A four-month online survey of the needs of potential users of an online catalogue of the Tolkien Society Archive discovered that over half of potential users could not visit in person, 67% wanted an interactive database rather than other forms of online catalogue. Seeing images was of some interest, and 60% were prepared to pay for access to digitised content.
The typical potential user is a highly educated young man, engaged in lifelong learning. Potential users live all over the world; many do not have English as their first language.
The Tolkien Society has wanted to make its archives more accessible for some time. Currently the collections are partially indexed. A priority is to create comprehensive indices that will allow the public to easily search for their area of particular interest. To ensure that this is done in a way which meets the needs of potential online users as far as possible, an online survey was conducted from March 2002 to July 2002.
The existence of the survey was promoted to society members, and a Tolkien listserv. The existence of the survey was also highlighted on the front page of the Tolkien Society website (www.tolkiensociety.org). During the period 91 people filled in the survey. Their responses do not always total 100%, due to rounding errors and non-response to some questions.
The respondents were first asked if, before hearing of the survey, they knew of the existence of the archives: 29% had prior knowledge. This means that 67% of people interested enough in the archives to fill out a lengthy survey did not know of its existence. This finding suggests that the Tolkien Society should better publicise the existence of the archives.
The respondents were asked to identify their interest in the archives. 5% were interested because of a school project, 10% for undergraduate study, and 10% for postgraduate study. 71% identified their interest as 'lifelong learning'. 'Other' respondents identified 'personal growth', 'pleasure', 'fun', 'enjoyment' and an interest in Tolkien's languages. This finding suggests that potential users may require some guidance in using the archives.
The respondents were asked if they would use an online catalogue to the archives: 5% said no, 46% said they would use it prior to a visit, 24% to scope the collection, and 23% to answer specific questions. 12% of respondents would find it easy to visit the archives in their current location in Surrey. 34% find this location inconvenient, and 56% would not be able to visit this location. These findings, coupled with the general lack of knowledge of the collections suggests that it would be worthwhile to make a catalogue available on-line, and that this should be to a depth which would make it unnecessary to visit, or enable a user to request a copy or digitised version of the material.
Of the respondents, 58% of respondents would prefer to search an online database, 32% preferred to search a static html page, and 8% preferred to search a pdf file. This suggests that an online database is the preferred option.
The respondents were asked whether they were willing to pay to access digitised content. 40% were not prepared to pay, 31% were prepared to pay a rate comparable to that charged for supplying a photocopy to a public or educational library, and 41% were prepared to pay a higher rate, which would include a payment to the copyright holder. This suggests that the Tolkien Society should explore its capacity to making digitised content available in addition to supplying photocopies.
Respondents were asked if they would find it useful to make a combined search across the Tolkien Society archive, and other archives of Tolkien material, and 67% agreed this would be useful. 27% would be happy simply with links to other archives' catalogues. This argues strongly for placing the Tolkien Society archive on a combined database, rather than a stand-alone.
The respondents were then asked what they thought the archives would contain and where they thought collecting priorities should lie.. They were asked to choose the top three in each category. Uncategorised items thought to exist in the archives included maps, family trees, and linguistic materials. Uncategorised items wanted as collecting priorities included videos and linguistic materials.
|Category||Thought to contain||Collecting priority||Actual percentage|
|Tolkien's academic papers||15%||14%||0%|
|Editions of Tolkien's books||12%||5%||12%|
|Translations of Tolkien's books||4%||3%||24%|
|Books about Tolkien||14%||10%||5%|
|Photographs of Tolkien||7%||4%||1%|
|Tolkien Society papers||0%||0%||10%|
This area of the survey argues the need for further research. It is clear that potential users have little idea of what the archives actually contain. It also reveals that there is low knowledge of the archives that actually do hold Tolkien's manuscripts.
It is clear that there is a substantial pool of potential users of the Tolkien Society's Archive. However it is also clear that the low levels of information currently available upon its content means that researchers have misconceptions of the society's holdings. The current collecting priorities - in 'grey literature', commercial and fan products - are areas identified as not being collected by others and are rarely mentioned by respondents to this survey. The next survey needs, therefore, to differentiate between the priority in preserving Tolkien materials, per se, and their preservation specifically by the Tolkien society. For unique items, the survey should ask if the location of the item is important, both in terms of geography (e.g.. should the item be in the UK?), and in terms of access (e.g. should it be available to members of the general public, or only to accredited scholars?).
Respondents were asked how they prioritised a catalogue against digitisation. 71% wanted a complete catalogue rather than images. 12% wanted images and catalogue entries for as much as possible and 13% wanted a few images in 'galleries' or 'exhibitions' online, but then the priority was for the catalogue. The respondents were also asked how important it was to see an image of each item. 8% said it was vital, 56% that it was helpful, and 31% that just a few images were needed. These responses indicate that the Tolkien Society should prioritise the catalogue over digitisation, but that some digitisation should take place.
When asked about the priority for digitisation, the top priority was for book covers, which is useful as the copyright of HarperCollins book covers has been cleared. 16% asked for book or journal contents, which is more problematical, particularly for works by Tolkien, for which the Tolkien Society is extremely unlikely to receive the necessary permissions. 14% prioritised photographs of Tolkien, and 14% artwork. 7% the papers of the Tolkien Society, 6% press cuttings, 4% 'grey' literature, and 1% each to commercial and fan products.
Finally, respondents were asked questions about themselves.
The majority, 70%, of respondents were men. 11% of respondents were 16 or under, 40% were 16-24, 22% were 25-34, 13% were 35-44, 11% were 45-54. 34% of respondents had completed a postgraduate qualification, and a further 30% had completed a first degree. 22% of respondents had completed secondary education, and 8% had completed primary education.
The respondents were from a wide geographical spread. 53% lived in North America, 22% in Europe, and 18% in the UK (3/4 lived in the South East). 5% lived in South and Central America, 4% in Asia, and 2% in Oceania. English was the first language of 65% of respondents. The other first languages were Croatian (2), Czech, Dutch (3), Filipino, French (3), German (3), Greek, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish (7), Swedish (2), and Turkish. The fact that less than one-fifth of those completing the survey live within the UK shows that physical access to the archives is not a realistic option for the vast majority of potential users. This provides additional proof of the need for there to be some form of access to the archives to be available via the Internet.
Of the respondents, 10% considered themselves disabled. The Tolkien Society is committed to providing equal access to the services it provides, and will endeavour to provide an online catalogue that adheres to the principles of universal design and meets the appropriate access standards.
The Tolkien Society
20th August 2002.