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Archive Digital Projects 2018 - 2021

Did you know we hold over 1.6 million items in our archive? Our archive brings together items held previously by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland prior to the creation of Historic Environment Scotland. We currently have around 530,000 digital images available to view online, meaning the majority of our collections have only been available to those able to visit us in Edinburgh.  We want to digitise, and make available online, much more of our collections.  

In 2017, through investment funding, we were able to pilot a new approach to digitisation to significantly increase accessibility of our archive material. In that time 175,000 images were made available online. Through continued investment we were able to develop the Archive Digital Projects until 2021 to carry on this work.

Opening up our archives

Our aim is to make our heritage accessible to all. By increasing our volume of digital material and making content available online we hope to make Scotland’s National Record for the Historic Environment as accessible as possible. By 2021, the Archive Digital Projects team will make 750,000 digital items available online.

Our work will allow for:

  • Improved management and care of both physical and digital collections

  • Improved long term preservation of data

  • Improved collections knowledge

  • Reduction in inaccessible and invisible archives

Discovering our archives

We are cataloguing and making accessible thousands of born-digital items from our digital archive, covering both archaeological and architectural projects across Scotland.

Our digital archive contains over 400 file formats, and includes photographs, CAD (computer aided design) drawings, video footage and spatial data.

We are digitising our physical collections which are currently uncatalogued or only available in-house, making these accessible to the public on Canmore.  

We link our collections to our site and event records, making them discoverable from multiple access points.

We anticipate our work will generate around 20TB bringing our total to 70TB of digital archive material.

By transferring this data into our digital repository we will ensure long-term preservation and access.

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Our Progress 

In 2017-18 we digitised several of our collections including:  

  • Properties in Care Photo Library - This is a vast image library, containing more than 250,000 images, that was used to manage photographs taken in the course of caring for our properties over the twentieth century. We have chosen the best 50,000 images for digitisation.

  • Scottish Development Department (SDD) - As part of their work, SDD investigators took photographs of the historic buildings and sites of Scotland. We have digitised more than 70,000 of these images and are working to make them available.

  • Aerial Photography - HES, when it was one of its predecessors, began taking aerial photographs of Scotland in 1976. We now have over 150,000 aerial images available, showing Scotland from 1976 until today.

  • List C Survey - Following changes in listing, a survey was carried out to record all the C-listed buildings. We have made these 25,000 images available.

  • Mounted prints relating to a number of archaeological collections including excavations at The Howe, Jedburgh and Machrie Moor. 

In total we were able to create 178,847 new digital images and we now begin work to ingest these into the archive to make them available online via Canmore. 

This year (2019) the collections identified for digitisation include:  

  • Ordnance Survey Record Cards - These formed the basis for all our site records and contain useful information as well as drawings and photographs. There are around 117,000 cards to be digitised.

  • Estates Exchange Catalogues - At the end of the nineteenth century, many large estate owners started selling off their land and houses. These catalogues are a record of these estates and the people who lived and worked on them.

  • More of our Properties in Care photo library

These collections are currently being prepared by our Digital Projects team with input from our colleagues in conservation where material requires repair. It is intended these collections will be digitised and returned to us in January where we will then begin our quality assurance and subsequent ingest.

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When will this material be available online?

We have unfortunately had several delays to the project due to capacity issues around the Digital Archive, which has had a significant knock on to our planned timescale for making these collections available online. The team are working to maximum capacity to ingest the material and we will endeavour to update this projects page regularly to keep you up to date with progress.

Material in Quarantine

Properties in Care Photo Library

Archaeology Collections

Ingest Underway

The Scottish Development Department Collection – 44% complete

Properties in Care Photo Library- 25% processed

Please be aware that while these materials are being processed and ingested they may be unavailable for public consultation. The projects team are happy to help with any enquiries regarding these collections and their availability. We appreciate your patience while this project is underway.

Processing our Born-Digital Archive

The processing of our Digital Archive accessions backlog began in March 2019. So far we have processed 23,314 files and added 17,457 of these to our digital archive. 

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Before any Digital Archive material could be made accessible online, we first had to undertake some scoping work to understand the extent of the material we hold in our accessions database. We identified over 300,000 digital files, in over 400 file formats, ranging from 1997 to 2017.  

In order to process the Digital Archive accessions backlog, we must:

  • Assess every files relevance for its inclusion in the archive

  • Identify corrupt or obsolete files

  • Identify proprietary file formats which are generally unsuitable for long-term preservation

  • Ensure we have the appropriate license agreements in place prior to archiving

  • Catalogue every accession in accordance with international cataloguing standards to ensure discoverability

This work has helped to inform our appraisal and disposal policies, our in-house catalogue description standard, and our digital preservation programme, through collaboration with the core Digital Archive. 

For any specific queries or for more information, please contact Hannah Smith, Archive Digital Projects Manager: hannah.smith@hes.scot