Problems and opportunities with online collections

The first example of a digital archive we took from a text we read for this college. it’s the BBC’s WW2 people’s war project. This was a project that ran from June 2003 to January 2006. The aim of the project was to collect on a website the memories of people who had lived and fought during World War Two. These stories would form the basis of a digital archive which would provide a learning resource for future generations. 47.000 Stories and 14.000 images were collected from people who could remember the war.

During our search we saw that the BBC worked with a variable network of volunteers, scholars, museums, and other organizations. For this project the BBC promoted the use of internet among older people and to train the digital skills of the older people. The problem with this project is wen you look at the archive you don’t know if there is any peer review or critical analysing by staff members of the project. It looks like everybody can poste without several checks. Cohen and Rosenzweigh comment in their article that people won’t post fake stories, but are we ourselves – as archaeologist and historian – are very critical about this. Also concerning the documents, it was unclear for us to who wrote the text in first instance. The author of the page writes a vague introduction and after the introduction comes an eye witness account. It is difficult to see if the author, the eyewitness, a relative or somebody form the project post the information. To make this distinction clear we suggest you can add different fronts and mention the name (and role) of the author. Another point of critic, is that there is no link to a picture of the original source.

This project was a success, because the BBC has a trustworthy image. People said: ‘We always listened to the BBC during the war. We knew we could trust them.’ ‘It helps to work with a name that’s known… gives me credibility.’ If you want to set up a similar project like this than you need the network and trustworthy image of a large company. You don’t have to invent the wheel yourself.


The other example is This is a crowdsourcing platform where heritage organizations can offer digitized collections and ask the public to make these accessible. This is a good opportunity for organizations who don’t have the time and money to make these collections accessible themselves. In the BBC example we didn’t discern control mechanisms, on the contrary VeleHanden offers them clearly. A scan of a page is always made accessible by two persons and a third one checks them. Also, these volunteers are ‘visible’, because they can comment on fora. Some museums give a free tour to volunteers as a reward. The problem is that it isn’t clear who gets the credits for the work: the museums, VeleHanden or the volunteer?

Eline Jonkergouw and Loek Zoon