Expert Insight Series: Collaborative Working - What's the secret?

In the final article in our Expert Insight Series of guest blog posts from our consultants, digitisation strategy expert and Managing Director of TownsWeb Archiving, Paul Sugden shares his insights on how archives can link together their collections for mutually beneficial results.

TWA Expert Insight Series Paul Sugden - Digitisation strategy consultant

Collaborative Working - What's the secret? by Paul Sugden

Are you aware of another archive that holds material that is related to your own?

Perhaps you’re a public library and hold a collection of First World War Soldier Records?  Wouldn't it be great if you could tag people held within these records and then link them to related records held by your local Regimental Museum or to the deceased records held by your Cemeteries Office?

Perhaps you manage records for a corporate archive which holds minute books and staff records?  Wouldn't it be fantastic to find and then link records for the same person that are held by your local school or sports club?

Once these records from multiple archives have been linked, imagine how members of the public would greet a website that allowed them to find the person that they are looking for and then effectively trace their life from birth to death.

So how do we make this happen?  What’s the secret?


From Birth to Death

There are a few hints and tips I can provide to unlock the secrets of collaborative working, but let’s just explore what we mean by ‘from birth to death’.

Of course, Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD) records held by your local Register or Records Office are a great starting point when tracing somebody’s life, but it’s in our nature to want to delve a little further into somebody’s life.  As an example, if my great granddad was a Mr Ernest James Sugden and he died in 1966, then a quick investigation into his life might show...

He went to schools in and around the North West of England and studied Sports Science between 1898 and 1910; there are school register entries and end of term reports which show his academic performance and also offer a little insight in to his social interaction with teachers and other students.

He left school and travelled for two years with his parents and there are electoral and street registers held by the local library that show his family’s movements.

Shortly after leaving school he joined the Royal Liverpool Regiment as an infantry soldier and served in the First World War and there are regimental records and medal information held by the Regimental Museum and also by the Records Office.

When he left the Army in 1916 he became a professional footballer and played for Liverpool Football Club for 15 years and his earnings are listed within player wages records held by the Club’s museum.  He is also mentioned within weekly football programmes.

Liverpool Central Library hold a huge collection of football related memorabilia spanning the clubs 120 years history and there are photographs of Ernest playing for the club and also attending various social events.

At the age of 37 he retired as a professional footballer and worked at Cadbury’s in Birmingham for 25 years until his retirement, and there are staff records, minute books and company magazine entries containing information about him.

Upon his retirement he moved back to Birkenhead in Liverpool and there are photographs of the street where he lived held by the local Family History Society.

He died and was buried in a cemetery in Liverpool and there are register entries held by the Cemetery Office showing that he is interred with other family members in the same grave.   The inscription and a photograph of the headstone is also held by the Office.

One final search finds that Ernest is mentioned in a newspaper article from the Liverpool Evening Gazette dated April 1912 and it shows that Ernest along, with his Mother, was a survivor of the RMS Titanic tragedy.


Okay... So tell me... What is the secret to Collaborative Working?

It’s simple really.  In order to get the ball rolling, I always recommend taking five initial steps...

  1. Start a dialogue with the other parties (library, family history society, corporate archive etc.).  Give them a call or drop them an email to introduce yourself and ask them a few questions about the records they hold.
  2. See if you can find one or two examples of content that is related to your own archive.
  3. Ask if any of their content has been digitised and indexed, or if there are plans for converting it to digital format.
  4. Ask how they currently manage and maintain their digital images and if there are mechanisms in place for you to access their systems to view content and perhaps to ‘relate’ and build ‘links’ from their content to your own.
  5. Discuss methods of showcasing this content online and how it might be managed by the respective parties.

Having followed these first simple steps, although the next steps might throw up all manner of questions and investigations, it will mean that the process has started and a dialogue has been opened.  Getting people on board with an idea is often not as difficult as you might think.

My final recommendation is to quickly find a related collection held by both parties that is relatively small and easy to manage in terms of digitisation, indexing and copyright.  Then... simply make a start.  You can spend months and years discussing and planning such projects, but if you actually make a start on a project where the risk is small then the potential and relative benefits can be huge.

So go ahead and make a start!


Find this post interesting?

Paul Sugden is Managing Director and Senior Digitisation Strategy Consultant at TownsWeb Archiving, just click to find out more Paul’s digitisation strategy consultancy service or contact TownsWeb Archiving.


Coming soon… Adventures of a Digitisation Consultant

Coming soon, Paul will be sharing more of his invaluable and unique insights in a brand new series of posts: the Adventures of a Digitisation Consultant. Check back here next Wednesday (18th December) to find out more.

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