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The Johnston Collection Digitisation Project

22nd May 2013

Photograph of The Johnston Collection Digitisation Project

Revealing the past

The Johnston Collection is a unique photographic archive of life in and around Wick, once the capital of the herring industry in Europe. Held in trust by the Wick Society, the collection consists of over 50,000 black and white images, taken by three generations of
a local photographic firm from 1863-1975. For thirty years the collection remained in the basement of the Wick Heritage Centre, inaccessible to all but the most determined researcher. Long-held ambitions to digitise the collection remained unfulfilled due to lack of resources.

The opportunity arose when a member of staff of the North Highland Colleges NHC Online identified a programme from JISC, the UK organisation supporting digital technology in education, to fund digitisation equipment in return for a licence to allow students free access to collections.

The North Highland College approached the Wick Society with a view to putting a funding package together from JISC and LEADER. It was a perfect match. Dealing with the funding applications was quite complex and occasionally confusing because of the unusual nature of the project but with guidance we managed the process and the effort more than paid off. case study : Revealing the past Through The Johnston Collection Digitisation Project a production unit was created in the colleges Wick campus and learning materials were developed for a new, accredited digital imaging course. Demand resulted in a doubling of the target number of trainees.

The goal of scanning and conserving 10,000 images was met in a very short timescale. An eCommerce website was developed for the Wick Society to widen access to the collection and generate revenue from sales of the images. The project caught the medias attention resulting in coverage by national newspapers and the BBC.

The project has benefited partners, trainees and people interested in tracing their family history worldwide. The Wick Society has enjoyed increased sales and the commitment of ex-trainees as volunteers. Since the end of the project a further 10,000 images have been scanned, identified and conserved. NHC Online has gained from the experience of working on a community project like this and is currently planning a similar digitisation project with the Thurso Heritage Society.

The value of a collection only exists if people can see it. This has proved to be a really good project.

LEADER contribution: 43,118 (45%) towards total project costs of 95,818.

For more information on Highland LEADER, see
To request a copy of the new Revitalising Communities in the Highlands booklet please contact Planning and Development Service, The Highland Council, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, IV3 5NX.

See the Johnstone Photo collection digitisation to date at

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