These digitisation blogs have been moved to the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s main website here. You can still see all of our past posts on WordPress but future blogs will be put onto the new site.
Project Undaunted is a venture named after the earliest ship in our collection that has a survey report from London- luckily the name is extremely apt! The project takes a holistic view of the archive, re-storing it, conserving where needed and digitising 10% of the collection so that it can be used to achieve the Foundation’s educational aims.
The current thinking is that this project will take 3 years, beginning with moving the archive to a more secure location. At the moment, the storage facility it is held in is less than ideal and the intention is to move it to a specialised storage space with environmental monitoring and control and an integrated pest management program (IPM), as well as easy archival access for researchers but still with strong security. The team are investigating a number of potential sites for this but we are nowhere near a decision yet! If your archive/museum have had a similar move we would love to hear from you about your experiences and any words of wisdom!
The second stage is to begin the process of digitisation.
What is Digitisation?
Archive digitisation is when documents from a collection are changed into a digital format, say a photograph or scanned image and then metadata is attached to make it searchable. This is a permanent file that records the condition of the document at the time of digitisation.
In our case, we want to combine this with cataloguing so that we can simultaneously organise and preserve the collection for posterity. The Foundation want to create an online resource so that people from all over the world can access our collections and explore the wonders that we hold.
What is cataloguing?
Cataloguing is the process of adding metadata to a record for an object. In UK archives, cataloguing follows ISAD(G) guidelines and can include things like a Title, Unique Reference Number, Date, Creator, Object History, Location, Conservation Assessment and Archival Notes, amongst many other possibilities. This is often unique to the collection being worked with. For example, as most of our material relates to ships, we may decide to have an authority record of ships, where the vessel is linked to the relevant catalogue entry and the information imported in automatically so it can be associated with the record. This saves time and input mistakes, whilst still ensuring that records can be searched using the ship they represent.
Currently, the collection has no meaningful catalogue beyond a vague indication of whereabouts so Project Undaunted intends to begin with cataloguing 10% of the collection to make it searchable and put it online.
The number of ships in this collection are estimated to number around 65,500, but each ship has multiple documents associated with it. Although the exact numbers remain elusive, it has been estimated that the archive contains around 1.25 million distinct documents. We are currently in the pilot project, a two year investigation into the processes needed and the project plan should the full project go ahead.
The documents in the collection include ship surveys, machinery surveys, correspondences, ship and boiler plans, certificates, photographs and many more. We hope that making these available online will make finding documents and researching ships much easier and more successful!
What will be digitised?
There are two stages to Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s digitisation plans. The first is a pilot project, which aims to act as proof of concept and digitise documents on approximately 100 ships. The way we decided which documents to digitise was to identify the ships that were pioneering or famous, as these are most likely to be requested by our future users.
For the actual 3 year Project Undaunted, we intend to catalogue and digitise some of our collection from the 19th century. This includes all our foreign port archives, as well as a portion of our earlier documents from each port that we have records for.
When the images have been created, we plan to upload them onto our website so that they can be accessed by the public, along with educational resources. There are also aspirations to create a crowdsourcing project much further down the line to make searches on the website much richer. Crowdsourcing is when collection images are uploaded to the web and members of the public tag the data they see, which will be fed back into our database. In this way you are making the collection more searchable and being involved in the project! See Zooniverse for some amazing crowdsourcing projects that are currently running.
Why are we doing it?
We want to make it more accessible to the public and much easier to use and search the collection, as well as increase its educational potential. We hope that in the future we may even be able to link our information with other maritime resources like Ian Buxton’s List of British Ships and LR’s Wreck Books. We also want to raise awareness of the archive so that it can be used by those that need it. We have found a surprising array of interested parties from academics who study word usage, to genealogists, to ship model builders and we want to create a resource that helps all.
For the COLLECTION!
The collection itself is valuable in its own right and the information it contains is of global importance. Lloyd’s Register had surveyors all over the world so the archive we hold contains documents from many different countries, shipping companies and on different ship types. It spans an exciting time of innovation in ship building history, as well as having some wonderfully personal information on different surveyors, masters and ship owners. Some needs conservation before being digitised so this project will allow us to assess the condition of individual documents alongside the main digitisation mission. We can rank the documents to determine how urgent the work needed is and therefore, we can create lists of which need to be conserved first. Having a digital copy also means that should disaster hit or if the document degraded further, we have a digital backup so that the information is not lost alongside the object itself.