Case Study: Finding Roosevelt: Creating a Comprehensive Archive of "TR" Online
One of our favorite projects that launched in the last few months, the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, is perhaps the definitive online museum and research tool about the life of one of the most remarkable U.S. presidents. After flying to the amazing cloudscapes of the Badlands in distant North Dakota, The Berndt Group team were able to land this great creative opportunity and develop a site that is both aesthetically attractive and rich in content. Incorporating best practices for online museum and rich educational content, the site also serves serious research academics.
The site, built in the Sitecore CMS, combines a design that allows for a broad appeal to students and families interested in American History (essentially functioning as an online museum/textbook on the subject) with powerful search and integration with multiple data sources for researchers. Built in Sitecore, the site makes use of personalization features and user accounts, allowing researchers to bookmark and annotate items from the Library of Congress, Harvard College Library, the National Park Service, and elsewhere that include almost every scrap of paper that survived TR's life, enabling very serious research with usability previously unheard of in the field.
At the same time, the site presents engaging, high-level information about the President's life in a format that makes the best use of the web to convey the fascinating life of this complex individual, without dumbing down the subject matter.
The process for developing this site built on The Berndt Group's classic "structured design process," but began with an unusual immersion over several days by The Berndt Group team in the actual physical space of North Dakota—important to the client and the project so that we could get a sense of the amazing landscape that was so important to Theodore Roosevelt. You'll see in the final design how that experience influenced the aesthetics and use of photography in the site.
Throughout the process, The Berndt Group focused on the particular challenge of understanding the use cases of the site's two very different audience groups: the relatively uninformed and low-patience general public audience, looking for interesting and entertaining content on Roosevelt, and the very different audience of serious TR scholars, who need strong research tools and access to very granular information and documents from TR's life. At every step in the process, balancing and integrating these two (somewhat contradictory) imperatives was top of mind for us.
Another major aspect of the project was our familiarization with the Center's back-end digital asset management system (DARMA) which referenced TR documents from more than 10 collections and added important metadata to them. This information was synced into Sitecore on a schedule, where additional metadata and relationships allowing for related links, personalization and search were added—all invisibly to the user, but representing a substantially complex CMS architecture project and a chance to exercise many best practices.
The award-winning Theodore Roosevelt Center web site is a model for any online resource that wants to be the definitive site for a well-known, public subject matter—whether it be museum, reference book, or research tool. A small team at the Center maintains the site with input from TR scholars around the world. The site has been publicly popular and is being used by the very audiences that it set out to serve: students, families and real researchers, and has been well received by the TR academic research community. Being built on the very extensible Sitecore software, the site has a great future and will be able to be extended to do all sorts of interesting things in the future—especially because its content is well-architected and highly reusable. It has been a particularly gratifying and satisfying project for The Berndt Group to work on, because of the high number of positioning, usability and technical solutions that found unequivocally great solutions in the course of the project.
"This project takes advantage of the latest advances in Web technology and sets the precedent for other universities and museums to follow," said Jason Crea, VP Client and Partner Engagement, Sitecore. "The usability and personalization features the Theodore Roosevelt Center web site offers gives students a remarkable digital learning experience."
Developing this web site was uncharted territory for us, and our team learned so much in the process. I like to think that we stretched The Berndt Group, as well, presenting new challenges to be solved in creative ways. Our collaboration produced an unparalleled user experience, and we are very proud of the results!
Project Manager, Theodore Roosevelt Center