Cal State Archives go online - but system is weak on usability

The acclaimed California State Archives are going digital, thanks to a new online catalog system, reports Government Technology.Secretary of State Debra Bowen unveiled the site, called Minerva, which has updated detailed descriptions of all types of records, from maps and photographs to the Robert F.

The acclaimed California State Archives are going digital, thanks to a new online catalog system, reports Government Technology.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen unveiled the site, called Minerva, which has updated detailed descriptions of all types of records, from maps and photographs to the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Investigation - as well as information on elections and political campaigns.

"Minerva is a dynamic goldmine for historians, journalists, students and anyone else who just loves California history," said Bowen. "Minerva offers a real-time listing of everything we have on hand in the California State Archives, whether it's a videotape we've just received or an old map we've been storing for decades."

Minerva, named after the Roman mythological goddess of wisdom, is a collaborative brainchild of archivists and information technology professionals. It streamlines the archiving process appraising, accessioning, processing and other workflow management. It give the public easy access to search the site and track collections.

"Until now, people had to come to Sacramento if they wanted to find an up-to-date listing of everything available in the State Archives," continued Bowen. "Minerva is tailored to meet the high-tech needs of modern-day Archives users. It makes government records more accessible to the general public and makes research more efficient for professionals."

Two problems, though: One, it doesn't work at all in Firefox. You have to use IE. Secondly, the site gives no hints as to the organization of the database, which in fact organizes content into collections, series and record groups, and subgroups. Why not at least show the basic structure of the site, or point people at some of the more interesting collections, such as the Earl Warren Papers. We can't provide a link to those papers, because the system doesn't offer URLs to browse the collections.

Getting the material online and searchable is great, but the public deserves more: browsability, detailed breadcrumbs, the ability to bookmark, display search history and link would be good for starters.