Friday 28 June 2013

Introductions & the BT Digital Archives Conference

Introductions & the BT Digital Archives Conference

Hello! My name is Francesca Taylor, and together with Kerstin Doble we are the new dynamic duo of National Archive Trainees here at the Borthwick, specialising in interpretation and online engagement. We’ve been here since the beginning of April and our job over the next year will be to digitise early modern church visitation records from the 16th and 17th century that are tucked away here in the archives.  These digitised records will then be made available online for everyone to see and make use of.  So far, it’s been a busy few months, as we have been filling our brains with all things archives (an area totally new to both of us – I come from an archaeology background and Kerstin coordinated and installed exhibitions at the Tate Gallery) and getting our heads around palaeography (learning how to read old handwriting) in preparation for our main project. We have also been busy filling up our schedule with training events and conferences so that we make sure we get the most out of our year here. So when we saw an advert for the BT Digital Archives Conference at Coventry University we jumped at the chance.  

Courtesy of BT Digital Archives
The BT Archives are a unique resource. Recognised by both UNESCO and Arts Council England for its significance, it provides a 165 year history of the development of telecommunications and its impact on society not only in Britain but internationally. As part of a joint project between Coventry University, BT and The National Archives, they have catalogued, digitised and developed a searchable online archive of almost half a million photographs, images, documents and correspondence. We therefore thought it would be useful for us to see how another organisation had digitised and presented its archives online – perhaps it would also give us ideas!

We weren’t disappointed. Held in the impressive-sounding Serious Games Institute in the Innovation Village of Coventry University, it was great to hear not only from those directly involved in digitising the records but from the academics and researchers who had already made good use of them. There were presentations from a range of people giving us a detailed insight into the process of and equipment used in digitisation as well as how all of this data would be presented on the website. They have decided to use a ‘mosaic’ design as an engaging way for people to browse the archives through tiles of images, as well as the usual search functions. It really emphasised how important front-end web design would be for us in order to attract people to dip into our records.
Most interestingly to us, presentations from a range of academics working in design, linguistics, business and computing highlighted how the archives have been useful teaching tools outside of history departments (one speaker even demonstrated how photographs from the archives had been used as teaching material for undergraduate sports therapy students). It is a demonstration of how potentially useful our digitisation project records could be to an ever wider audience than we imagined… plenty of food for thought!

        Courtesy of BT Digital Archives
The BT Digital Archives go live on the 17th of July and the BT New Connections blog about the project can be found here .

With thanks to David Hay, Archivist at BT Archives, for providing access to photos of archive material

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