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As of March 2018, our Archives Assistant Jacob has finished
digitising our Narrative Reports from 1938-1945. After digitising almost 74,000
pages, Jacob has agreed to answer some questions about his experiences working
on the Kickstarter project.
Tell me what have you have been working on since October
Since October 2016, I have been working on the ‘Hidden Histories of a Million
Wartime Women’ project. This project was crowdfunded through Kickstarter and
managed to raise £27,724 to fund the digitisation of our Memory of the World
inscribed monthly Narrative Reports. I was fortunate enough to have been chosen
to carry out this enormous task.
What is the most memorable story or report you have seen while digitising the
The most memorable story I have come across is a 1943 report from a bombing in
Goole. It gives a detailed chronological account of a plane collision that
scattered into the town and caused several serious fires.
Why is this the most memorable story/report?
Considering how quickly the WVS responded to the incident regardless of the
fact that it was 1 o clock in the morning illustrated how integral they were to
British life on the Home Front. I found it quite remarkable how they were able
to set up Cooking Centres and provide hot drinks to all 100 of the members of
the Home Guard that were on duty. Members of the WVS Housewives’ Service also
assisted with the evacuation from dangerous areas. Overall, this report
perfectly summarised the many acts of unwavering kindness from the Women in
What has been the most enjoyable part of your role as Archives Assistant?
I think the most enjoyable part of my role has been engaging with this
Why was it enjoyable?
It has been enjoyable to know that despite the enormity of the project, people
can now read these beautiful documents in the comforts of their own home. The
digitisation project has shed new light on some of the most important documents
in British history. Being involved with something as significant as this has
been very worthwhile indeed.
Give me your top three tips for digitising?
I thought you may ask something like this.
Firstly, never fall into the trap
that the digital copy is now the more significant document because it can be
readily accessed. If the original document is lost or damaged it may never be
recovered. However, if the digitised version is corrupted, it can be recopied
from the original in the archive.
Secondly, remember to check every single document before it is digitised to
ensure it is in the right place. If one item is incorrect, everything else will
be put out sync.
Lastly, appreciate the value of the material that you are digitising. If it
feels like you are contributing to something much bigger than yourself, it will
become a lot easier to sit in a room and take 74,000 photographs…
How can people access these records?
They can be accessed through Archive Online
on our website. Type in the
town/city that you are interested in finding out about and find the link to
that year’s Narrative Reports. 1938-1942 have already been uploaded and
1943-1945 are due to be posted in the near future.
After beginning digitising the WVS Narrative Reports in October 2016, the size and scale of the project felt almost insurmountable. However, as we slowly move towards slightly warmer weathers, the end of the project has now arrived. We have now managed to digitise the early wartime reports from 1938-1945 and after some extensive totalling, our digital archive now contains over 73,000 pages. Due to this achievement, I felt that it would be necessary to offer an insight into how the project has been accomplished.
Each individual Narrative Report that has been digitised is part of a structure that formed the basis of the WVS. To form this structure, the WVS split up the nation into twelve regions as it allowed them to have a highly effective chain of command. Each region included several counties. For example, Region 5 contained Kent, Surrey, East & West Sussex and the County Boroughs. Within each county, centres were formed in their local areas to encourage women to volunteer and give ‘service beyond self’. These centres provided the organisation with around 2000 monthly reports that represent some of the most important documents in British history.
To retain the quality of our original documents, we have shot the images in RAW and edited them through Adobe Photoshop Lightroom using the tethered capture setting. After taking the photograph, each report has had to be individually cropped to ensure that it is perfectly aligned. Upon completing a series of reports within a centre, the photographs are exported from Lightroom to our digital archive and saved in the archival standard format, TIFF. After each year of reports has been digitised, I have had to watermark each image and convert them into JPEG files. We have chosen this format because it has enabled us to reduce the file size whilst remaining a high degree of image quality. Once all of the files have been converted into JPEG’s, each centre is turned into a PDF/A ready to be attached to the catalogue and uploaded onto Archive Online. On average, it has taken about three months to completely finish one years’ worth of Narrative Reports.
Overall, the project has been a resounding success. For the first time in our 80 year history, we are able to bring these hidden histories into the light that they wholeheartedly deserve. It has been a painstakingly enormous task, but one that feels very worthwhile indeed.