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Monday, 14 July 2014

Happy Birthday! Coflein is ten years old

On 13 July 2004 Alun Pugh, then the Welsh Assembly Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language, launched Coflein – the online database of the National Monuments Record of Wales. In his speech to an audience at Crickhowell House, the predecessor of the Senedd Building as the home of the Welsh Assembly, the Minister described the service and the ground-breaking SWISH (Shared Web Information Services for Heritage) partnership that brought it into being. This partnership, between the Welsh Royal Commission and its counterpart organisation in Scotland, still manages Coflein, as well as other services such as Historic Wales, and has been responsible for the site’s development over the past 10 years.

The original SWISH Team in 2004 responsible for developing Coflein. The photograph includes project managers and database developers from the Royal Commissions in Scotland and Wales.

As the online version of the database of the National Monument Record of Wales, Coflein provides access to its collections on the archaeology, historic architecture, industrial and maritime heritage of Wales. When it was launched information was available on 64,000 sites. In the intervening years, because of the Royal Commission’s ongoing recording, surveying and data enhancement work, this figure has risen to almost 110,000. The figure for the increase in access to digital resources from the archive is even more remarkable. At the launch in 2004 around 3000 images were accessible. In 2014 over 105,000 digital items are available, including scanned images, maps and manuscripts as well as digital photographs. This reflects the focus on digitisation in the Commission and the change in photographic practice over the past 10 years that means all our photography is now digital. Working practices ensure that material collected in the field is rapidly made available on Coflein.

Because of the ongoing nature of the SWISH partnership, the site has evolved over the past 10 years. In 2008 changes to the underlying technology and design of the front-end allowed a major refresh to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Commission. This was followed in 2011 by a revised mapping application that allowed integration of text and map-based queries. In 2012, direct searching of the catalogue was enabled, allowing users to gather information from specific collections or contributors, in addition to existing site-based querying. Further planned developments include integration of an enquiry and e-commerce system, and the inclusion of historic maps in the mapping application.

The new mapping application, launched in 2011, allows integrated map and text searching. The photograph, of St Anne’s Lighthouse in Pembrokeshire, is one of more than 105,000 digital items from the NMRW now available on Coflein.

Recently the technology behind Coflein has been developed to serve content to other websites. People’s Collection Wales, a website that aggregates material from heritage organisations, historical societies and individuals across Wales includes nearly 10,000 items served directly from Coflein. National Monument Record information can therefore be viewed alongside items from the National Library, National Museum and other contributors. The Britain from Above website uses material from the Aerofilms Collection of the National Monuments Record of Wales alongside similar material from collections in England and Scotland as part of a UK-wide project featuring aerial photographs from 1919 to 1953 from this unique collection. The SWISH partnership itself has also developed Historic Wales, a map-based website that gathers together records from holders of information from the historic environment across Wales, including Cadw, the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts and the National Museum Wales.

Direct catalogue searching has been possible since 2012. Material from the Aerofilms Collection has been used to populate the Britain from Above website alongside material from corresponding collections in England and Scotland.

The use of Coflein has grown steadily since its launch. In the last year there have been over a million page views and over 300,000 users. Feedback from users has usually been positive, and we have received lots of additional information about sites across the country, as well as a few corrections! If you’re a regular user, then thank you for using Coflein, if you’re not then why not give it a go!

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