vai al contenuto

Handbook on cultural web user interaction
First edition (September 2008)
edited by MINERVA EC Working Group “Quality, Accessibility and Usability”

ANNEX 1      Users and usage on the Michael-fr website

First Survey (June-July 2006)

MICHAEL - Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe
One European and many national portals

MICHAEL Culture service aims to open up worldwide access to digital collections from European museums, libraries, archives and other cultural and scientific institutions. Through MICHAEL multilingual service,people are able to find and explore the European digital cultural heritage using the Internet. (European portal) (project website)

The object of the survey was to identify the users and usage patterns of the Digital Heritage (Patrimoine numérique) site and to obtain an initial impression of the perceived quality of the service. The survey was carried out through an online questionnaire (87 answers) and 9 semi-directive interviews1. The following elements summarise the results of the survey, which includes an analysis of the service in terms of the quality criteria of the Minerva guide. This study has limitations: it coincides with the launch of the new service and was carried out over a relatively limited time-span (5 weeks), the interviewed persons used the catalogue for the first time and the sample of interviewed persons could have been broader. None the less, the data gathered allows us to identify a number of significant points and avenues for development.

User profiles

More than half of the web users that responded to the questionnaire are not heritage conservation professionals (55 out of 87 or 63%). This allows us to believe that the user base catalogue is not restricted to cultural heritage professionals. This audience was made aware of Digital heritage through a notice on the home page of the portal (as of late July the ad was shown 16 700 times) or through information relayed by genealogy sites. We note that the majority of institutions that answered are closely concerned with digitisation: 27 institutions out of 32 are involved in a digitisation initiative.

Do you have an activity in the field?
University research 10,71%
Culture administration2,30%
Number of persons that answered the question84
Did not answer 3


What search did you do?
Genealogy 31,50%
Curiosity / discovery  30,20%
State of digitisation in other institutions and regions 17,10%
University 11,80%
School 1,30%
Production of editorial products (DVD, CDROM…) 1,30%
Tourism 0%
Other 6,50%
Number of persons that answered the question 76
Did not answer 0

The institutional users

Reflecting the type of institutions represented in the catalogue, archives and libraries arrive in first place with over 30% of the answers, followed far behind by museums (6%).

Curiosity and discovery not only motivates the non-institutional public but also figures in a good number of searches made by institutions. At the heart of the interest is the state of digitisation in other institutions and regions.

We note the small number of answers coming from institutions included in the catalogue (10 in over 100), but also the good match between Digital heritage and the institutions: most of them are ready to participate by making suggestions for the improvement of the professional space and to facilitate updates.

Two other audience segments stand out: genealogists and persons involved in teaching and university research.


A number of replies give genealogy as the activity (a professional and amateurs), as well as historical searches. Indeed genealogy searches are the most frequent (31.5% of answers), followed by curiosity/discovery (30.2%).

A number of comments come from genealogists. They know exactly what they are looking for and have precise expectations.

This public has high expectations in terms of the conditions and mode of accessing documents. Key issues include free access and delays in consultation. The question of on-line access to documents is often asked.

These results corroborate the conclusions of surveys of the users of archives: genealogy is one of the principle goals of searches in city and county (French département) archives (56%) 3 as well as in the National archives (a third of readers)4. These searches are general carried out on an amateur basis. These amateur genealogists, curious of their family origins, have contributed to the growing public use of archives over the last thirty years. A proportion of users carry out simultaneous searches in history and genealogy, some being only interested in local history, to which genealogy searches naturally lead, while others carry out more general historical searches: these practices concern one in five readers in the city and county archives. The most frequently consulted documents are the parish registers and those on civil status, especially at the county archives (60%).

Researchers and teachers

University research and teaching represent a significant proportion of the replies (19%). University research is mentioned by 12% of users.

A diversified public

The diverse origins of a segment of the users may be noted, namely including managers and technicians (transport, sales support technicians, construction, consulting, computers, advertising…), and people with free time (retirees, students…). An interest in heritage seems to motivate this public.

Diverse access modes

Though the survey period coincided with the launch of the new catalogue, one notes in the diversity of the access modes to the site. A number of announcements were made through email to correspondents, and to mailing lists; this explains the relatively high percentage of this mode of information (18.7%).

The portal brought in 12.5% of web users: an announcement was posted on the main page of the portal for two weeks, this announcement was shown 16 700 times.

Search engines come in 3rd place, with 11.2%: because  the records of the data-base are indexed one by one on Google, Digital heritage can appear as answer to a wide range of different searches.

Representation and usage

What is the catalogue for, according to you?
Exploring the wealth of heritage in France 69,1%
Locating the sites that offer access to digital works 62,9%
Publicising your digital collections 40,7%
Discovering the state of digitisation policy advances in France 38,2%
Conducting your digitisation policy 9,8%
Others (please specify) 1,2%
Number of persons that answered the question 81
Did not answer 6

Two roles stand out: exploration and access to digitised collections and documents.

In the replies, it is the exploration of the wealth of heritage that appears as the principal reason for use of the Digital heritage site (two thirds of answers, 69%). This answer can be compared with the motivation of curiosity/discovery that represents 30% of searches. Curiosity/discovery not only motivates the non-institutional public, but also a good portion of searches carried out by the institutions.

The location of sites that offer access to digitised collections is an option chosen by in a significant part of the answers (63%). The ambiguity of the word “site” may be noted, in that it can mean an actual place, or a collection or a website. Certain interviewed people noticed this orientation of meta-catalogue.

Professional usage

The catalogue is seen as a tool for the promotion of collections (40.7%), particularly by a majority of the institutional public (close to 70%). On the other hand only 4 institutions in 32 see the catalogue as a tool for their digitisation policy; none of the institutions registered in the catalogue answered positively to this point. 38.2% of answers indicate a search on the state of advancement of digitisation policies in France.

The services proposed in the professional space, specifically dedicated to the actors in digitisation, only obtained a satisfaction rate of less than two institutions in three. These services must certainly be made more explicit, sometimes more visible (e.g. RSS).

It can be seen as paradox to note the many institutions that are most interested in establishing a personalised link to the catalogue from their site (65%) rather than a pdf publication of their own file (53%)! The RSS thread is judged useful by 61% of them.

A number of comments concern the services for professionals. They point to content development and the material to be presented by the site.

Frustration in terms of “classic” catalogues?

The title Digital heritage: catalogue of digitised collections often gives the impression that the site allows discovery and access to the documents and works. The gap between this expectation and the actual site content, the difference in granularity between a catalogue of documents and objects and Digital heritage may explain the lack of satisfaction expressed for certain search results (37.5 of unfruitful searches). The common expectation of digital versions of documents, reinforced by the presence of illustrations on the site, also led to some confusion.

A tool for professionals or for a wide audience?

The catalogue overhaul, in the context of the European Michael portal, had the goal of opening the catalogue to a new public, in the framework of broader public access to digitised documents and to information on digitisation. Is it possible to combine a data-base of interest to a wide audience and a professional tool? How to articulate such different uses? This first survey shows that Digital heritage effectively reaches a public of amateurs and curious users. Yet the multiple targets of the catalogue were soon noticed and its final goals, according to some, need to be more explicit.

What perspectives?

Digital heritage reflects the evolving digitisation landscape. Its goal is to tend toward an exhaustive approach. Included in by the French national digitisation plan, it covers data pertaining to “heritage”, a notion which can easily have shifting definitions. The partnership with the national Education ministry, the European digital library can bring about changes in the initial concept.

On questions concerning the scope of the site, answers tend toward a broadening of scope, be it for new document types or the extension to the collections of other European countries, desired by 78% of web users.

What other types of digitised collections would you like the catalogue to describe?
Thesis 65,60%
Recent newspapers and magazines 55,20%
Classes 37,30%
Administrative forms in digital format 26,80%
Others 16,40%
Number of persons that answered the question 67
Did not answer 20


 Do you intend to consult this site again?
Yes 95,1%
No 3,6%
Number of persons that answered the question 83
Did not answer 5

Despite the fact that searches do not always yield a result, the near unanimity of positive answers to the question “Do you intend to consult this site again?” shows that the catalogue meets the needs of a variety of audiences.


What do you think of the following aspects of the site?
Contents of the home page87,30%6,30%
Graphic design of the home page77,20%10,10%
Download speed of the pages70,80%13,90%
Site navigation68,30%26,50%
Graphic design of the records63,20%16,40%
Entry fields of the quick search60,70%12,60%
Professional space60,70%15,10%
Entry fields for the advanced search54,40%20,20%
Search result order50,60%18,90%
Number of persons that answered the question7979
Did not answer55

First impressions

The majority of users reacted rather positively to the home page (in the same graphic style as the portal): the aspects met most approval are the content and graphic design of the home page.

However, the presentation does not does not satisfy all users. Despite the mission statement on the home page, the objective of the site is not always clearly perceived, especially in the initial phase of site discovery.

It should be noted that the graphic design is appreciated by a higher percentage of the non-institutional public. Users accustomed to accessing catalogues and data banks, namely library professionals, expect more sober interfaces presenting only search forms.

The space dedicated to images on the home page is significant and most of the collection records contain illustrations. These images are meaningful, contribute to the site’s attractiveness and play a role in encouraging users to browse and discover.

The numerous navigation choices that the designers included in the home page are underlined by the multiple choices made by the users who were interviewed. They explored the map, searched by institution, used the search engine, explored the editorial section and the professional space, etc. The observation of the navigation shows that, according to their interests or their habits, the users rather quickly undertake a search, some through the quick search, others through the menu, the map of France or the editorial facilities.

The site navigation is only satisfactory to 26.5%, a number of users having experienced difficulties. The articulation of the lists and site records, cd’s and dvd’s, are not well understood.

Search modes

There is no significant difference between the search modes that satisfy around two thirds of the users (between 65% and 70%). These figures can be contrasted to the proportion of users that stated having found what they were looking for: 64.2% vs 35.7%.

How do you find the following search modes?
  Satisfactory Unsatisfactory
By institution 66,20% 22,90%
By collection 71,60% 18,90%
Search engine 64,80% 16,20%
Map 75,60% 14,80%
Advanced search 67,50% 13,50%
Number of persons that answered the question 74 74
Did not answer 14 14


Did you find what you were looking for?
No  64,2%
Yes 35,7%
Number of persons that answered the question 84
Did not answer 3

The search engine is the search mode that the users most spontaneously and directly use.

An important segment of those interviewed first use the map. Search by map is considered satisfactory for 75.6%. This search mode attracts strong interest.

There is criticism concerning the advanced search. It must be noted that it is the “or” value that is the default mode, hence the common confusion concerning non-pertinent search results compared to a result with the “and” value.

Next steps

Before undertaking a new survey phase there will be a number of minor modifications made to certain pages as well as a communication campaign aimed at the various user groups.

The quantitative data gathered in the survey will also be useful to supplement the qualitative data of the survey. It must be noted that in January 2007 Digital heritage counted 19 000 single visitors and 32 463 visits.

In light of the reflections and the evaluations on the European portal, a new survey phase will be planned.


1.   Do you have an activity in this field?
                              _   Archives
                              _   Libraries
                              _   Publishing/Audiovisual
                              _   Museum
                              _   Culture administration
                              _   Teaching
                              _   University research
                              _   Tourism
                              _   Other (to be specified)

2.   What search did you do?
                              _   Curiosity / discovery
                              _   School
                              _   University
                              _   Tourism
                              _   Genealogy
                              _   Production of editorial products (DVD, CD…)
                              _   State of digitisation in other regions
                              _   Digitisation financing
                              _   Others (to be specified)

3.   Did you find what were you looking for?           _ Yes     _ No

4.   How did you find this site?
                              _   By entering the site URL
                              _   Promotional e-mail
                              _   Through the site
                              _   From a search engine
                              _   From the site of an institution
                              _   From a portal or index
                              _   Other (to be specified)

5.   What is the catalogue for, according to you?
                              _   Exploring the wealth of French heritage
                              _   Locating the sites that offer access to digitised works
                              _   Discovering the state of digitisation policies in France
                              _   To publicise your digital collections
                              _   Steering a digitisation policy
                              _   Other (please specify)

6.   How do you judge the site?
                              _   Home page content                         satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Home page graphic design               satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Site navigation                                satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Fields proposed for advanced search satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Professional space                           satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Quick search fields                           satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Search result order                          satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Graphic design of the records           satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No
                              _   Download speed of the pages           satisfactory result:            _  Yes _  No

7.   How do you judge the following search modes?
                              _    By “collections”                                  satisfactory result:           _  Yes _   No
                              _    By “institutions”                                satisfactory result:           _  Yes _   No
                              _    Advanced search                               satisfactory result:           _  Yes _   No
                              _    Search engine                                   satisfactory result:           _  Yes _   No
                              _    Map                                                 satisfactory result:           _  Yes _   No

8.   What other kinds of digitised collections would you like the site to describe?
                              _    Thesis
                              _    Classes
                              _    Newspapers and magazines
                              _    Electronic administrative forms
                              _    Others (please specify)

9.   The Digital heritage: catalogue of digitised collections will
                              be integrated in the European Michael portal. Will you
                              likely search for information on digitised collections in Europe?   _Yes     _ No

10. Will you consult this site again?                                             _ Yes     _ No

11. Your comments and remarks:________________       

We thank you for answering this survey. If you would be prepared to take part in a short interview on this subject please leave your contact details:

Your phone number:________________________ Or your e-mail:________________

The four following questions are for professionals that work in a cultural heritage conservation institution.

12. Do you regularly use the following data bases?:
                             _   SUDOC
                             _   Joconde
                             _   Mérimée
                             _   Gallica
                             _   Other(s) (to specify)

13. Are the following services useful for you?
                             _   RSS thread to be notified of the latest record entries
                             _   PDF publication of your institutions records
                             _   Personalised link to a catalogue from your site
                             _   Publication of digitisation tables
                              What other service(s) do you see as useful? ________________

14. Is your institution involved in a digitisation operation?                 _ Yes     _ No

15. Are you willing to contribute to the Digital heritage catalogue
      (signal digitised collections, propose links…)?                             _ Yes     _ No

cover of  handbook





Quality, accessibility, usability

Best Practices