Presenting written sources online is an ongoing challenge for researchers, archivists, librarians, community historians, genealogists and others who wish to increase public access to and engagement with textual materials that they hold. The problem is not digitising or putting the text online; rather, the challenge is putting it online in a way that effectively engages users.

The COREL project at the University of Nottingham, UK, aims to design an open-source, cross-platform digital service that enables the holders of documents to upload and publish their digitised texts, turning them (if they wish) into accessible online exhibits that will attract a wide range of users, as well as inform, educate and entertain them.

To test a series of design concepts, we are using a variety of textual sources of historical interest, including official and personal documents and newspapers. Some of these have been provided by community partners. See ‘Aims’ for more details.

The digital curation tool is being developed in active partnership with Life Lines, a local Nottingham-based community history group, whose work is supported by heritage consultancy Culture Syndicates, and with a number of public research organisations, including Nottinghamshire Archives, the British Library, the British Museum and The National Archives (all links open in new windows).

We are grateful for funding to:

Bu B 6

Extract from the diary of Meriel Buchanan (daughter of the British Ambassador to Russia), written while she was living in St Petersburg, Russia, on the outbreak of World War One, 1914. The pages illustrated here (folios 65v and 66r) describe Meriel’s relief at England declaring war on Germany, after she had been presented by Russians with flowers; mentions the rumours and the attack on the German Embassy; states that she intends to work at the hospital, helping the wounded.

Context and Rationale of COREL Project

There are currently no digital tools available that permit long-form meta-data-enriched texts to be published online in a flexible, customisable and user-friendly manner. Online services constructed to facilitate mass uploads of documents (e.g. Google Docs, or the British Library’s Document Viewer) are often unwieldy to use and permit little or no curation of the material, either by the holder of the document or via interactive user engagement. Crowdsourcing or citizen science websites (e.g. Zooniverse or Micropasts) are built for interactivity, but not designed to present curated exhibits with contextual information. Applications offering specialised functionalities for the production of online exhibitions or learning resources (e.g. Contentdm) are complex and usually proprietary and expensive. Free tools for online resource management and presentation exist (e.g. Omeka, Collective Access, CollectionSpace, Open Exhibits, Pachyderm) but none is specifically designed for curating textual materials, as opposed to images.

COREL builds on a small-scale pilot project ‘Presenting Textual Sources for Public Engagement’, directed by Dr Erin Snyder (Digital Research Manager, UoN), and funded by the University of Nottingham Research Priority Area ‘Heritage & the Digital’ (Feb-Apr 2016). This project asked academics, archivists, museum and library professionals, and undergraduate and postgraduate students what they would require from an online service designed to facilitate the presentation of textual sources, both as potential creators of exhibits and as audience. By charting different users’ needs, capabilities and constraints, we were able to compile a preliminary set of design desiderata (including necessary and/or optional functionalities) and a series of ‘wireframes’ illustrating a visual layout and look of the service. The project report is available on request.

COREL takes this initial research as its starting point. Historians, digital business analysts, user experience specialists and software developers are collaborating to fine-tune and enhance the specifications of the digital service. They are doing so in consultation with students, academics and external advisors. Crucially, the COREL project actively engages a community history group Life Lines in co-developing the digital curation tool.

Through community engagement, the project will ensure that:

  1. community users shape the service from its inception, so that it best meets their needs (as both potential exhibitors and virtual visitors);
  2. they acquire an appropriate level of technical expertise to understand and make use of the service; and
  3. they become pro-active ‘stakeholders’ in the digital tool when it is launched, deploying it to deliver their own programme of online activities and outreach.