The digital volunteer team at YMT

York Museums Trust

Martin Fell, 16.09.2013
Since the end of March 2013, York Museums Trust (YMT) has been running a successful Historypin project. This has called on the knowledge and technical expertise of a handful of digital volunteers, who have been helping to showcase York Art Gallery's topographical collection in a new and exciting way.

The premise was a simple one: take all the paintings and drawings of York from our collection and pin them to Google Streetview.

The problem was the volume of paintings and drawings at the trust's disposal. With more than 1,000 topographical works in the collection and little time to locate them on the map of York, YMT recruited a group of dedicated digital volunteers from the Friends of York Art Gallery, who have been scouring Streetview to find the locations where these paintings and drawings were first created.

Not content with simply pinning the images to the map, the volunteers have also been doing their own research, complementing our collections data with interesting facts and trivia about the paintings, artists and the locations themselves.

Google Books, historic maps of York and the library's local history department are all being used as sources of info about the collection. Images are even being grouped into collections and we will soon be creating short tours that include notable works.

Other than uploading the images and catalogue data, YMT's digital team has had little input and the project is being allowed to make its own way – entirely led by the volunteers themselves.

We hope to test various aspects of digital volunteering before applying the lessons learnt to new and much larger projects.

One of the most valuable bits of information to tease out is why volunteers dedicate as much as 20 hours a week to help our museum get its collections online.

The question is a tricky one to answer, but one of our volunteers, Tony Mosley said: “There’s a lot of detective work involved which I really enjoy.”

Regular updates about the programme can be found at the YMT Blog.

Martin Fell is the digital team leader at York Museums Trust