Open Data Helps Edinburgh Preserve Memories

July 21, 2015 7:00 am PST | Data as a Service
Edinburgh, Scotland

In Edinburgh, Scotland, open data is helping residents of all ages save and share their memories, with a community-based digital scrapbook of photos and text.

Edinburgh Collected launched in April, after a year of planning, and combines photos submitted by users with existing images from Edinburgh’s libraries and museums. Browsing the site reveals black-and-white posed family photos, theater programs, newspaper articles, scenery shots, and many more visuals, accompanied by brief descriptions detailing the images’ significance. The images can be bundled together into scrapbooks, which range from the personal (“My Life in the Dean Village,” a collection of photos from Alastair William Forbes dating back to the 1940s through 1960s) to the more anthropological (“Toys I Remember” or “Household Items“). 

To upload an image, all that’s required is an Internet connection and an account with the site. Images can be titled, tagged, and categorized to make browsing — and reuse of the images — easy.

Why Share Memories Online?

Sally Kerr, the Digital Services Manager for the City of Edinburgh Council, comments that “we wanted Edinburgh Collected to provide a new channel for donating to our heritage collections, and to ensure people with an interest in the history of Edinburgh will continue to have access to a rich resource of quality material about the City.”

Edinburgh Collected Website

Edinburgh Collected frees photos from attics and basements, and opens them up so anyone can see. The mix of images, from the formal to the casual, is a fascinating tapestry of Edinburgh’s past, rich in personal details. Instead of just one family’s memories, the site provides access to an entire community’s.

As technology has progressed, it only makes sense to broaden the reach of photos and other keepsakes. As Kerr observes, “Edinburgh Collected is a response to the challenge of how civic organisations like ourselves can continue to collect and build accessible collections in the digital age.” Kerr sees the site as a way to respond to changing habits and expectations from library users.

Open Data Lends a Hand

Along with the Edinburgh City Council, Nesta, a UK innovation charity, provided funding for the project. During the course of a year, the Council worked side-by-side with Alan Gardner, a Code for Europe fellow, to develop the app.

Gardner comments that unlike other existing sources of images, the ones on Edinburgh Collected aren’t heavily curated. The app allows residents to highlight the images they consider most important. As well as serving for a place for keepsakes, Gardner images that the app will help evoke memories for older residents, and make it easy for them to share their stories. “If you show someone a picture of a landmark — perhaps the bus station they used every day, or maybe they walked past the castle every day — then that can help,” he says.

Images uploaded to the site are location-enabled, to make it easy to map them. Every image and its description are available for public reuse. The site makes every effort to encourage participate and sharing, with social buttons near every image.

Open data serves many readily quantifiable goals — saving money and helping government operate more efficiently for just a few — but Edinburgh Collected highlights how open data can also engage a community, bringing people together for the common goal of building and saving memories.


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