Case studies

Lincs to the Past: Bringing Lincolnshire history online

Release date: 18th April 2014

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Lincs to the Past

For example, how do you make historical documents, perhaps in a poor physical condition that are only available to view by a pre-arranged appointment, accessible to the wider world. It’s certainly challenging, but not impossible, as we look at Lincs to the Past, the Lincolnshire County Council project website that puts Lincolnshire’s history online.

“The idea behind Lincs to the Past is to bring together the catalogues of our archives, museums, libraries and historic environment record into a single searchable online database,” explained Dr Mike Rogers, the Collections Access Team Leader at Lincolnshire Archives.

The website project was launched in May 2011 after more than a year and a half of development, with massive efforts from a dedicated firm designing the website and volunteers cataloguing and scanning the materials.

A success story

Since launching nearly three years ago, Lincs to the Past has had more than quarter of a million unique visitors to the website. This is more people than could ever physically visit Lincolnshire’s historical archives, explained Dr Rogers: “Many of the images from our museums and art gallery show items which are not normally accessible to the public without a pre-arranged appointment. The galleries are only able to display small selections of the collections.”

He added that: “Some of the items we hold are in a poor physical condition and are too fragile to be handled without extensive and expensive conservation work. The website enables us to put images of these items online, making the content available at minimal cost.

“Putting the Archives' catalogues online has led to changes in the use of the site; many more users now arrive with a pre-prepared list of items they would like to view, resulting in an increase in documents issued from the repositories. Previously, the initial part of their visit would involve looking at the catalogues and card indexes in the search room.

“Because of historic connections, there are a large number of descendants of Lincolnshire people living not just elsewhere in the UK, but all over the world, particularly in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and South Africa.  Around 18% of our online users are from overseas, so it would be very difficult for many of them to carry out searches in person.”

Digitising history

There were many considerations for making the Lincs to the Past website easily accessible online — from making sure the website is quick to load on slower broadband connections to designing it in such a way that is easy to read on different screens, from computers to laptops, tablets and smartphones.

“Access is a key feature of the whole project,” Dr Rogers said. “We are fortunate in having free-to-use People's Network computers in all our libraries allowing access to our resources by people without their own internet connections. 

One of the main aims of the Lincs to the Past project was to make parish registers available online, as the original registers were usually made available from the Lincolnshire Archives on St Rumbold Street in Lincoln and a few county libraries, thus requiring anyone who wanted to consult them to visit in person. Even then, the images on the microfiche were negative exposures with white writing on a black background, which made it harder to read

Though Lincs to the Past has made it possible not only to put online these parish register images, but also use improved imagery. Dr Rogers explained that: “by scanning the original microfilms, we have been able to put positive images online, which are much easier to read. However, the major benefit is that they can now be accessed by anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, at any time of the day."