University of Leicester eBulletin

Digital Library of Historical Directories Part of a World First in Online Learning

March 2003
No 83

A world first in internet access has been launched by the biggest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, the New Opportunities Fund, to deliver the EnrichUK experience across culture, history and community resources. 

The gateway gives one-stop access to a panorama of culture, history and community resources of museums, libraries and galleries in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It aims to help meet the public appetite for online learning across the UK.

The EnrichUK portal draws together 150 websites funded through the initiative into a unique online collection ranging from national centres of excellence to regional ‘sense of place’, voluntary and community organisations and small local museums.

The Digital Library of Historical Directories project, based at the University of Leicester Library, is creating an exciting and important resource for local and family history, urban history and historical geography.

Directories of counties and towns are among the most important sources for local and genealogical studies. They include lists of names, addresses and occupations of the inhabitants of counties and towns and also provide a wealth of detailed historical and topographical information. High quality digital reproductions of a large selection of these comparatively rare books, previously mainly found in specialist libraries and record offices, are being made freely available online to anyone with an Internet connection.

This online national collection is bringing together a greater number and range of directories than any one library could provide, selected from the University of Leicester Library's own English Local History collection and also from other important regional collections.

The Historical Directories website also features a fast and powerful search engine. Family surnames, occupations, addresses, place names and other key words or phrases can be located easily and quickly to their exact places on pages within the digitised texts.

Those who will reap the benefit of these historical sources include not only academic local, economic and social historians, but also school students, amateur genealogists and members of the public.  Particular target audiences will be school students at key stage 3, University students of history, family history societies and researchers working on their own.

The national EnrichUK portal was launched by Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone in London at an event attended by hundreds of representatives of cultural, educational, community and history organisations from across the UK which have been making their resources and collections available on the internet through the Fund’s ground-breaking £50 million digitisation initiative.

Among the speakers at the event at the I-MAX Cinema complex in London's Waterloo was the Government's e-Envoy Andrew Pinder.

Launching the portal, Baroness Blackstone said:  "The combination of high quality content and innovative technology spanning arts, culture, history, community information and skills support is a world first. EnrichUK is effectively a 'one-stop content shop' which can only fuel interest in internet access across the UK, encouraging millions of people to take up and expand their lifelong learning.”

The £50 million lottery good causes money (grants announced July 2001) has allowed the 150 projects involved to digitise their images and resources so they can be accessed on the worldwide web. Using the site, anyone can investigate the vast collections for information and background, or simply for pleasure.

Local councils, Universities and 'sense of place' groups have digitised material which seeks to explain the special character, history and geography of counties and districts across the UK.

Baroness Jill Pitkeathley, Chair of the New Opportunities Fund said: "The launch of EnrichUK is a cornerstone of the most radical and exciting development in public access and common ownership of culture these islands have seen in many years. It complements the work being done by ukonline, the National Grid for Learning, Learn Direct and also the People's Network funded by the New Opportunities Fund. Perhaps some day this will be seen as being as important as the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, the creation of the great public galleries and museums, or the introduction of public libraries.

"The work and commitment of staff to this initiative - in voluntary organisations, UK libraries, museums, galleries, educational institutions and community organisations - is showcased by the EnrichUK web portal. Each project is playing an important role in creating the largest anthology of publicly-funded online materials the country has seen. I hope that as it becomes widely known to internet users of every age and interest, it will help to enrich their understanding of the wealth of cultures and knowledge of which our countries can be justly proud."

The e-Envoy Andrew Pinder said: “We live in an age where - from Barnsley to Bucharest - communities can share their experience and culture. It has been impressive to see so many diverse UK organisations working together to a common purpose and it is an inspiration for others to develop similar learning channels. The objectives of EnrichUK are very much in line with what ukonline is trying to achieve: making the internet a tool that is relevant to people’s lives and is easily accessible to all.”

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact David Welding, Digitisation Project Director, University of Leicester, telephone 0116 252 2041.

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Last updated: March 2003
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