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Have you tried Online Public Access?

by on January 21, 2011


Online Public Access (OPA) launched to the public on December 27th. What is Online Public Access? It’s the public search and display for online access to our records or information about our records.

What does it contain? OPA contains all of the data and most functionality from the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), all web pages from Archives.gov, and selected electronic records from Access to Archival Databases (AAD) and the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) – all through one search! Users can conduct one search and receive results from all of these resources in one result list.

search results

Online Public Access also provides search suggestions and helps the user by correcting misspellings in search terms. It offers easy-to-use search refinements to limit your results in a variety of ways, right on the same page as your search results. OPA also features a new display with a focus on the record itself.  Digital images and video are shown front and center with easy access to additional contextual information about the record.

detail view

We have received a lot of positive feedback, as well as some great ideas on how to improve OPA to better assist our users.

Here are some of the positive responses we’ve received:

  • Thank you for making it easy to search for specific record groups at a specific NARA location.
  • The overall functionality is great!
  • We tried out the site and we think it is incredible!!  We should be able to find all the information we are looking for easily and quickly.
  • Your new search engine seems to solve the riddle for we non-archivists as to how to find items held by the National Archives.  Have only tried two searches so far and they worked like a charm.
  • Just wanted to let you folks know I tried it out and I like it a lot. Great Job!

Here are some of the comments we’ve received so far:

  • I can’t find the person I’m looking for. OPA doesn’t seem to have any new content or search for person names any better than ARC.

Most records are not indexed by individuals’ names. We agree that it can be frustrating to search by a person’s name and retrieve no results, even though many of our records are by and about individuals. We wish we had the resources to add person names to all of our catalog records. We are investigating ways to crowd source this activity, and allow the public to tag catalog descriptions with person names and other headings that can then be searched online. We hope to have this functionality in OPA some time later this year.

  • I don’t understand what the “Archives.gov” results are. They don’t make any sense and don’t seem to match my results.

The results in the “Archives.gov” grouping are web pages from our www.archives.gov website. Archives.gov contains a great deal of information about our records, including exhibits of our records, finding aids, Prologue articles about our records, and so on.

When you run a search in OPA, the search is federated to www.archives.gov.  A federated search consists of taking the search query and sending it to another database or web resource (like Archives.gov), then retrieving results and presenting them in a unified format in OPA.

For federated searches, the search engine on the federated web site controls how the search terms are combined; it is not controlled by OPA. Previously, if you entered more than one keyword on a search of Archives.gov, Archives.gov automatically combined the terms with a Boolean ‘OR’ so that the search obtained results that contained many times only one of the keywords. This led to some confusing and inaccurate search results in OPA

Due to feedback we received in the last few weeks, we worked with NARA’s Web Program Staff to update the search engine on Archives.gov and change multi-keyword searches to be “AND’ed” together just like in OPA. This should result in more precise searching and better results!

We will continue to provide updates on Online Public Access in the coming weeks. Please check it out and let us know what you think! You can post your comments or ideas for improvements on this blog, or email us at search@nara.gov.


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