In the introduction to Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections, Whitelaw describes how organizing collections on a digital platform expands its viewership, especially if the interface of the site offers more than just a research box. He mentions that “a significant number of visitors do not have a specific goal: in a survey of the motivations of some 34,000 visitors to Dutch museum websites, 29% report seeking specific information, but 21% visit to “engage in casual browsing,” thus laying out the road for digital collection builders to follow. He goes on to elaborate that “browse features are valued highly by non-expert visitors to online art collections . Thus from the user’s perspective, search is an incomplete solution.” As I am frantically gathering and digitizing public history for my Pilot’s Log site, this is a good reminder not fall into the trap of building a collection without considering the audience. The interface should invite audiences a variety of ways considering multitudes of reasons for research. As Whitelaw adds, “The stakes here are high, because the interface plays an inescapable role in mediating digital heritage.”
The “browsable mosaic” interface of the Manly Images, an experimental web interface for a collection of historic images from the Manly Public Library, in Sydney, Australia creates an engaging entrance into a digital museum. It forces me to re-imagine my own ideas of organizing the collection of news articles, photos of pilots, yearbooks, places, and more. How do I present them? How do they connect? From what perspective will a visitor approach the information? Re-shuffling collections and projecting them onto various audiences can create an entirely new look or new take on presenting history. As “The Real Faces of White Australia” builders commented after using facial detection technology to find and extract the photographs from digital copies of the original certificates, they ended up with “a new way of seeing and understanding the records — not as the remnants of bureaucratic processes, but as windows onto the lives of people.” The more I interviewed people in connection to my project and the more I have heard people talk about the flight school during WWII, the faces of cadets and pilots were becoming more and more prominent. The “The Real Faces of White Australia” called facial detection a ” finding aid… that brings the people to the front.” Among all the available information and digitized items, it is crucial to remember to keep the focus on the faces of the flight school.
Then again, I also have to look at all of the pieces of the puzzle because as the “content discovery is only part of the story. Cross-linked and hierarchical displays emphasize context — complex, multi-dimensional relationships between items — as well as macro-scale patterns and structures within collections.” Thus, now that I have a good start with the initial framework developed for the Pilot’s Log digital history project, I must clarify its intent and audience. Since I hope to compile more photos, more stories, and ultimately complete the list of all cadets who had attended the Mesa Del Rey flight school, determining the degree of engagement will be necessary for the success of the project. I need to determine how the information will be organized, how the uploaded items will appear, and what exhibits I might want to create on Omeka. The first item that provided a path into the history of the Mesa Del Rey flight school was the few scattered yearbooks, King’s Logs, that list the cadets in each class, tell about their daily routines and lives before being sent off to the war, presumably to the Pacific. The goal of this digital history project is to create a site that will pull together the history of the flight school and explore the experiences of the young cadets in an attempt to find out what happened to them after they finished the training at Mesa Del Ray. To engage the public, not only the interface need to offer a convincing and inviting look into the project, but it should also provide a guide of some sort for the audience to contribute and comment. Visitors to the site then will be able to upload their own stories and digital artifacts. In this way, the core audience — descendants of the pilots in the King City community or elsewhere — will be able to shape the project and create a more accurate view of these experiences, moreover, connect the remaining surviving pilots.