Today, the world-wide web has become a necessary tool for communication, research and information sharing and retrieval. It has become vital for organizations of today to have a website of their own to reach a greater number of people for their advocacy, and at the same time, for a greater number of people to find out more about the organization, how they can benefit from the organization’s services, and how they can contribute to the attainment of the goals of that organization.
In response to the expectation of Singaporeans to have access to “instant” information, the National Archives of Singapore (NAS), under the National Heritage Board (NHB) which is a major content provider of information on Singapore’s heritage, has developed the Access to Archives Online (A20), which they claim to be a “one-stop portal site on heritage information dating back to 17th century. ” It provides users access to photographs, maps, building plans, recorded oral history and other audio-visual recordings.
A20 has, in fact won for the NAS the “E-Culture” category in the 2004 Stockholm Challenge which recognizes pioneering work for the use of Information Technology. It was also nominated in 2005 as the Singapore entry for best “E-culture” content in the World Summit Awards. Based on the content, use of visual materials, and other considerations, it appears that the site was intended for the use of researchers and students who are planning to conduct a study or research on Singaporean history.
The site provides an inventory of the collection of the NAS. Apart from documents that are already historically-significant; the site puts up newly acquired material and Online Exhibits. The homepage of A2O provides the links necessary for navigation of the site, from links to the introductory “getting started” to the “search” of their archives. This means that the user does not instantly get necessary information about what the site is and must in fact click other links to find out what he/she can expect from the site.
However, the positive thing about the use of such an interface for the homepage is that the visitor does not get an instant barrage of information upon visiting the site which at times lead to confusion and “information overload. ” The use of a simple visual graphic – heritage pictures coming out of a soda can – with the links below allows the user to focus on where in the site the user needs to go to. From the homepage, there is also a link for a “sitemap” which provides new users with a diagram of the website for quicker access to the services that it provides. Searching the archives is very easy to use.
The user only needs to provide the keyword of what he/she is looking for, date and time-span of the information, and the type of media (Photographs, Oral History Interviews, Audio Visuals and Sound Recordings, Speeches, Cartographic records and Building Plans, Posters, Private Records, and Government Records). It even provides novice and first-time users with search tips and a thesaurus search. For example, a search of the keyword “government” spanning from the 01/01/1800 to 01/01/1850 has provided 9 photographs, 1,961 oral history interviews, and 211 private records.
The site then provides the user with information regarding the search results, such as synopsis of the oral interviews, and even a transcript of the interview in . djvu format (the site provides a link for downloading . djvu readers). The site also provides information on how the users can access the documents and recordings that were generated in the search, including information whether ther are for open access or restricted access, which requires written permission from the creating agency. The site even provides information as to how such documents are classified.
As an alternative to the A2O one-stop search which was discussed above, the site allows users to search for specific record types from databases that have been given user-friendly names (for example, CARDS for maps and plans, GRID for government records. ) The site uses graphics sparingly. Only the characteristic soda-can is used as the graphic on every page (except when looking at search results of photographs which provides thumbnails). The use of this single visual element provides the whole site with coherence and uniformity.
The use of lime-green and soft-brown also enhances the “fresh” look and appeal of the site. Because of the site’s simplicity, it provides access to individuals with limited-bandwidth. It does not even use macromedia flash which has become common to other websites. However, though the site is good enough for its purposes, there are a few more that appears to be lacking. For one, the site does not provide tools for individuals with visual impairment. It may, as a development, allow users to select the size of text that the site shall display.
There is also a section which provides users with links to other relevant websites such as that of the NAS, the NHB, the International Council for Archives, even that of a website dedicated to the participation of Singapore in World War II. Lastly, the site provides users with necessary details on how they can contact the NAS, including a map of the location of their office. The site also asks users to participate in an online survey which would provide the NAS with feedback regarding the effectively of their site and services.
Upon visiting and exploring the website, this author developed an interest in Singapore, its history and culture, which means that it succeeds in promoting the country with its rich history. Without stating directly, the website also provides visitors with the necessity of keeping historical records and understanding their value. It is apparent that it succeeds in its ulterior purpose, which is to provide users with the ability to search the archives of Singapore’s history.