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Digital archiving – Preserving history one page at a time – Follow up interview

A conversation with Chris Amos

We recently had the pleasure of working with Archant on their digitisation project, after which Chris Amos sat down with Casper Smithson from TownsWeb Archiving for a chat. You can watch the interview here. However, I was fascinated by a particular story he refers to during their discussions and I wanted to know even more about the project. I am very pleased to report that Chris Amos kindly agreed to answer my additional questions and am thrilled to be able to share them with you.

Hello, Chris, and thank you so much for agreeing to tell us more about your exciting and quite unique project. I think my first question has to be, what exactly was the project?

We needed our vast Eastern Daily Press (EDP) archives, some dating from almost 150 years ago, to be scanned and digitised as part of an innovative Google-funded project. Some of these were in an extremely fragile state and therefore needed to be handled with the utmost care.

Evidently a fragile and far reaching history, but why exactly was this project so important?

Google had part funded the project with a distinct look into ways to innovate local media. Archant wanted to understand how their mass of archives could be captured and viewed long after the passage of time makes them completely unable to be handled. The fact that these extremely valuable archives had, for the most part been hidden from public view, meant that this was a unique opportunity to share them with the community that had been shaped by them.

To be able to capture something permanently that would otherwise have a limited physical shelf life, due to wear and tear, is incredible. For that to mean a previously locked away history can now be liberated and shared with the community, to learn from and celebrate, is very special. So what has been the impact of having this material digitised?

We now have a lasting memory to those who helped to shape our past communities. The World War 2 content that we passed to TWA showed how Norfolk people and communities rallied together to help Britain survive in one of the darkest periods of history, and provides a great insight into the resolute nature of the people at that time. The publication of casualty lists from local infantry and support units is an important fact that should never be forgotten and with TWA’s help this will now be the case.

That’s fantastic to hear and something the Norfolk community can be incredibly proud of; a real tribute. You have mentioned Google funding. Can you tell us anything more about this?

Google funding was applied for under their commitment to local media. They had created the Digital News Initiative (DNI) which encouraged all European Media outlets to think of ways to make local news accessible using innovative technology. Scanning and digitising archived records is not necessarily new, however recalling them by voice technology is, we believe a UK first. That is why we applied successfully to the fund.

So these records could be searched for and accessed through voice technology! Fantastic to see Archant leading the way for innovative methods in research. Are there any other unique areas that you can tell us about?

The unique factor here is the fact that the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) itself has been printed since 1870 and is the predominant Norfolk newspaper which remains the most popular and most circulated daily Norfolk paper to this day, reaching audiences, in print alone, in excess of 25,000.

This is really great to hear; a thriving publication with a long history or popularity and success. Were there any particular challenges that you faced?

The main challenges are related to the current condition of the original archives. The storage and years have not necessarily been kind to them, so a lot of them are in an extremely delicate condition. This is why we chose to partner with TWA. We were made aware of the meticulous way that they handle rare and delicate publications and it was clear that they were the company that could meet the project requirements.

That’s very kind of you to say and really great to hear. Can you tell me how these handling challenges were overcome?

One of the main challenges centred around logistics and also the sheer volume of archives that we hold. They required careful handling and transport to the TWA site. The other thing that we needed to ensure was that TWA had the available space to accept any delivery. In all cases TWA were really accommodating and clearly made an effort to ensure that all archiving volumes were correctly stored and handled.

That’s fantastic. So what then were the best parts? What in particular was great to finally see and why?

Seeing how well the Archives had been scanned was a real plus point, it was great to see the quality following the scanning process, and even the degraded volumes came out to a high degree of accuracy. This, from our point of view, meant that the project was viable and therefore would stand a great chance of success.

And a great success it was! Very well done on the conclusion of your project, Chris, and I am sure the Norfolk community and wider population are very happy with the results too. Is there anything else you would like to share?

The professional attitude of TWA was refreshing. At every step of the way they let us know exactly what their timelines for delivery would be and they stuck to them. It really gave us the confidence to pass more content over to them beyond our initial batches.

Thank you so much and may I say on behalf of TWA it was an absolute pleasure working with you and, for me personally, talking to you for the purposes of this guest post. Best wishes and we look forward to seeing the continued success and technological advances of the Eastern Daily Press as it shares its 170+ year history and continues to serve them today and into the future.