'Heritage heroes' wanted to unlock Shropshire archives' treasures

A project has been launched to recruit an online volunteer army of "heritage heroes" working from home to help unlock the treasure trove of historical gems within Shropshire's archives and museums.

It is part of a continuing effort to make more and more documents and material about the county's past available on the internet.

People will be able to log on at home to play their part in the massive job of cataloguing, transcribing, translating and interpreting everything from obscure medieval documents to commercial directories, banknotes, letters, and World War One diaries.

"It's an innovative project which we believe is the first in the country to be done in the way we are doing it," said project manager Alison Pritchard, of Shropshire Archives - the county's records and research centre in Shrewsbury.

"It's for people who physically can't get to an archive, maybe because they are disabled, they work full time, or coming in during the hours of the day doesn't suit them. It could be that they live on the other side of the world and have a particular interest in Shropshire."

Potentially the "Heritage Heroes" project means that Shropshire's records and museum collections will benefit from the insights and skills of experts in their field across the world who can bridge gaps in specialist knowledge.

The website has been created by Shropshire Archives' Shrewsbury-based IT developers Orangeleaf Systems.

The groundwork has involved creating digital images of various documents and objects in the collections. The volunteers, who register and log in, can access these images through the website heritageheroes.org.uk and then start playing their part in enhancing and enriching Shropshire's heritage, which could be simply through indexing an old commercial directory, or providing information about a Roman coin.

"We are working with Shropshire Regimental Museum to get some King's Shropshire Light Infantry material on there, tying in to the World War One commemorations," said Alison

Mary McKenzie, team leader archives, said: "We pick the material we feel merits attention.

"We are going across museums and archives working to digitise and copy more and more of our collections. We are aware that that is how people want to access them. The move is towards people being able to sit at home and find the information they need.

"We have about five and a half miles of records and it's going to take us a while to digitise everything, and I don't know that we ever will digitise everything. Only 40 per cent is catalogued. We are being selective and choosing things we think merit most attention and giving people a variety of things to do."

The project encompasses all archives held in Shropshire, and all the museum collections in the county.

"We are working with the whole network of museums."

Material which has been worked on by the "heritage heroes" will not immediately go into the public domain, but will first go through a process of moderation, being looked over by a professional to iron out any potential mistakes or issues.

The work of the virtual volunteers will complement that already done by volunteers who go along to the archive centre.