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Interpretive planning

Online interpretation

Online engagement can be very useful to community archives groups, who often collect only digital items. Online engagement:

  • Attracts a larger and more diverse audience - reaching different groups and locations across the country and the wider world.
  • Provides motivation to begin a digitisation programme.
  • Can tell a good story, or focus on a subject that is relevant to your community archive and your collections.
  • Means all your group members can be involved at different stages- acquiring, sorting, cataloguing and digitising archives, curating exhibitions and writing interpretation.
  • Can attract new volunteers and contributors.
  • Allows you to publicise your archive - you can get your collections known about and used, and have a basis for funding applications.

There are a number of statistics you can record to gauge the success of your exhibition. Set down the targets you want to achieve:

  • Number of visitors to your exhibition website/interactions on social media.
  • Number of new volunteers recruited.
  • Number of new donations received.
  • Funding opportunities received.
  • New collections acquired.

Online Interpretation Plan

If you plan to run an online exhibition, consider how you can customise your interpretation plan to focus digital exhibitions.

  • Goals and objectives
    • What platform will you use?
    • What audience do you want to attract?
    • How many page views are you targeting?
    • What kind of engagement? Comments? Potential donations? New volunteers?
    • What narrative do you want to tell?
    • What subjects/topics will you cover?
    • Ensure your team has a sense of the whole exhibition and can make suggestions and contributions to it.
    • Set out the message you want to give visitors - what you want them to learn, connect with and think about, how they could learn more and how they could use your archive.
    • Set down the ‘character’ of the exhibition - is it serious or lighthearted? Is the theme big or small? Can you make it different from other exhibitions you put on?
    • Think of the exhibition’s legacy - will you keep the exhibition online? If not, how will you save it for future use?
    • Will you try to get your audience to participate? For example, getting audiences to add comments, or to identify names, places, buildings and so on?

  • Practical considerations
    • What have you already got digitised? Can you come up with a narrative or theme using these? Or will you need to digitise more?
    • Do you have permission to digitise or use existing digital images? Be aware of any copyright issues, and seek permission if you need to.
    • How many images do you want to use? It’s a good idea to have a limited number to maximise their impact.
    • Social media - could you do a Twitter thread interpreting selected images, put a series of images/stories on Instagram, or post images on Facebook? Could these be an introduction or teaser to the main exhibition? Can you join in social media campaigns such as Explore Your Archive?
    • Could you do a regular series of blogs that highlight aspects of the collection? For example, having a regular ‘item of the week’ column, or a focus on one collection or aspect of the community’s history.
    • Can you use your digitised collections as a basis for creating Wikipedia entries?
  • Can visitors view any page whenever they like, or does it tell a story and therefore has to be viewed in a given order?
  • Is it thematic - does each section focus on a particular topic?
  • Could the exhibition be a ‘photo essay’ - that is, a long-form piece of text with accompanying images?

What to use

  • Images of documents
  • Photographs
  • Digital video excerpts
  • Oral history recording excerpts


  • Make a list of digital items that would fit in with your exhibition criteria.
  • Discuss your options within the group so that setting up an online exhibition becomes a collaborative process.