Scottish archive collections to be captured in a single online resource

An ambitious project is set to capture Scotland’s historic archive collections in a single online resource.

The Scottish Council on Archives, in collaboration with The Scottish Archives Network and National Records Scotland, will begin scoping work in the next year on the enormous task of collecting together detailed information from more than 70 archives across the country.

The resource will feature detailed descriptions of what the archives contain and the facility for ordinary members of the public to add their own supplementary information to both national and local records.

It will combines collections from a vast array of public and private sources, including records held by health boards, universities, local authorities, businesses, churches as well as archives held in some of the most important private collections in Britain.

“This is taking Scotland’s archives a big step forward,” said Dr Irene O’Brien, chair of the Scottish Council on Archives and Glasgow City Archivist, who is helping to coordinate the project, which will take up to four years to complete.

“What we have now is a summary of the collections but this will give us detail down to individual items. It’s a huge project that will open up Scotland’s archives.”

She added: “But it’s also to be much more than that. There will be a website that provides all sorts of different learning and access possibilities.

“Community participation will allow citizens to add details of what they know, because very often local people know a lot about their area, thus adding value to a catalogue description. So it’s about making information available digitally but also about making it accessible in a participatory way.”

The Scottish Council on Archives will be working to secure external funding to take the project forward over the coming year. O’Brien sees VisitScotland’s Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology as the perfect opportunity to drive home the importance of archive records.

“This year has got archives written all over it – it’s the raw data of all our history,” she explains. “We will be encouraging the whole sector to take advantage of it, because it’s a big opportunity for us to promote the archives and it’s important for Scotland’s heritage and history.”

O’Brien says another big focus of the year will be on digital preservation – making sure existing and current records being created survive for future generations to enjoy. Part of her organisation’s remit extends to making sure people are equipped with the right skills to ensure that happens.

“Most people now create a record digitally and it’s making sure they are captured so that those stories from the 21st century survive as well as those that did from 15th century,” she said.

Another key driver will be ancestral tourism: as a result of the upsurge in popularity of genealogy – in part due to BBC shows like Who Do You Think You Are?, international visitors are increasingly coming to the country to research their family trees.

“It’s is a huge area of development because we know a lot of people – particularly from North America, Australia, New Zealand, and from England and Ireland – want to come to Scotland to trace their ancestors.

“Notwithstanding putting these catalogues online, very often people want to come and visit and see what was actually kept in the archives – they actually want to be there and experience it.”

To find out more about Scotland’s archives and events taking place throughout the year, follow @Scotsarchives or visit the Scottish Council on Archives.