Oct 112011

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:

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).

Lego truck, by monkeyc.net (flickr)

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!



  6 Responses to “Trialling the new search tool… your feedback please”

  1. Exciting options. Now at last workable searches for local history researchers who can now ignore strata plans and railways stations and probate packets and see what else is in the mix.

    Maybe a few clues on whether Clicking the filters turns them on or off and how many options can be used at once?

    Works well on ipad.

    Congratulations on at last sinking the dreaded Investigator!

    • Hi Carol
      the filters are a useful feature but can be a confusing: thanks for your feedback, we’ll try to see if we can make them more intuitive. Have you found any particular search tools that use filters (e.g. Trove has “Refine your results” options) in a really easy-to-use way?
      To answer your question: clicking on a filter will apply it to your current set of search results, narrowing the list of results to a particular date range or record series. Once you’ve applied a filter, its icon will change to a red cross, at which point you can click on that same filter again to deactivate it. Once you’ve applied one filter, depending on the search results, you may still have options to apply additional filters (e.g. to narrow the date range further or search a particular series within a given date range) & you can add as many additional filters as are possible for that result set.
      I hope this makes sense!

  2. Thanks for this new resource – I am not an archivist and frankly found Archives Investigator a bit intimidating, hence avoided it. I also can’t claim to understand what API means – BUT I can use it, get useful results and see possibilities for more. I look forward to further exploration of this great resource. Well done State Records!

    • Hi Sylvia
      thank you! We’re trying not to use the word “API” so much any more because, as you note, it does only make sense to a technical audience. Hopefully what we will end up with in the future is just a simple “Search the collection” search box on our home page & you won’t have to worry about the name.

      All the “API” bit means is that we have designed this new search tool to be useable by developers building computer applications as well as researchers visiting the website. So you might find someone creating a mobile phone app to navigate the collection, or a developer pulling out all the data from our catalogue to analyse the history of NSW government agencies, or the integration of our catalogue with those of other institutitions, or something else entirely – these other kinds of uses are enabled by the “API”-side of the new search tool.

      Kind regards

  3. I’ve been trying to use Archives Investigator but it no longer seems to work – it keeps coming up with “Archives Investigator service error. Please try again in a few minutes” – I’d happily use this new search tool but I want the ability to preorder stuff. Will that option eventually be available through this new search tool? And is there a problem with Archives Investigator or is my computer just having a hissy fit?!

    • Hi Prue
      It isn’t your computer. Over the last few days Archives Investigator has been having problems which I understand, if they haven’t been addressed already, are being looked at.
      Pre-ordering & purchasing digital copies are both on the development agenda for the new search tool. We’ll implement this in two phases:
      – we will shortly be rolling out a new feature that will insert hyperlinks to the right place in Archives Investigator wherever pre-orders or purchases are possible. This would allow you to find the item in the new search tool, then jump to AI to pre-order it.
      – we will then look at implementing a full pre-order/purchase system in the new search tool with a shopping cart for holding multiple items. This is more involved and will take a little time. When new features like this are ready, we are announcing them on this blog.
      Kind regards

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