Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why web pages shouldn't move

Enclosed please find excerpts from my email to a research historian at the US Army Military History Institute (MHI), who kindly responded to one of yesterday's DearMYRTLE blogs about difficulting finding the Civil War photo database on the radically revised MHI website. See:

Dear sir,

Thank-you for your prompt reply to my previous email.

Yes, after much research on your website, I was successful in determining the new location of the Civil War photo database.

Kind sir, my advice is to refrain from making such major changes of web addresses, as there are people actually using the database who have bookmarked specific items for future reference. Those old links no longer apply because of the radical revision of the MHI website.

With all due respect, I understand that web page design isn’t part of training for reference historians. But since you are someone with influence on the presentation of MHI resources, may I beg of you to consider the problem in future revisions of the MHI website?

How can I better describe the problem? A good analogy would be for your library to catalog the books under the Dewey Decimal System, but after a few years, replace every book on the shelf in strict alphabetical order by title, regardless of category. Serious researchers provide proper bibliographic citations, and web addresses are to be no exception. Where a researcher has made note of a particular photo from the Civil War photo database, the citation now does not work. It is very hard for those that follow to find the sources referenced by previous researchers.

Having the ability to retrace steps of previous researchers is an important element in determining reliability of a compiled work in any field of study.

As the web becomes the preeminent method for archiving public documents and presenting information, responsible web page designers must maintain the location of pages, folders and databases, thereby facilitating effective retrieval of previously cited resources. Such efforts do not impede sweeping changes in artistic design.

Let me close by saying I am thankful for your fine library and appreciate the helpfulness of the staff. Of particular interest were the personal write-ups found intermingled among units histories. Delving into your facility’s rich resources made it possible for me to discover where my ancestors served and what experiences they encountered. Unlike some “quick fix” genealogists of the world, I look for official unit reports in addition to the NARA’s files of original service, pension & widow’s files to document the lives of my three Union Civil War ancestors.

Thank-you for your time.

Pat (Player) Richley
Snail Mail Address:
227 Bellevue Way NE PMB 544
Bellevue, WA 98004

(c) 2007 All Rights Reserved.

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