This digital access and engagement project was linked to and inspired by the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018.
Prior to the project, the archive service already had a well-established social media presence with over 10,000 Twitter followers on their account @TWArchives and 32.3 million views on Flickr. Images such as the building of the Tyne Bridge or the World Unicorn Ship [CF1] can attract over 100 retweets.
In planning the procurement of a website linked to the Great Exhibition of the North for the History of the North in 100 Objects, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) included a contract clause to allow the reuse of the Content Management System (CMS). The Archives team identified an opportunity to develop a parallel site telling the story of the North of England though 100 Archives. The aim was to create a high profile digital exhibition platform for archive services across the region that would also be open to services throughout the UK holding archives relevant to the North of England.
Following a successful bid to The National Archives’ Sector Sustainability Fund, archivists at TWAM worked with website developers to make changes to the original 100 objects site to better fit with archive content.
The key objectives can be summarised as follows:
- To attract virtual visitors from around the world alongside attention from the media, decision makers and cultural leaders, both in the North and nationally
- Showcase the richness of archive holdings in and relating to the North, highlighting their ability to tell important stories
- Foster collaboration between archives and drive additional visitors to their own websites.
- Demonstrate the capacity of archives to contribute to broader cultural initiatives
In order to attract appropriate content, a call was made for archival items that told the story of innovation and creativity in the North of England or helped to define what is meant by ‘the North’. In particular, strong visual images were sought that would work well online and on social media. A limit of 3 items from each archive was specified and copyright clearance had to be provided.
The initial launch of www.100archivesnorth.co.uk featured 35 images with further content uploaded gradually over the summer to build momentum. The 100th archive image was that of the Doomsday Book, showing a page relevant to the North and contributed by The National Archives.
Visitors to the website were able to explore the content via a map tool to highlight geographic location, via a timeline or by selecting one of ten themes such as travel and transport, religion and beliefs, and health and education. Another feature that proved popular was the option to curate an exhibition by selecting up to 10 personal favourites to feature in a virtual gallery.
- The call for content attracted well over 100 submissions, so a PowerPoint of all the items was created and a staff vote was held across the 9 venues of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums to identify the favourites. This selection exercise also acted to raise the profile of the archives within TWAM and helped engage staff from the wider organisation
- During the Great Exhibition of the North, the Discovery Museum – in which the archives service is based – played host to Stephenson’s Rocket and this iconic example of innovation and design in the North East attracted over 165,000 visitors in 80 days. As part of the linked activity, the archive decided to host a 100 Archives Open Day in the searchroom. This allowed them to trial an event without needing to spend money on additional publicity. As the Open Day attracted 331 people there is now evidence to demonstrate the level of public interest for such ventures in future
- Given the emphasis on reaching audiences through digital platforms, the initiative has given a focus for staff development. This has been particularly useful around broadening use of and building confidence with social media.
Top tip: When working with digital engagement designers, be very clear on what you need the site to achieve. Give them examples you like, feed back on their ideas and engage their imaginations and creativity with the archives you will be showcasing.
Audience engagement with the initiative was high. It also raised the profile of the archive service within the wider organisation and acted as an advocacy tool for other archives who had submitted content regionally and nationally. Furthermore, the process of inviting and curating itself provided an opportunity for positive engagement with other archives and stakeholders.
The approach taken by TWAM has created a sustainable model for digital access, which has maximised the available resources and can be applied to similar one-off events in the future.
Contact the project lead:
Lizzy Baker, Archives Lead, Tyne & Wear Archives