution vary widely depending upon the collection policy, budget, and mission of the institution. The Office of Cultural Education and the three primary agencies responsible for administering and providing history resources are all separate entities with different functions and collections. The New York State Museum's history collections are primarily historical artifacts, ranging from furniture and housewares, to broadsides, toys and ephemera. The New York State Library's collections are mainly in the form of books, special collections, newspapers, and journals. The New York State Archives and Records Administration's holdings consist of both state-wide and local government agency records, as well as photographs, and a wide range of print and electronic records. The collections in these agencies reflect in their own way a mission to preserve and record the history of New York State and to provide access and information to the people of New York State.

Through state and federal funding, private endowments, as well as through daily operations, the three agencies all provide essential services to their constituencies. Grants for preservation and research, instruction on the storage and dispensation of objects and records, fellowships, specialized programs and information on specialized areas of research all seek to educate and inform the public as well as to provide much needed resources to history professionals throughout New York State.

.11. The OCE Task Force on History

The OCE Task Force on History came together to address issues surrounding the provision of information to those who are history's practitioners in New York State—city and county historians, local historians and those involved with historic sites and historical agencies. All require various degrees of contact with the divisions of OCE. The task force set out to identify goals and create a set of long and short-term strategies to move ahead towards achieving those goals. The recommendations focused on:

  1. More efficient and effective operation of the history functions in OCE
  2. Better coordination of services to the customers of OCE
  3. Elimination of redundancies in OCE history programs
  4. Cooperation internally with history organizations throughout the state. [13]

The Task Force then identified six goals for OCE history services. The goals were put in place to help define a vision that they would hope to achieve in the next five to ten years. These goals fell into six general categories:

  1. OCE history programs and services: OCE customers' history needs will be met efficiently and seamlessly.
  2. OCE collections and access: OCE collections will be comprehensive, diverse, preserved and stored appropriately; they will support the study of New York history and will be intellectually and virtually accessible to everyone.
  3. Research: OCE will promote, conduct and disseminate research in order to create knowledge about New York history.
  4. Education: Students, teachers, and the general public will have access to increased and enhanced educational opportunities in the field of New York history.
  5. Standards and best practices: Members of the New York history community will be aware of, and encouraged to meet standards or best practices in the preservation, storage, intellectual control and accessibility of their collections.
  6. Public awareness: New York State citizens will value history-related activities and will support efforts to obtain resources for them. [14]

.12. OCE History Advisory Council

The OCE History Advisory Council came out of the OCE Task Force on History. "The History Advisory Council was established in 1997 to advise the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education on ways to improve history services to our customers through coordinated and integrated programming and facilities. The council is chaired by the Deputy Commissioner and comprised of nine representatives of history programs of the New York State Library, State Museum, and State Archives and Records Administration and eight external members representing various historical constituencies in New York. The council's role is to ensure that our customers' history needs are met efficiently and seamlessly and that we provide services that reflect the highest professional and technical standards. The Council also advises the Deputy Commissioner on policy, direction, and priorities for OCE history programs and services; monitors and coordinates history activities in OCE; and implements the recommendations of a 1996 report by the OCE Task Force on History." [15]

.13. The Case

This paper investigates the course of action needed in presenting historical resources on the World Wide Web. The situation with the New York State Office of Cultural Education website is especially unique. Investigating the steps taken to gather the information and construct the website itself, and describing the case, both outline elements of the project that could possibly be used for other institutions seeking to develop similar resources for their constituencies.

The OCE website was created and mounted to the World Wide Web using recommended design standards that have been put forth by reputable institutions. These standards have their origins in academia and reflect a profound understanding of technology, organization, and design. While it is understood that the World Wide Web is a reflection of all levels of society, and fullfills various entertainment and commercial needs, standards and best practices must also be incorporated to suit the needs and goals of scholarly and research institutions. The primary goal of the researcher in this project was to satisfy the needs of the institution and its constituents.

This paper also discusses and investigates web design practice and issues surrounding the methods of presenting this type of information to various publics. It also looks at potential users and their needs. The result is to create an algorithm for other historical agencies that wish to present their resources on the World Wide Web, especially those with a broad scope and many divisions within their agencies.

The actual construction of the website was done on Macromedia Dreamweaver 1.2. This is a WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") HTML editor with excellent graphics capabilities. Graphics were done using Adobe Photoshop 3.0/5.0 and Micrographx Simply 3D 2.0. The site was developed at the researcher's home on a Pentium 100 class PC with 48 MB RAM, 3.1 GB hard drive using a Windows 9X interface. The monitor used was an Optiquest V95 19".

The responsibility of this project was undertaken with relatively limited skills in terms of web development and graphic design but with confidence in organizing information. An intriguing aspect of this project was the juxtaposition of the experiences as a student of information science and history with relatively limited technological abilities. This allowed the researcher to begin the information aspects of the project while working through the technical, structural, and design aspects simultaneously. This factor in and of itself creates a rationale that those with educational backgrounds in history and library science are perhaps the best equipped to step into the roles of webmasters in cultural, historical, and educational institutions as well as in the realms of commerce and entertainment as we move into the 21st century. By stepping beyond the traditional research boundaries to take on the role of web developer along with the role of traditional researcher, a new sense of practicality develops from this project.

It is recommended that anyone attempting to create a website for a historical agency be trained in web development either through a series of workshops and training, or through a graduate course or courses in HTML and web development. The researcher took a three-credit graduate course entitled "Internet and Information Access." The course was not entirely focused on World Wide Web development, but students did create two web pages, and the foundations were laid for further World Wide Web development projects. The researcher also spent a great deal of time teaching herself HTML as well as graphics programs and HTML editors.

.14. Initial Contact

The project came about for the researcher when in an Archives and Manuscripts course when the professor announced that the Office of Cultural Education was looking for an intern to create a historical resources website. The project incorporated the needs of historians, the use of technology in the form of web design, and the use of the World Wide Web as a tool for historians—all areas familiar to the researcher. A meeting was scheduled for January 19, 1999 to discuss the website project and to determine whether or not it would be feasible for both the researcher and the institution.

.15. Laying the Foundations: The Initial Project

The meeting on January 19, 1999 verified that there was a need for a unified, attractive, and accurate web presence for the Office of Cultural Education, and although there had been some attempt in the past year, it simply was not enough. The site was incomplete and was missing some graphics. The site had remained virtually untouched for a full year when the researcher took on the project, and there were numerous structural errors and bad links. The website at that time was not advertised, nor was it linked directly to the NYSED website. The site was not attractive and did not serve as an adequate representation of the OCE, nor did it reflect current design standards for cultural institutions of its size and stature.

This researcher was retained, pro bono, to take on the task of creating the site. Additionally, the researcher investigated the possibility of obtaining digitized images for the OCE site from the New York State Museum's History Collections. The idea behind obtaining some photographs was to add an interesting visual element to the website. The researcher was able to spend two hours going through digitized images and selecting images to potentially use for the website.

.16. The Expanded Project

The project evolved into the renovation of the entire OCE site. There was no one point where it was asked or stated that the researcher would work on revamping the entire site. Because of the relatively small number of pages, this seemed to make the most sense from the researcher's standpoint. The researcher worked independently on the site creating a design format, an integrated logo that reflects the multi-faceted role of the OCE, and worked on getting the design approved by the OCE staff.

A meeting was held on February 17th with the Chief Archivist for SARA, and the Chief of the New York State Museum's History Survey, both key members of the OCE History Advisory Council. Ideas for the history services aspect of the site were presented to the OCE HAC members at this meeting. One such proposal was for the creation of the GIS map of New York State that would be clickable by county and provide contact information for all history-related services, such as city, town and county historians, local and regional records repositories, regional archival consultants, and other related programs and services. This idea was very well received. The researcher then pointed out that this would take a large commitment of both time and resources, including the major portion of the time to research and compile the information. Surveys and forms would have to be sent out across New York State and follow-up telephone calls would have to be made to make sure the information was accurate. This information would also need to be updated on a regular basis.

The second idea for expanding the OCE History resources site was to create integrated on-line exhibitions on particular themes that would use digitized materials (objects, text, and digitized primary source materials in manuscript and other forms) in a collage or montage format with clickable descriptions. These exhibitions would be a unique way of integrating the collections of the three units and would provide a valuable resource to school children as well as the general public. They would also foster an understanding of the types of collections housed in the three agencies.

.17. Design Issues and Project Parameters

Using the original site as a framework, the researcher set forth to make major changes to the overall appearance and structure of the site. At the time the site was constructed, no set policy was in place with regard to either design or format. It seems logical that a large institution such as the New York State Education Department would have some standards in place with regard to websites under its department. Apparently this has been discussed but there are no formal guidelines in place, and nothing appeared in writing that expressed the design and structure restrictions for offices under the umbrella of the New York State Education Department. While there were no strict regulations in place, the overall design, content, and structure needed to be approved by the assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education, and the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education herself.

.18. The Process

Work began on the site on January 19, 1999 by investigating the current site and its structure and content along with other information obtained on web development and design. The researcher downloaded to her hard drive the entire OCE website in its current condition first on January 24, 1999. Experiments were then done with the color scheme, structure, and overall appearance of the site.

After experimenting with different textured and colored backgrounds, and after having worked in Adobe Photoshop 3.0 to create custom buttons for the site, the researcher decided to begin with a simple white background. The logic behind the use of white as a background color reflects a practice to create an environment on the web similar to the way people are accustomed to read text on paper. Dark background with light text is not appropriate for this type of site; it is too difficult for the user to read. It would, however be appropriate for some other types of websites such as presentation sites or specialized commercial or entertainment sites.

While there were no color or font restrictions put forth by the OCE, it was decided that because the site was a division of the New York State Education Department, and would be linked to the three agency sites, that the appearance of the site should reflect and complement these other already well-established sites. The researcher felt that continuity was important to establish a theme and appeal to a broad audience. An idea for a logo image of four blocks appearing to tumble forward (the blocks were not animated) with each of the unit logos implying parts of a whole, embodied the type of structure and mission of the site. Underneath the building blocks appeared the text in dark blue "New York State Education Department" and in larger font with a dark red text, "Office of Cultural Education."

The home page uses this format along with buttons that allow access to each of the websites for the affiliated agencies. There are also buttons that allow access to various pages on the site including history services and resources, teacher services, special projects, grants and fellowships, directions to the OCE, responsibilities of the OCE, a map with directions to the Cultural Education Center, and a link to the search page of the NYSED site. These buttons were created as simple colored tables. The original History Resources pages also have blocks at the top. These blocks are wrapped with digitized images from the collections of the different OCE units. One image is a photograph from the New York State Archives from a 1950s test project on x-rays. The second image is a marriage certificate from the 18th century from the collections of the New York State Museum. A third image is a broadside from the Civil War from the New York State Archives. The forth image is a stoneware pitcher from the collections of the New York State Museum.

.19. Mid-Course Corrections

Emphasizing the amount of planning and coordination necessary to create a web site, after having completed the floating cubes, or building blocks with the four main agency logos, the researcher learned that the logo for the Educational Programming and Public Broadcasting might not be correct. A logo that appeared on the original website appeared to be the correct, but an image of Sesame Street's Elmo was actually the correct one. A new image file of the OCE blocks was sent to the System Administrator, frustratingly using valuable development time because of a communications error that could have been avoided.

.20. Presentation of the Site to the Institution

On March 29, 1999 the first complete draft of the OCE website was e-mailed to the System Administrator, and two days later this researcher installed the site for the Chief Archivist for the New York State Archives and Records Administration. There were a few problems that had not shown up with multiple testing at the researcher's home. There were grainy dashes appearing on the logo cubes. This was probably a result of the monitor and graphics card on that PC. There were also a few problems with some tables appearing flush left instead of centered. The researcher reviewed the HTML code and made appropriate changes.

.21. Continued Contact

On April 12, 1999, the researcher received notification that the System Administrator would mount the new version of the home page and the history pages to the World Wide Web by close of business that day. The researcher was asked to comment on the site changes in a response to the e-mail. The System Administrator, under direction of the Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner, removed the pale yellow text tables from the site as well as the text labels. The idea behind the text tables was to create the illusion of paper, creating comfort for users, many of whom may not be comfortable reading a web page.Another major change was the alteration of the text for "Office of Cultural Education" which now appeared in a dark grass green in a serifed font that did not match the rest of the site.

Additionally, the buttons made by the researcher (simple smooth and symetrical pale blue buttons with midnight blue text) were replaced with the buttons from the original site. These buttons were blue textured marble and are not uniform in size. In terms of design, they were in direct contrast to the sleek cubes and simple structure of the site and appeared oddly out of place. These changes did not adequately reflect the work done to the site and the researcher felt that her overall design had been compromised.

The researcher commented point for point via e-mail on each of the changes that was made to the original design. The result of these communications was that the researcher would rework the "Office of Cultural Education" logo, changing the color to a deeper green and finding a more suitable font.

The Office of Cultural Education uses three banners to advertise the agencies. They are a deep green, deep red, and deep blue. This was the rationale for choosing green as the color for the title image of the site. The researcher went to the Cultural Education Center to view the colors and incorporated these changes into updated buttons and a more suitable title image.

These images were redone and sent via e-mail on April 21, 1999 to the OCE System Administrator. This researcher created the new Office of Cultural Education logo, using a pale gray watermark of the distinctively shaped Cultural Education Center building. Layered on the watermark in dark red text are the words "New York State Education Department" and below, in larger font, "The Office of Cultural Education." The buttons were all redone using Adobe Photoshop 5.0. The agency buttons are a deep blue with white text. A spotlight effect was added to each button to create depth. All other buttons were deep green with white text. These also were given a spotlight effect.

A meeting was held on April 30, 1999 to present the latest version of the OCE website to the OCE History Advisory Council. The meeting was to serve as an unveiling of the site to allow it to go public, and to have the site design critiqued by the members of the History Advisory Council for content, structure, appearance and ease of use. The meeting was attended by the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education, Carole Huxley, along with the NYS Historian, Chief Curator of the NYS Museum, Senior Historian of the NYS Museum, Chief Archivist and Public Service Archivist for the State Archives and Records Administration (SARA), Special Collections Librarian for the NYS Library, and several other history professionals.

The unveiling of the OCE homepage and OCE HAC pages met with great approval from the members of the HAC. The researcher received a commendation and applause. The site was then to be reviewed by the HAC. It is evident that the site design and structure met with approval, and the design presented by this researcher will be the basis for any additional pages needed by the OCE. It should be understood that the researcher is only available temporarily and that a permanent member of the staff, the OCE System Administrator, must maintain the site.

As of May 17, 1999, the OCE website was mounted in the form that the researcher created. The site can be viewed at

.22. The Audience: Varied Publics with Varied Needs

The Office of Cultural Education and the Office of Cultural Education's History Resources Website offered the researcher a unique challenge with regard to the manner in which institutions present information. The site serves as a gateway to vast resources of information available on the World Wide Web, and thus is accessed by many different types of users. Elementary school students and high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, professors, members of the general public, retired persons, foreign researchers, and tourists all potentially benefit from the use of this website. Although mainly geared towards members of the history community in New York State, there is valuable information that has potential use for many constituencies.

There is a need to present this information in such a manner that it appeals to such a broad-based audience. At the same time the researcher must take into account what is needed to convey an appropriate image and favorably represent the Office of Cultural Education and the New York State Education Department. Careful consideration as to the structure and content of the OCE site was made. While creating the site, it was essential to keep in mind all of the potential users, from the casual browser, to the individual who may use the site on an almost daily basis. This aspect of web development must be considered and continually reconsidered as the website evolves.

It must also be borne in mind that the website might be the only image that a user has of the institution. Restrictions such as geographic distance, or disability might prevent the visitor from physically visiting the institution. The website also can provide adequate information that might save a patron time and effort if a trip to the Cultural Education Center is unnecessary. Providing e-mail and telephone contacts for a broad range of services and programs points the user in the right informational direction.

While the site may not offer digitized primary sources for research purposes at its early stages, by presenting a clear picture of what the institution has to offer, demand might increase and quite possibly change the way the organization conducts business.

One of the greatest difficulties regarding the undertaking of a web development project as a contract employee or intern is that there is a lack of understanding about the structure of the institution and who to report to, or where to direct questions. In terms of this site, the original meeting was with the assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and one of the members of the HAC who happened to be a high-ranking member of the New York State Archives staff. Expectations and goals were not always made clear, often because of a lack of understanding of what exactly was wanted from the researcher. This was certainly not a fault, but is simply a by-product of the institution attempting to present itself in a completely new medium. The researcher was at a disadvantage because she was not certain how exactly to proceed, or to whom in fact she should direct questions or concerns. Additionally, because the site requires the approval of so many people, and the researcher will not be a permanent member of the staff of the institution, parameters for the project and the expectations for the researcher should have been carefully outlined before the project began. While this project was a success, it could have been more streamlined if a greater understanding of the expectations and goals had been outlined in a more concrete fashion.

.23. Recommendations for Other Institutions: Best Practices

In developing a website for a cultural or historical institution, it is important to follow certain guidelines and procedures to ensure that the project will be a success.

  • The researcher must first gain approval and support from the upper level management of the institution, whether it is a director's office, or the board of trustees.

The idea for the OCE site came out of the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education's Office. She reports directly to the New York State Education Commissioner Mills. While it is evident that the site was needed and wanted by the senior managers, there was limited support in terms of seeking out an individual within the institution or hiring out for someone to create the site. This was beneficial because it created an opportunity for a graduate student to work on the site and write about it. This created a sense of movement forward and structure for the project. As previously mentioned, the original site was in place for almost a year with little or no support and major flaws in the structure and content. There must be continuing support from senior management.

  • The upper level management must understand that an undertaking such as this is not something that can be done in a matter of days. Careful planning must occur in order to create something that the institution can be proud of.
  • The institution must be committed to maintaining support for the site. Staff time must be allocated for continuing growth and upkeep of the site.

While this researcher, an individual outside of the OCE, created the site, the OCE's Network Administrator will maintain the site. While it is clear that the Network Administrator has the skills to edit the site and add more text components, there may be problems with continuing with the same design standards that are now in place.

  • The contracting institution must provide proper equipment, including a good HTML editor, Internet access, and an adequate PC with several versions of major Internet browsers installed (Netscape, Microsoft Explorer, and Opera) in order to troubleshoot potential interface problems.

The Office of Cultural Education, being a state institution, is limited in the kind of software it provides to its staff. Because of New York State contracts, the only HTML editor the researcher was allowed to use on site was Microsoft FrontPage. This created a problem because of the researcher's desire to use Macromedia Dreamweaver 1.2 as the HTML editor. A request was made for the institution to purchase Macromedia Dreamweaver 1.2, but it would have taken at least two months for the purchase to be approved. The result of this was that all of the work was done at the home of the researcher. This situation was acceptable to both the researcher and the OCE, but it would have been favorable to have done the work on site where questions and concerns could be addressed immediately and more rapid feedback would have been available.

The OCE also has a contract with Microsoft Internet Explorer, and does not have other web browsers installed on any of its machines. It is absolutely necessary to view the pages with several browsers in several versions to make certain that the appearance is correct. This would not have been possible if the work had been done on site.

  • The contracting institution must allocate proper time for responsible staff to maintain the site.

In the case of the OCE website, this cannot yet be determined. The System Administrator for OCE does not work full-time and does some of her work from home. It is evident that her time is very valuable and it is not known whether another staff member would eventually take the project over, or if a new staff member would be hired to maintain the website as well as perform other duties for the OCE. By educating high-level staff members about the complexities of web development and maintenance, and by tracking website traffic, a greater understanding of staffing needs should emerge.

  • The contracting institution must assign editorial license. All materials placed on the site must be reviewed carefully for errors and content. Reviews should be done in a timely fashion following a structured chain of command. Expectations for changes should be voiced clearly and a time frame to make changes should be clearly set.

The website supervisor is the assistant to the Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education. The site is reviewed by her and by other members of the staff for content and accuracy. The OCE History Advisory Council is responsible for the content and accuracy of the history resource pages. The council works to make certain that accurate and current information is available on the website. While it is essential to create an active environment that will allow for the best presentation of information, a definitive chain of command would allow for absolute approval of the site and clear-cut recommendations for changes. When initial changes were made, the researcher was not made aware of the changes or what she could do to make the site acceptable to all parties involved. By addressing this issue immediately with the website supervisor, the researcher was able to discuss potential adjustments and all parties were satisfied.

  • Prior to mapping the site and mounting it to the World Wide Web, the researcher should carefully examine the content of the site, and how the information is to be presented.

Without strict rules as to appearance, the web creator basically researched good design principles by observing websites of cultural and educational institutions, and by reading about good design practice from various sources. For the history resources pages, the principle was to sort the information not by institution, but by the types of services provided. For example, all of the information on exhibits, whether from the New York State Library, Archives, or Museum, would be placed together allowing for better access to information.

  • The web developer needs to create several beta sites or pages to ensure that the staff understands the format and can give input to the style and structure of the site.

Initially for the OCE site, there had not been adequate feedback in terms of what the institution wanted or, after completing the site, what changes needed to be made. The researcher did submit beta pages, but was not provided with enough information to fully satisfy the design needs of the institution. It must be borne in mind that web development is a continually evolving process and that the needs of the institution are ever changing. The first complete beta site was reviewed and the OCE System Administrator made some changes, but the researcher had not initially been made fully aware of those changes.

The researcher did receive word that some of the pages were edited and mounted to the World Wide Web. Upon viewing the changes, the researcher found that her initial design has been compromised by changes made by the System Administrator. Upon contacting the assistant to the Deputy Commissioner and discussing each of the changes, compromises were made and a commitment was made by the researcher to rework some of the changes and submit them via e-mail attachments for the System Administrator to insert into the site and mount to the World Wide Web. It is inevitable that one design will not satisfy all interested parties. The key is communication and compromise.

  • The web developer should carefully evaluate websites that contain similar types of information. It would be wise to make up a list of important factors and to visit some websites of institutions with a similar missions, or similar collections. With historical resources, each institution is unique.

For the OCE website, the researcher was able to visit some websites of other state museums and state archives, along with some federal projects such as the Library of Congress and the American Holocaust Museum. It is also important to use established web style guides and to take ideas from what seems to work elsewhere when developing a website. This is not a question of plagiarism, but perpetuating good design practices.

  • The institution needs to secure access to images for the site. The institution needs to hold the copyright for these images if applicable.

There were not many images used for this site. There is in development an idea for integrated virtual exhibitions that would use images from the collections of the three major OCE units to create an integrated theme exhibition presented as a word and image collage. All of the images are the property of the agencies and pose no problems in securing their use.

  • Digitization of images from the collections can add interest and a stronger educational element to the website. The site should not just be informational in a standard, text-based way, but should offer visually pleasing images to inspire and attract attention.

The site uses the theme of the logo building blocks to anchor the site. The main page of the history resources page uses some images taken from the New York State Museum and New York State Archives and wrapped onto similar sized blocks to add some interest to the pages. The use of the blocks ties the pages together and clearly illustrates through these visuals that the OCE is the umbrella institution for the four units displayed on the blocks. As the site expands, more images will be added. This includes the creation of integrated virtual exhibitions on specific themes.

  • As the site evolves, keeping an archive of older versions for future reference is an advisable practice.

The researcher created several prototype pages for others to view and to critique. These versions have been saved for future reference to track the evolution of the site.

  • It is essential to have others test the site for accuracy, readability, clarity and design issues, as well as issues surrounding navigation, links and e-mail addresses.

The researcher enlisted an outside person with knowledge of HTML and experience with web development as a consultant with regard to the appearance and functionality of the site. This helped to solve problems with the website before the site was presented to the institution.

.24. Future Research

Institutions such as the Office of Cultural Education and its agencies have a responsibility to their publics to fulfill their information needs. The World Wide Web offers a medium in which to achieve those goals in a multi-faceted and egalitarian format. The World Wide Web has only reached the masses in the past few years and it continues to grow rapidly every day. In fulfilling the needs of patrons and potential patrons, the institution tracks the requests of patrons and gains insight into their information needs. This could be achieved by obtaining data on the site with cookies. Another possible research method would be to create an on-line survey for patrons or a strategically placed comment area or guestbook. Someone would then need to periodically review the comments or surveys and create a report to the senior managers of the institution to ensure that any appropriate changes would be made.

.25. Future Related Projects

While working with the members of the OCE History Advisory Council, the researcher was allowed the opportunity to discuss some ideas for the OCE website in the future. They met with great approval from the History Advisory Council.

One idea that would illustrate the holdings and research potential of the units within OCE would be a series of on-line exhibitions that would showcase digitized images of objects, artifacts, text, and archival materials in an integrated fashion. The researcher explained to the group that these integrated virtual exhibitions would require a great deal of time and research, and would have to meet with the approval of all three units as well as OCE as a whole.

Using a collage format and choosing a particular theme such as The Civil War, Women of New York State, or Harlem in the 1920s, digitized photos of collections, along with digitized library and archival materials, could be hot linked to a panel that described the object. This would be a very physical way of explaining the history collections in the three units and how they work together for the researcher, the student and the citizen. No work has yet begun on this project.

Another idea for a history resources project would be to create a GIS map that would be clickable and would provide information for historical contacts by county. Many of government records are stored in their counties rather than being housed at the New York State Archives. This would allow for individuals with specific questions to locate information such as who is the county historian, names of town and city historians, significant historic sites within the county, or names and contact information for people such as county clerks. This would again be a valuable resource, but would require a full-time custodian to create and maintain such a broad-based and valuable site.

There is potential with this site to create an ever-expanding network of historical resources in New York State. Because the Office of Cultural Education and its agencies, the New York State Museum, New York State Archives and Records Administration, and the New York State Library offer support to both public and private historical agencies throughout the State of New York, a well-organized state-wide network of resources would not be an unreasonable goal. The OCE could also take a step and offer guidelines and parameters for creating websites that offer information to the general public as well as colleagues in the history field. This would entail creating a full-time staff member for OCE to work on these developments and to coordinate the host OCE site.

The researcher also began a meta index of history resources to add to the History Resources pages. This page offers links and brief descriptions of valuable resources for history-related sites. TheHistory Advisory Council members were to discuss possible structure and content of the page.


It is evident that the role of the archivist and historian is evolving in such a manner that the demand for the technologically savvy is a necessity. Creation and maintenance of websites that would provide this type of information to the public, whether it be in a large institution such as the New York State Office of Cultural Education, or a smaller institution such as a historic site or history department at a small college, require a great deal of time, planning, and ingenuity. Information professionals such as recent MLS graduates and students with archival and historical training are well equipped to provide this type of information to an information-hungry public.

One of the biggest complaints that is heard today is that the responsibility for constructing a website is thrust upon a staff member, or a staff member volunteers to take on these duties without a full understanding of what is needed to successfully complete this task. Often it is expected that the site be done in a matter of hours or days and that somehow information will just magically remain correct and intact. Unfortunately this is not the case. As a graduate student of library science, the researcher had a strong impression that the role of the MLS graduate as information professional and arbiter of all "good" information on the World Wide Web is an inevitability. Sites that contain this type of information should be accurate, precise, and well thought out. This is not something that can be picked up by just anyone on the staff and be expected to be completed without any problems. Those who manage information on the World Wide Web, no matter what type of information it is, need to have adequate training, equipment, and support to fulfill their duties and to present their institutions in a favorable light.

The World Wide Web is becoming ever more important in commerce, education, and entertainment. It is a unique medium that allows access from just about anywhere in the world. Keeping that in mind, savvy web developers must have a new understanding for their prospective audience — literally anyone, from an elementary school student in town, to a professor or government official from halfway across the world, to a college student halfway across the country. It is impossible to predict who will be using a site, but established design principles and, like any conventionally published material, careful scrutinization of the material for accuracy and legibility is critical. As more information is presented on the World Wide Web, web developers have to make an increasing commitment of responsibility for the content, structure, and ease of access and use for this information. Web material is already standing beside print material in providing essential information to an ever-broadening audience. And like print material, web material must be carefully evaluated by information professionals, ensuring that the public is provided with their diverse information needs.


1. See Marissa Melton's "The Modern MLS Degree: Library Schools Today are Turning Out Webmasters." US News online.

2. CTG offers a wide range of white papers on issues surrounding presenting information on the World Wide Web.

3. This book is available online at

4. and

5. The Making of America Project is a joint venture of the University of Michigan and Cornell University. The major portion of the funding for this project is through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. or, or

6. May 1999




10. For more information see "The Modern MLS Degree" by Marisa Melton.

11. OCE Website:

12. OCE Responsibilities Page:

13. Report of the OCE Task Force on History: Executive Summary, April 1997.

14. Report of the OCE Task Force on History: Executive Summary, April 1997.

15. Office of Cultural Education History Advisory Council mission statement. January 1999.


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