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Case Study IV The Stafford Past Track project
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The Stafford Past Track project is an initiative of Staffordshire Arts & Museum Service
(AMS), and was a multi-partner project led by two services within the Staffordshire
County Council in the English Midlands.The aim was to improve access to the
Council's holdings of local history-related visual material, including texts, photographs,
prints, paintings and audio-visual material. Improved access to these collections was the
project's key goal and chief selling point.These are large collections, held at a number of
sites across the county and, prior to the project, this material was available for viewing by
appointment only. Digitisation enabled the Arts & Museum Service to pool these collec-
tions and integrate them with other private and publicly-held collections into a single
database.
When work began on the Past Track project in 1999, it was initially hoped that the
system would be made available via the Internet.The technology available at the time
could not satisfactorily handle interactive mapping on the Web and standalone touch-
screen systems were used instead. It was quickly realised that maintenance of large num-
bers of standalone units could not be sustained and, as mapping technology became more
affordable,Web-delivery became a viable proposition. It has massively increased the acces-
sibility of the material.
Due to the success of the standalone elements of the Past Track project, subsequent
New Opportunities Fund (NOF) support was secured to extend the system.The AMS
sought and received a substantial amount of external funding and the second stage of the
project has been a collaborative effort with the County Council Education Department's
IT unit.This unit has helped develop the online technology.
A user accessing the project homepage is offered a choice of paths through the mate-
rial via interactive Ordnance Survey maps, predefined themes or an Advanced Search
function which is used to retrieve specific objects or records.The map search function
uses a Zoomify image plug-in for Web browsers, which enables site users to zoom in and
examine areas of an image at a larger scale through a process of image streaming. An
interactive map of the county invites the user to click on an area of interest.The user can
then zoom in on that area progressively. Areas of the map where records are available are
shaded in yellow and areas with a higher density of records are shaded in pink. Each
record is associated with a particular geographical location and when users have selected
their areas of interest they click on a button to display all of the records that originate in
the vicinity.While viewing the material, users can create their own album of resources to
which they can add their own notes, thus enhancing the interactivity of the venture and
making the project more actively engaging.
The technology was selected through site visits and discussions with users and produc-
ers of similar systems.The AMS needed a system which was simple to use for a wide
range of user groups, reliable and relatively easy to maintain and which met Disability
Discrimination Act requirements for accessibility.The obstacles overcome tended to be
mainly technical.The Geographical Information System (GIS) , the transfer of digitised
historic mapping and the conversion of existing database information were all time-con-
suming and challenging. One anticipated risk was the reliability of equipment and soft-
Human Interfaces
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This case study is based on a questionnaire completed by Chris Copp, Museums Officer at
the Staffordshire Arts & Museum Service, and on information from the project's Website
(http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk/), accessed during January 2003.