Database of All Things Latin American Aims Fresh Look, Languages, Options at Google-Happy Students
UCLA-based Hispanic American Periodicals Index has a record of adapting early to technological shifts. Now staff at HAPI have redesigned the web site in response to 'usability' testing by UCLA library science student, increased full-text offerings, and translated pages into Spanish and Portuguese.
Students see all these products as essentially the same. —HAPI Director Orchid Mazurkiewicz
If all goes as planned starting on June 25, 2006, says Orchid Mazurkiewicz, students who stumble upon the newly redesigned (and renamed) web site of HAPI: The Database of Latin American Journal Articles will grasp right away that "this is something that has a little legitimacy." Mazurkiewicz, HAPI's director and chief editor, is not being falsely modest about the value of Latin American studies' most comprehensive tool for locating secondary research in periodicals. True, the Web-based version of the Hispanic American Periodicals Index, as HAPI has been known since 1970, holds well over a quarter of a million records from more than 500 specialized academic journals—many of them published somewhere between the Rio Grande and Tierra del Fuego. But, like everything else in 21st-century life, it has to compete with Google.
"Students see all these products as essentially the same," Mazurkiewicz says, referring to everything from Web search engines and online reference works like Wikipedia to commercial databases and the few more or less direct competitors of HAPI.
Partly to reassure new arrivals that they've come to the right web site, HAPI is in the final stages of a make-over. Already available via the main site, the new version has a Quick Search field on every page and accepts searches with Boolean ANDs, ORs, and NOTs. There are new and reorganized pages with help topics, tools for librarians, and frequently asked questions (FAQ). All this has come about in response to user feedback systematically gathered by Martha Kelehan, a UCLA Library and Information Science master's candidate who holds an MA in Latin American studies from Tulane University.
As an intern working for academic credit last fall, Kelehan sought feedback from students, librarians, and staff about a web site whose look, feel, and search options dated from its 1997 launch. She designed a Web-based survey and single-question "one-minute" surveys for trying out key terms. User comments and criticism gathered from longer "think aloud" sessions, in which Kelehan sat down with volunteers at computer terminals, were of greatest help in producing recommendations, she said.
Kelehan submitted her ideas for a Web redesign and, before year's end, won a part-time job as the person to oversee it; she got technical assistance from programmers Tom Lai and Paul Luigi of HAPI and Web lay-outs by Scott Gruber, the International Institute's webmaster. By March, Kelehan had started a second round of testing on a fresh prototype for HAPI, leading to further revisions including the well-tested subtitle.
As one step towards Mazurkiewicz's long-term goal of increasing HAPI's user base in Latin America, the redesigned site has been rendered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese—options that users can select from any page.
The Web revamp extends HAPI's history of keeping up with the times. It launched a Telnet service in 1992 and later became the first area studies index to take to the Web. Last year, the Web product took a large step from "index" towards "trove" by entering a partnership with ProQuest Information and Learning to make available the full texts of articles from dozens of hard-to-find humanities and social science journals in English and Spanish (in a database called Prisma). Through various online partnerships, HAPI now contains links from its citations to more than 34,000 full-text articles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and German.
None of this would mean very much to researchers had HAPI's editors not committed so much of their energy over the years to ensuring the consistency and accuracy of the records. Indeed, if the editorial process did not consume so much time, HAPI would be able to index some of the hundreds of journals not gathered in any Latin American database, Mazurkiewicz said. As it is, volunteer librarians from the United States, Mexico, Spain, and elsewhere do much of the indexing. Editors at HAPI review that work and decide how to apply a restricted vocabulary of subject headings to get at the substance of articles across virtually every field of inquiry.
Occasionally, they have to add to the approved vocabulary, or "thesaurus." Now that the idea of transnationalism has come to describe movements across borders and back again, for example, HAPI supplements "elections" with "transnational voting" where appropriate. Likewise, the editors eschew imprecise and some contested terminology: "globalization," "democratization," and "civil society," Mazurkiewicz says, are used too inconsistently by scholars to make the cut.
But Mazurkiewicz, a Canadian, seems most proud of the corrective role that HAPI has on the sometimes insular activities of North American academics. If scholarship on Latin America "is not being done listening to voices from the region," she cautions, what makes it Latin American?
Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2006