There are a handful of major libraries, including the Library of Congress (LC),
which hold microfilm copies of the sensational tabloid, The National Enquirer.
However, there is no digital index to this content. Researchers interested in
searching the issues must travel to a holding library, and then search the
microfilm frame-by-frame in the hope of finding an article of interest.
A small group of retired LC staff, National Library of Medicine (NLM) and other volunteers are interested in providing access to this valuable research material as a gift to LC. They developed a system to allow for volunteers working at home to create the index, and to date, they have indexed entries for nearly two years worth of issues. This index is available online to researchers in LC reading rooms.
The site where the indexers were working was experiencing data loss, which was not only damaging to the index, but discouraging to the users as well. When I heard that they were in need of a new site, I didn't just volunteer to build a more stable site for them. I saw this as an opportunity to use my skills as a designer to help enhance the site's design and user experience.
This project has two main components: the administrative site where volunteers can index National Enquirer issues to enter into the database, and a public search site, where researchers in the LC reading rooms can look up articles by keyword.
In the indexing system, a National Enquirer issue will go through the following 6 stages:
When volunteers index issues to the database, there are 6 important fields:
Adding a title and page number in the old system.
Filling out other fields in the old system.
Once issues are indexed, researchers visiting the Library of Congress can then search this database.
Searching a term in the old system
Search results in the old system.
I actually had worked as an indexer before, so
I was very familiar with the users and work flow. I knew
what users' expectations were for the system.
Additionally, I had also conducted interviews with users to see what was working with the current system, and what changes they would like to see made. I perfomed interviews both in person and through video calls.
However, it wasn't always possible to conduct an interview in person. Some indexers don't live in the area, and conflicting schedules seemed to be a regular problem. So another way I did testing was by having users record their screens, so I could see and hear how they were interacting with the system. It was a bit of an unconventional approach, but it still worked, regardless.
Once I collected all the data, I created user stories in order to keep the system user-focused.
This project is amazing in so many ways. Not only did I gain experience
developing a system from the ground up, I also learned a very valuable
lesson. As designers, it is not our job to design for ourselves. Just because a
design was intuitive for me, does not mean the same holds true for the users. I got
to work very closely with users from a totally opposite demographic from me,
and I learned a lot about designing for them.
Fortunately, this is still an ongoing project. I look forward to the many future iterations that the design process will bring!