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By Tim Else on

A labour of love: an update on the Alan Jackson Index

Tim Else talks us through the Alan Jackson Index project, which is now available online.

For those readers not familiar with the Alan Jackson Index, the resource comprises a significant collection of reference cards containing information on a multitude of railway-related subjects, alongside boxes full of associated clippings.

Jackson created his index over the course of his lifetime, alongside writing several books. He was a member of the Railway and Canal Historical Society and when he passed on, the RCHS donated the cards to the museum with the aim of digitising them to create a useful and accessible research tool.

Sample of Alan Jackson’s index card that the volunteers had to transcribe. Deciphering the codes and handwriting could be a challenge

 

For those readers not familiar with the Alan Jackson Index, the resource comprises a significant collection of reference cards containing information on a multitude of railway-related subjects, alongside boxes full of associated clippings.

Jackson created his index over the course of his lifetime, alongside writing several books. He was a member of the Railway and Canal Historical Society and when he passed on, the RCHS donated the cards to the museum with the aim of digitising them to create a useful and accessible research tool.

The reference cards were all individually scanned, resulting in over 40,000 image files. Batches of 50-card images were then emailed out to over 100 volunteers, who spent many, many hours extracting information from the reference cards onto spreadsheets.

For a background on the project, do have a read through our previous blog posts:

https://blog.railwaymuseum.org.uk/railway-historians-research-legacy-begins-new-life/

https://blog.railwaymuseum.org.uk/the-alan-jackson-archive/

A sample of the raw data found on a volunteer’s returned spreadsheet

Once returned, this information was collated together to create 67 alphabetically organised master spreadsheets. The final piece of this journey was to get these data online and available for public use: that is where I come in.

I am a postgraduate student from the University of Sheffield undertaking a MA in Social Research, which is providing the foundations for my future PhD project. I also have a passion for all things railway, with fond memories of visiting the National Railway Museum as I was growing up. So, when I saw a link to a 100-hour placement on the Alan Jackson Index project in a university careers email, I leapt at the chance to get involved. I was fortunate enough to be offered the placement and have loved every single minute of my time in York.

Investigating a website on which to host the Alan Jackson Index was the first part of my placement, with Omeka being the hosting platform of choice. The flexibility, appearance and searching performance of Omeka all contributed towards the platform’s attractiveness. Once Omeka was decided upon, the data needed preparing for migration.

In progress: a snapshot of the prototype website

Dealing with such a large amount of data presented challenges that I had not expected to face, such as the time-consuming nature of performing simple editing and checking tasks. Formatting the spreadsheets for transferring onto the Omeka platform needed careful consideration, as well as the organisation of the digital image files. However, all issues were finally resolved and the Alan Jackson Index was successfully migrated online, fulfilling the goal that many people have spent countless hours working towards.

I am honoured to have played a part in such an interesting project, whose implementation has been a labour of love for many people. Whilst I will miss the atmosphere of the Great Hall and the sights from the viewing balcony in The Works, I leave the National Railway Museum in the knowledge that the Alan Jackson Index is now online, providing a new railway research tool for everyone to benefit from.

The Alan Jackson Archive can be explored at http://railwaycitationindex.omeka.net.

[Note: we wanted to make this index available as soon as we could, but we are still tinkering around the edges. We would welcome your feedback on ease of use and usefulness either by leaving a comment below or emailing search.engine@railwaymuseum.org.uk ,thank you]

 

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