(This blog was first published on the JISC Corporate blog, 8 April 2011)

The UK is a knowledge economy and as the coalition government looks to also to make it a digital one – how is JISC helping to share the UK’s knowledge and our resources online?

In my role at JISC I look after our content programme which brings scholarly collections into the digital age – taking journals, newspapers, manuscripts, photographs and other material and putting them on the web. I have the pleasure of working with many outstanding collections in the UK and have helped unearth some real treasures that can be shared and used for education and research.

The British Cartoon Archive is one such example. Hosted by the University of Kent, it represents a visual history of British history whether through the social comedies of Carl Giles or the political satire of Steve Bell. It provides the student with an alternative viewpoint on the century – not official documents, but a more slanted approach that provides a more accurate portrayal of public opinion. The video explains more.

The First World War Poetry archive, curated by the University of Oxford, is another astonishing collection. Incorporating the Great War Archive, where members of the general public where asked to submit images of objects relating to the war (letters, diaries, photos etc.), the resource is a seminal example of a crowd sourced website. The accompanying video tells some amazing stories that have been collected by the archive. In one story, we hear of a Scottish soldier, enlisted for war without the chance to say goodbye his family. He placed his goodbye message inside a matchbox and threw it onto the platform in the hope it would get to his loved ones. This video recounts the full story.

Most of the time I am looking at ways to promote these resources and create awareness amongst academics, researchers and learners that they exist. The JISC content site lists all the resources JISC has either funded or licensed for educational use. But one also needs to remember digitisation from the perspective of the creator, and the many things to take into account when putting collections online.

There are five pieces of advice that recent JISC funded projects have discovered have been crucial to successful digitisation projects.

Five top tips

1. Embedding digitisation within a university needs engagement, you need people on your side from across the whole of the organisation from researchers, academics and IT staff as well as senior management

2. Partnership is vital for those developing digitised content. Not just with other universities but with innovative publishers and producers

3. Digitised resources will achieve maximum impact when part of universities’ teaching and research strategies

4. Users love speed and convenience – one quick search over a federated website works better than multiple searches over disparate websites

5. Engaging external communities in digital content needs to be a two way process. It’s not just about universities broadcasting their expertise and exposing their digital content