Da-da! Functional map finally revealed

Functional map on wall

The map looming a little ominously on the wall – each of the clusters you can see is a subfonds.

I finished the functional map back in early September and moved on to my next major task (building authority files) but I’ve just got round to having it printed out on the massive CYC printer so I have a real physical copy to stick on the wall and share with you. I’m sorry I didn’t get round to doing this sooner, and whilst I’m sure no one was waiting on tenterhooks, I shouldn’t have left it hanging – that’s bad blogging! For some reason the print unit put it on a black background which doesn’t photograph very well close up  (but looks funkily retro on the wall) so I’ll use screen shots from my computer to show detail.

Close up of functional map

So, here are my 13 main categories which form my “sub-fonds” level in the CALM catalogue:

  • FIN Finance
  • ADM Administration
  • LEG Legal
  • COU Council, Committees and Freemen
  • ORD Public Order and Justice
  • SOC Social Assistance
  • UTL Utilities
  • DEF Civil and Military Defence
  • PPT Planning, Property and Transport
  • CUL Culture, Recreation and Tourism
  • ENV Environment and Trade regulation
  • EDU Education and Training
  • HEA Health

Each section is then broken down into 3-5 subsections, again based on function.  Legal, for example,  is split into 5 sections:

  • Property
  • Disputes
  • Civil registration and ceremonies
  • Legislation
  • Boundaries and jurisdictions 

Everything below these two levels is just an indication of what kind of records will fall into each sub-section, not actually how the catalogue will look, because the lower levels must be constructed “bottom-up” by identifying the real-life series of documents (on schedule to start in January). This is to make sure we respect provenance and original order. 

Looks pretty simple right? That’s kind of the idea, that a lot of thinking and testing goes into making a robust end structure that I can fit everything into and is easy to navigate. It means that I shouldn’t have to think too much about each series as I physically catalogue it, just put it in its allocated place, like sorting post into pigeonholes.

The software I’ve used is called bubbl.us and was just the first one I came across online after a quick search. My first stage was to brainstorm all the different information I came across in my research in a big higgledy-piggledy mess. 

Brainstorming using bubbl.us

Once I had captured everything in one workspace, then I started a new sheet and built a more ordered hierarchical structure by grouping the functions that emerged. When I changed my mind, I could delete bits, add bits or just drag the bubbles into a new section.

Archivists often arrange collections by writing notes on slips of paper and then moving them about on the desk until happy with it. This is just a digital method for the same process which I recommend to anyone, and is much less likely to blow away if someone leaves the window open!

Of course, the final catalogue will be a slightly different shape depending on how many records survive from each function, and hopefully I’ll have time to make another visual representation of the actual catalogue when I’m finished.

It could even be a visual interface into the collection, a big poster that a user can go to and locate their area of interest (and corresponding catalogue reference), or one day maybe even an interactive app that you could click on a bubble and it takes you to the online catalogue entry. How cool would that be on a large touch screen or electronic whiteboard?

 Do you think you’d use a visual “browse” type interface instead of, or alongside, a text-based “search” interface? I think it would be great for users who don’t have a fixed interest to begin with, but just want to explore what we have, or when you are looking for something specific but don’t know exactly what to type in the search box. Having a strong browseable interface of some kind is necessary for this project because I’m only cataloguing to series level,  so there won’t be the quantity of searchable text  as you would find in a traditional item-level catalogue.

So that’s my structure as it stands. I’m now constructing the parallel and complementary web of authority files, the nitty gritty factual detail of which departments carried out which functions and when. This provides provenance and another access route into the collection.

There will be two posts on the blog this week – so come back on Friday to hear about the wonderful story of a York resident accidentally finding herself in the archives recently – in a photo from 1927!

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9 thoughts on “Da-da! Functional map finally revealed

  1. This looks amazing – and I can definitely visualise myself browsing this catalogue visually (perhaps on a touch screen as you suggest). One question I have is: what is your strategy for assigning records that potentially fall into more than one function?

    • Hi Kelda – brilliant question! Part of the reason the structure took a while to put together is that I kept testing it with different documents to see where I might have those problems and tweaked accordingly to anticipate that. Of course there will be some that can fall under two areas, so what I will do is make a decision to put them in one, and cross reference from the other. As long as I am consistent and clearly signpost this, I don’t think it should be too confusing for users.

      Another thing is that we’re looking at having a dual-number system (i.e RefNo and a FindingNo) like the BPMA for example, which will help indicate that this structure, being functional, is only a theoretical construct to aid discovery (which may be adapted over time) whilst allowing the records themselves to have persistent non-hierarchial IDs.

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  4. A great blog, really interesting reading and I’m sure the catalogue will be such a fantastic resource when it’s done! Is there an “easy” and quick way to identify series, or is it just a case of looking at all the records you have?

    • Thanks for the feedback – glad you like it! For some parts of the collection, yes there is an easy way in that there are existing file level lists, or some accessions are essentially just series in their own right. For other parts (namely the town clerk’s papers) it will be more labour intensive. Some of the series will be “natural” ones but others will be “artificial” where there is no surviving providence, so I will have to be careful to make it clear which are which in the final catalogue.

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