The Many Facets of John F. Kennedy

  • Kevin Mazzoni
  • May 4, 2011

Earlier this year, we were proud to announce the launching of the new John F. Kennedy Digital Archives and website.  A major focus of this effort was to create a portal into JFK’s legacy by providing online access to over 200,000 pages of text, 1500 photos, and 1250 audio/video files.  The effort by the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation was the largest by a Presidential library not born in the digital age.  It took an unprecedented effort by the Library, along with their corporate partners AT&T, EMC Corporation, Iron Mountain, and Raytheon, to dig through box upon box of archival material and digitally scan hundreds of thousands of documents and convert hundreds of hours of audio and reel-to-reel video into digital format.

As designers/developers, our goal was to take this vast amount of content and provide the most useful and intuitive method for searching the Digital Archives.  And, most importantly, provide the best experience possible to a wide range of users.  In trying to balance the different needs of casual users as well as researchers, students, and teachers, we implemented faceted search.  With Documentum as the repository for the Digital Archives and Sitecore powering website content, Endeca was the tool chosen to power the site’s search and link the two sources of content.

What is Faceted Search?

Faceted search combines two traditional search paradigms:

  • Keyword search – allows users to type a set of words or phrases to be searched across the entire collection of content.
  • Navigational search – uses a hierarchical structure based on a set of taxonomy applied to the content.  This allows users to browse the collection and filter based on the applied taxonomy.

This blended approach allows users to perform text search while also providing a progressively narrower set of choices based on the classifications (taxonomy) applied to the content.  Two key principles of faceted search are for the navigation to always provide valid filter options and to indicate the number of results that navigation path provides.  For instance, if I was looking at all photographs in the Digital Archives, and was interested specifically in White House photos, I can see that there are 1,503 photographs that belong to the White House Photographs Collection.

faceted search feature for the John f kennedy site

Faceted Search & The Digital Archives

One of the main challenges was managing two distinct sets of content.  Each set of content needed to be considered individually when determining what classifications or dimensions to provide for the faceted navigation:

  • Website Content – This content is managed in Sitecore CMS.  Informational pages about the Kennedy Family, the Library and Foundation (e.g. Bios, Museum exhibits, press releases, info about upcoming events, etc.).  A minimal set of dimensions is applied to this content.
  • Digital Archives – Rich, primary resource content relating to John F. Kennedy’s life, family and presidency.  This content is stored separately from the website content in Documentum Document Database.  This data also has a much richer set of classifications applied to it.

Since these two types of content differ quite significantly, it was important to provide a way to clearly distinguish between them.

faceted search by source types for the John f kennedy site

By providing a radio button option, the user can clearly see the source of the content while still providing the ability to toggle between the two types without losing their search terms and filters.

Other Fun Features

One of our favorite features on the site is the type-ahead search functionality.  This provides a user instant faceted navigation as they type their search.

auto complete search feature for the john f kennedy site

Another great feature that Endeca provides is the ability to setup business rules that can be used to highlight special content.  We’ve taken advantage of this functionality on search pages to spotlight particular photos, video, and audio that may otherwise be overlooked while searching through this vast archive.  This spotlighted content can be seen in the right-hand column of the search page.

content spotlight based on faceted search for the john f kennedy site

Managing the vast amount and variety of content the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation have to offer was a unique and interesting challenge.  By making use of faceted search, we hope to have provided a simple and effective interface for users to search and browse JFK’s archives.  Keep an eye out for improvements and additional functionality in the near future.