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End of project workshop

Ten months have passed by very quickly and the project ended formally on 31 March 2011.

My Leicestershire Digital Archive – to be renamed My Leicestershire History when we update the user interface this summer – is now a reality and contains a rich set of resources covering the history of Leicester and Leicestershire from the seventeenth century up to the 1980s.

All the project partners came together on 31 March for an ‘end of project’ of workshop to share our perspectives on what we had learned from the project.

Copies of the following presentations are available:

The project team’s perspective

The Leicestershire Industrial History Society perspective

Digitising the oral history and radio programmes (East Midlands Oral History Archive)

We covered a lot of ground in our discussions and so the summary below is fairly lengthy.  However, it is included here for the sake of completeness.

Project set-up

Never underestimate the amount of time that project ‘set-up’ can take – from ensuring that technical systems are in place, to appointing and training staff, to developing relationships and communication channels with project partners.  While this is often said of project start-ups it is easy to overlook the practical implications of this fact for overall project timescales.

Digitisation takes time

Everyone stressed the amount of time which digitisation can take and the need to be prepared for this.  The time required to create metadata (a separate point below) is also linked to this.


There is no need to re-invent any wheels with lots of existing good practice and standard documentation to draw on with respect to licences and permissions.  However, you need to be able to explain and document copyright permissions in very accessible and understandable terms to rights holders who are usually private individuals in a project of this kind.

Build on existing relationships

Build on existing relationships where you can.  The project benefited hugely from the contacts which one of our partners already had with a number of the other partners who became involved.

Metadata creation takes time

All partners found the process of describing and uploading items very time consuming.  The community partners found it particularly time consuming to contribute the required metadata although we simplified this as far as possible.  At the same time, the descriptive metadata which they provided added greatly to the usefulness of the Archive.

Respect volunteers’ time

Our community partners were giving freely of their time and there were limits to how much time they could give.  They contributed hugely to the expertise and resources available within the project but you need to be realistic about the level of commitment that volunteers can give.  We tried to involve an additional local history organization in the project a few months after the project had started but, unfortunately, they were not in a position to contribute any volunteer time.

Provide high quality, self explanatory support materials for volunteers

Help sheets on use of CONTENTdm and the creation of metadata were created and used as part of the project.  However, more detailed and user friendly support materials would be required if a larger number of community partners were to be involved in the future.

Hosted services

Using a hosted service for the Archive worked very well for us as it meant that we did not need to allow time (which we did not have) for server set-up and software installation.  We also received good technical support from the supplier.

Second staff where you can

The project team were seconded members of Library staff which meant that we had the benefit of their existing experience and skills – and that the skills they developed during the project would not be lost to the Library at the end.

Publicity and promotion takes sustained time and effort

Effective publicity and promotion requires a great deal of sustained time and effort.  Most of our publicity effort has fallen in the last few months of the project after most of the content has been added.  We will need to find ways of continuing the publicity effort well after the formal end of the project because, if not, we will not realise the full benefit to the University and to the local community of creating the Archive.

Community created content is about much more than managing costs

The content added to the Archive by our community partners cost less in monetary terms because the project had the benefit of volunteers’ time.  However, in creating a digital collection we would say that it is not a question of ‘professional’ or ‘volunteer’ time being better or cheaper than the other.  The project benefited from both.  The community partners contributed expertise and resources which were not available to the ‘professional’ partners and vice versa.

Digitising audio recordings from scratch

This was the first time the East Midlands Oral History Archive had digitized their audio recordings.  The laptops used worked well – for processing sound most modern laptops cope very well – as did the Adobe Audition 3 software used. For budgetary reasons, two relatively inexpensive E-mu Tracker digital/audio converters were purchased and, with hindsight, we are not sure we would use them again. There still needs to be some testing done to confirm their superiority to the standard laptop sound cards, but they are not simple to set up with the software, and their use, while fairly simple, is not intuitive. Also, they could not handle the high quality output of the Studer tape players used and some attenuators were made up to compensate for this. For all this, the results of the digitization process were perfectly acceptable.

The model worked

Collaborating with local history organizations to identify and add relevant content to the Archive worked.  But, as outlined above, there are limits to the amount of time which volunteers can contribute and sufficient resources need to be in place to provide the necessary support and co-ordination.

Making progress

We’ve just had one of our regular project team meetings and spent some time checking progress against all our ‘workpackages’.

It was good to note all the things we’ve achieved or made progress on to date.

Our major milestones include creating our ‘base’ collection by the end of October and to have community contributed content added by the end of February.  We have had delays on some issues but think we are still pretty much on course to meet both of these deadlines.

Our Metadata expert moved to a new job in July which has slowed things down in making some final decisions on metadata standards and starting full cataloguing of resources.  However, I’m very pleased to report that Laura Unwin has recently joined the project on secondment from our Library’s cataloguing team and is now addressing these issues.  We plan to finalise outstanding points by the end of  August.

We know what we are doing and by when in adding the different resources that will make up the base collection.  Colin has already posted on the work he is doing to digitise oral history interviews from the East Midlands Oral History Archive.  This has required careful purchasing, testing and fine tuning of the necessary equipment – and considerable work to identify interviewees and seek permissions to digitise (on a ‘best efforts’ basis).  The rare books from the University of Leicester’s Special Collections to be added to the archive will be digitised by the end of October.  We’ll soon be adding a collection of digital photographs of ‘ghost signs’, videos are arriving from the Media Archive for Central England and we are on course to add historical Leicestershire directories by about the end of October.

Members of the Rothley Heritage Trust have started to identify items to add to the archive and will be trained to contribute content during September.  We are meeting members of the Leicester Industrial History Society this week to plan their work with the project in detail.

A major focus of our next project team will be ‘dissemination’ with various ideas on things to do in the run up to Christmas – when the base collection will be a reality – and then in the spring when more content has been added, we hope to have the new ‘Web 2.0’ interface in place for CONTENTdm (the system we are using) and we are very much in a user evaluation phase.

Digitising sound – first steps

The equipment for digitising the oral history and radio tapes has now been set up and is ready to go! The tapes will be played on two ex-BBC Studer A807 tape players. These marvellous machines are sturdy workhorses which just seem to keep going and going. For software we’re using Adobe Audition 3 on Samsung laptops, but rather than trust the laptop soundcards which may suffer from the electronic noise generated by the surrounding circuitry, we have gone for separate E-mu Tracker Pre analogue to digital converters.

Having listened to a few test recordings I have to say the results sound very good. I shall update my thoughts on this set up as the project progresses and I plan on creating some useful information for small archives who are trying to digitise recordings on a budget.

In the meantime, we can all look forward to hearing – among many others – a radio programme about the Barwell meteorite of 1968 (what do you mean you’ve never heard of it?), and some firsthand accounts of fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ending up in Leicester.