In 2013 Parramatta City Council’s Museum, Archives and Local Studies Library were restructured into one unit, ‘Research and Collection Services’ (ARC).
Bringing together collections and staff from across three separate disciplines encouraged new work patterns and in some ways provides a glimpse into what could be the future for many working in the GLAM sector.
We are now two years down the track and this overview of our Parramatta and World War One project will hopefully provide some insights into how we are managing the challenges and benefits of new workflows in our cross-disciplinary team.
The primary focus of the World War One project was to research and develop stories relating to Parramatta and Districts and deliver these in tandem with 100 Year Commemoration events from 2014 to 2018. This project started in late 2013 but with few physical objects and records in the Council collections we had to think of another approach. We finally built the whole project around a rare copy of the 1920 publication ‘Parramatta District Soldiers in the Great War, 1914-1919’ which we purchased for the Museum collection in early 2014.
This book contained the names, locality and photographs of over 1500 soldiers and nurses who enlisted from here or were related by family to the Parramatta Local Government Area. We knew this book provided us with a kind of Rosetta stone to access content held in Trove, National Archives and at the Australian War Memorial but our first step was to digitise the book and its images, which were all out of copyright.
This was managed by our archival staff who also created the spreadsheet from indexes which broke down all the names, and locations into rows with a unique identifier. We then added the columns for information we would add later. These included, unit served, embarkation dates, links to external databases and pages, service numbers, and a central column containing a edited biographical entry.
Museum skills were useful for the collection of all the images and the retouching and cataloguing of these. After a month or so we had all 1500 of the soldiers images cropped from the pages, resized to a uniform standard, and renumbered with the corresponding unique ID in our spreadsheet.
We then loaded the sheets and research information into our shared Google Drive (all of the ARC team shares the same login and editing, access and loading privileges) which enabled us to work collaboratively to x-check our work. We also opened up subsets of the data to volunteers so they could work remotely updating extra content on entries for soldiers, in fact one of our volunteers worked from Italy, while on a prolonged stay there with her family. Their content was then edited and updated by ARC team.
Library staff collated lists of books relating to a our research we we then ordered for the library collections as we worked on the project. We also began researching some of the broader Parramatta stories relating to Gallipoli, HMS Parramatta, and battles involving units with soldiers from the area. All this content we turned into blog posts which we then scheduled into our on-lineWorld War One blog-site to occur 100 years to the day of a major event in the post. We made the conscious decision to only select out of copyright material or content we had created to make sure the site and the posts were released under a Creative Commons licence. This ensured all our content could be accessed by schools, communities and other parts of Council for reuse and re-purposing.
The next idea we came up with relied heavily on museum exhibition development skill-sets. We decided to use the spreadsheet as the basis for kick-starting content for a touch-table which also incorporated browse and search options, location maps, images and a system users to put information back into the table and our spreadsheet.To help with this we ensured the table was designed with its own cloud based content management system, and WiFi connection.
This ensured the table would not be locked down to a specific location and could be moved around the LGA between 2014-2018. It also provided another way of justifying the costs of the table whose usefulness for just this project could be spread over 4 years rather than being a one off semi-permanent display in the Heritage Centre.
The table was completed in late 2014 and after a spell of six months at the centre was re-installed at the Parramatta Returned and Services League Club in time for the 100 Year celebrations of ANZAC Day on 25 April, 2015. It is now scheduled to tour local libraries and heritage sites up until the end of 2016, … we still need to finalise the scheduled moves till its return to the centre for Armistice Day in November 2018.
The activities of the Research Services Team were loaded into ‘World War One Link’ a research project database established by the team at Inside History and also with the Imperial War Museum in England’s online register of research projects taking place around the world during the centenary of WWI.
By May 2015 we had had loaded about half of our 430 detailed biographies of the soldiers and nurses into our blog Parramatta and World War One and scheduled them for publication 100 years to the day the researched story occurred. The first of these was published in August 2014 and the last will be published November 2018. This means we will continue to post of WW1 for the next few years using material completed in 2014.
For the 100 years ANZAC Day Commemorations we created a blog of standalone web stories and biographies about local soldiers who served at Gallipoli in 1915. We also created a series of specialised blogs relating to current interest groups and demographics in Parramatta. As we use a word-press back-end all of our online content scales automatically to use on tablets and phones. This was great because in enabled Council hosts and guides to use the information on their I-Pads to tell their stories at the Parramatta’s Centennial Square as a part of the school holiday activities.
For ANZAC Day we also created a playlist of 20 short animations of soldier’s stories using this content and after loading this onto our You-Tube channel shared these with the Main Library and Riverside Theatre who put them on continuous rotation on screens over the ANZAC period. Re-purposing this content we provided a set of specially edited photographs, biographies, and movie files to the ‘Communications and Marketing’ and ‘Events’ teams in Council for them to also use for promoting activities over this period.
We also used the spreadsheet to create info-graphics from our data. For these we went to an on-line company who were able to convert the data we provided into the info-graphic you can see at the top of this post. The turnaround time was around a week and cost minimal, admittedly we didn’t have as much control over the process as some of the more expensive offerings but we felt the ability to change and update the content more regularly offset this. The PDF file was made to a specific size to enable it to become an element of out exhibition space at the centre, but it was also reused for pull up banners, marketing, and for on-line graphics once the touch-table started travelling.
Finally it is important to note that the creation and editing of these all the above has been shared across the entire ARC Team. Our volunteers have continued to add more content to our on-line spread sheet and these have been updated by our team into the on-line CMS for the table. All of which has provided training and increased the competency of the entire team in dealing with some of the new cloud based Google tools, social media and the Word Press software used to deliver our content.
While the major portion of the project has finished we are continuing to develop content in relation with upcoming 100 Year Commemoration events and continue to work with volunteers to upgrade content. We have also begun looking at a new e-pub project which utilises our World War One content and as we get closer to the hundred year centenary of the publication of the ‘Parramatta Soldiers’ book we are hoping this expertise may be utilised to republish the 1920 book with all of the contributions by community, volunteers and ARC staff.