When considering collections for use as a researcher, online finding aids are a valuable tool for assessing the material for use. Important qualities of a finding aid include description of the material, ease of use and format of the aid itself. The Sir Thomas Wyse Archives, 1816- ca. 1942 at the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library is a finding aid that has both strengths and weaknesses for a researcher.
At first glance, the Sir Thomas Wyse Archives’ online finding aid appears tedious and not engaging. Scrolling through the finding aid, there are no breaks in the text or anything of visual appeal. Clicking on the menu links to the left merely hops you through the blocks of text without bringing up another page or any more information. As a casual user the design of this finding aid would be a turn off and the lack of aesthetic appeal would make me less likely to use this collection, particularly since none of it appears to be available online as digital files or the like. As a more serious researcher however, the lack of visual appeal is not so important as the information contained about the collection and the material. This would be more readable with a little variety in the size and types of fonts, but a pretty page is not the primary consideration.
The information contained in the scope and content and biographical notes can be key to evaluate the content of the collection. These tell you who and what is represented in a collection, the time period from which the material comes and important contextual information to understanding who and what are represented. Depending on the collection, the length of the notes may not matter. This literary collection encompasses several writers over 125 years and the information contained in both notes does not reflect an adequate amount of information for someone who is not already deeply familiar with the writers therein, nor does it provide a lot of contextual information for the family or the span of years. As a researcher familiar with the topic this would be less of a hindrance but additional information would be beneficial, and it would be helpful to know more about the acquisition and other administrative information.
Despite the format of the container listing, the scope of it is pretty thorough. Listed by box, item level descriptions are given for each item. The placement of the item number is distracting as it has nothing to do with the material and would be better suited somewhere else in the description to enhance the scan ability of the aid. Such as in the spot of the second item number, which is not the same as the first one—a confusing oddity in the finding aid with no apparent explanation. The date and type of the material is readily apparent, and a short but seemingly thorough explanation of the item is present for all items. The only detraction from the description is the strangely out of place interpretations in the description such as the one for Item #92000...