Having just had a miserable fail at attempting to order something online for delivery to the Reading Room at North Melbourne, I would like to make some remarks about the online setup for ordering records.
I had logged on with my registered number before locating a record I wished to see, and then I clicked on "Issue to the Reading Room".
The next page that comes up says "NOTE: This is a request for the item described above to be delivered to the Melbourne reading room. Do not submit this request unless you are in this reading room or intend visiting it in the near future."
OK, so I intend visiting in the near future. Good. Where is the submit button?
After a fruitless attempt to fill in or click in the little boxes about when I would visit, I then read:
"Print this request and lodge it in the reading room or post it to the reading room".
Well that is no good, I am not in the reading room, and I don't want to fluff around printing, finding an envelope and a stamp and running off to the post box, I want to order it online.
But then I read:
"Alternatively, you may lodge your advance request to view records online."
I probably misinterpreted this because I wanted to view the records in the reading room, so I thought that I was making an online "advance request to view records". It was ambiguous. So I clicked on the next link, and that brought me to another form to complete - but there was no link to the record I was chasing, I had to open another window and go through the whole search again to get the reference numbers. This is inefficient and likely to lead to errors if you mistranscribe a number.
So I filled in the form (despite this information mostly being available through my original registration with NAA), and submitted the form. When I received no notification of the item being available to view at the reading room, I rang and discovered that my order was not in the system.
When I went back to the NAA website this morning to check the progress of my "order", such as it was, I could not find any place to locate a "My orders", or "My basket", or "My profile", so I had no way of knowing whether the order had been properly placed or not. I remember having got a page originally which I was instructed to print off as evidence of my order, but my printer wasn't hooked up and I thought I would come back to it later. Naturally I couldn't find it again.
Apart from the NAA staff assisting me, this experience is pretty poor. I frequently order records ahead of time at PROV, and at the SLV. I have ordered and paid for records online in New Zealand repositories. The setup for ordering in these institutions is far more efficient, and invariably has a successful outcome.
The usual system is to log in, find the record, order it, pay for it if required- DONE. I can go back and look at the progress of my order at a later time.
In 2012 it is surely more efficient for everyone to have records pre-ordered online for viewing in the reading room in an efficient manner.
I daresay rejigging the website ordering system has been talked about before, it all costs money. I understand that. If you are not already working on this problem, you need to be, and money needs to be found to do it.
I write this in support of your application for funding to improve the website for the archive users of Australia.
If this is work in progress, I would love to hear about it.
I apologise for the delay in responding to your posting. Thank you for your feedback. It is invaluable to us in helping to understand how people are using our databases and online processes, and where problems with those systems are.
We have recently implemented a new reference inquiry management system, which relates to the portion of your posting regarding being able to lodge an advance request to view records online. When you clicked on the link it took you to a form which would create a request for the records to be ordered up in time for your visit to the Melbourne office. Your post has highlighted an oversight which I will work to fix. The details of the item you are interested in and your contact details are not automatically filled in the form and you have to redo your search to be able to enter the information. We will change how this works so that the information is automatically entered into the form when you click on the link.
I am concerned that you say you submitted this request to view records in the Melbourne reading room but it was not received by the National Archives. This suggests that there may have been a problem with the request being received, which may be due to a bug in the system. I have done a number of searches in our new system (as I understand our Melbourne office staff also did) using your first name, last name, and the email address you used to register in this forum, but was unable to find your request. When the confirmation screen popped up after you submitted your request, you should also have received an email acknowledging receipt of your request. This email would have provided you with the inquiry number and options to check on the progress of your request. If you still have this email (it may be in your email junk/spam folder), could you please let me know so I can follow this up further.
Lastly, I would like to address the problem with clicking on the ‘Request issue’ link and not being able to order the records online to view in a reading room at a later date. This issue is more complex and is not an easy solution for the Archives to implement.
The vast majority of our researchers never visit one of our reading rooms to view records. They usually click on the ‘Request copy’ link (next to the ‘Request issue’ link) and are directed through our e-commerce system to purchase a copy of the record which is either posted to them if they request a paper copy, or is loaded to RecordSearch so that the digital copy can be viewed online. The information about the item is sent to our e-commerce system so that the person does not need to re-enter it, they are able to pay online, and in the new version of the system we aim to implement in the near future, they will be able to check on the progress of their order. If people do click on the ‘Request issue’ link, they usually realise it is for viewing records in the reading room and they go back to find another option. We are looking at ways to make this process more clear, and your feedback will contribute to our work.
Regarding being able to request an item online, the process is not so simple. To begin with, many people do not realise that if the submit a request to view records, that they have to view those records in the Archives office where it is held. The National Archives has reading rooms in each state and territory capital, and the Archives does not transfer records held in one office to another office if a person wants to see it in that office. A policy decision was made by the Archives not to automate this process, amongst other considerations, to reduce the number of people visiting one of our reading rooms hoping to see records held in another state. It was decided that reference officers would continue to process these requests so that we could make sure that the records were delivered when the researcher needed them and that if the researcher did not wish to travel to view the records, they could be advised of the alternative options such as purchasing copies. Therefore, no submit button is on the request issue screen, and we offer the option to submit a request online (which I will improve, as described above). I will review the wording on the ‘Issue to reading room’ screen to try and clarify some of the problems you have encountered, as I am sure they have also been experienced by other researchers. If you are interested, I would appreciate being able to run it past you to see if it makes the process more clear.
Once again, thanks for your feedback
Unfortunately the experience Lenore descibes is one which has put me off using NAA records unless absolutely pushed. Your comment "The vast majority of our researchers never visit one of our reading rooms to view records. They usually click on the ‘Request copy’ link....." is perhaps explained by this experience. I am one of those who have completely given up on the ordering system that Lenore has described and would rather pay for the things I desperately want (and wait often two months for open access records to be digitised). The alternative was a process of thinking I had ordered something, travelling an hour to the Archives office, only to find there is no record of my order. This has happened on several occasions. The result is that I access far fewer records than I would really like.
I don't agree with the view on archives held in different states. The process, while making life easier for archives officers, restricts access to the public by virtue of the difficulty of the process, and appears to go against what the NAA stands for. The situation of people ordering records held in another state could be remedied with a pop up screen or similiar warning that "these records are held in XXXX office. Please confirm that you will be visiting XXXX office" or similar. Or an email could be sent upon order that asks a person to confirm that they will be visiting the XXXX office and requiring a date. It could also be highlighted that records will not be transferred.
I look forward to the changes you have outlined. They will certainly go some way to making a difference.
Thanks for your comments. I meant by my comment about the majority of our researchers never visiting a reading room, that most of our researchers are not in a position to visit a reading room as they do not live in a capital city and many are based internationally. Therefore travel to a reading room can be prohibitively expensive for most. Thanks for sharing your experience and reasons for preferring to purchase records rather than viewing records in a reading room, as it helps to highlight areas of concern.
Regarding your preferring to purchase an item rather than travelling to a reading room only to find the item hadn't been delivered to the reading room. You might prefer to call the office where the records are located to request that the items be ordered in advance of your visit. This way you could also confirm prior to your visit that the records were available. The telephone numbers of all of our state offices are in Fact Sheet 1: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs01.aspx