State Records NSW is now inviting our regular users to trial http://api.records.nsw.gov.au as a new search tool for accessing the State Archives collection.
If you have tried this new search tool, and have feedback to give, we would love to hear it. We are actively developing the tool and would like to make it as useful and as intuitive as possible. So please post any feedback you have as comments to this blog post.
From time to time we’ll post project updates to this blog. Any posts of particular interest for regular users using http://api.records.nsw.gov.au as a search tool are being marked with the “Regular users” category (in the right-hand column).
So far there have been posts on:
- Searching the collection with the new API
- Citing series and items using Zotero (Zotero is a free tool for managing research notes and citations)
So what’s the whole API thing about anyway?
On this site, and in other places, you may find that the new search tool is also being described as an API, or application programming interface. This is because http://api.records.nsw.gov.au isn’t just a search tool, it is also an interface for making the raw data underlying the catalogue accessible, particularly for re-use by developers.
It’s a bit like toy trucks. If most online catalogues are toy trucks that you can play with, but only using the features built-in by the manufacturer, then http://api.records.nsw.gov.au is a toy truck built from lego bricks.
Because it is an API, you can take the search tool apart and use its “bricks” (i.e. XML or JSON versions of the search results and entities) to create other things (such as this mashup of ministries entities), mix it with other sources of data (e.g. to create federated search portals), or even upload your own data (by creating applications that automatically tag or add comments to items in the catalogue).
This “API approach” also has a lot of value for State Records because it means we can make better use of our own data (for example, it makes it much easier for us to contemplate creating new tools like mobile phone applications that integrate with the catalogue).
That said, if you just want a toy truck (a simple but powerful search tool), and don’t want to worry about all this API business, that’s OK, because, at the end of the day, it is a toy truck too!