Public libraries work with local communities and artists to create a War Memorial for the digital age

Original letters, photographs and newspapers from library collections inspire community groups and artists to create a unique response to the First World War that can be accessed online.

8 September 2014

The inspiring Digital War Memorial video can be viewed here:

The Digital War Memorial, created by public libraries working with their local communities and established artists, will be launched today at the British Library by Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture and Digital Economy and the Society of Chief Librarians.


The project has enabled public libraries to give a wide range of community groups the opportunity to work with artists to create their own highly individual response to the First World War. The project is funded by The National Lottery supported Grants for the arts: Libraries fund through Arts Council England. Dr Dominic Smith, Digital Curator for the project, has brought the local pieces together in a way that retains their unique character and diversity.


Each of the local projects has been captured digitally and will be the foundation of a national memorial that will continue to build over the four years of commemoration, 2014-2018. The projects started with the rich and diverse materials held by public libraries and archive services – photographs, newspapers, letters and other documents. Community groups then worked with artists using poetry, dance, music, writing and visual arts to reflect on the impact of the First World War and how it resonates a century later.


Many of the projects involved young people. Handling original documents and objects from the time of the First World War triggered powerful connections with the past, making it feel more immediate and relevant to today.


SCL will work with all public library services to create content from every part of England. Public libraries are ideally placed to connect communities to the records of the past and to facilitate engagement with high quality artists to provide creative experiences for people, especially those who have not had that opportunity before.


The Digital War Memorial has been incorporated into Historypin in order to make it available to as many people as possible. Historypin was created by We Are What We Do to provide a platform for millions of people to share their histories.


The British Library has worked with the Society of Chief Librarians from the start of this project. The digitisation staff of the British Library worked with Leeds Library & Information Services to create a high quality digital version of the Gledhow Scrapbook, a unique document in the Leeds collection that can now be seen by everyone.


This project builds on the work that public libraries are already doing to support even more people to access information, learning and services online. SCL is working with key partners, including Cabinet Office, DCMS, British Library, and Tinder Foundation to create a new digital strategy for public libraries, and ensure that this vital role continues to develop.


Minister for Culture and Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, said:

“The Government’s programme to mark the Centenary of the First World War is centred on remembrance, education and youth.  So this project is especially welcome, and all the more relevant for using digital technology to preserve, present and interpret century-old material for young people today. I hope that every library service in the country will be inspired by these first projects to create their own contribution to the Digital War Memorial. This is another great example of what public libraries can achieve when they work together.”


Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, said:

“The Digital War Memorial has demonstrated how artists, working with the wonderful source material that is held in libraries, can use the arts to take people to a deeper understanding of things that might otherwise seem remote. Experiencing the creative process first hand has clearly had a profound effect on the community groups and individuals involved in the projects. The artists too have broadened their arts practice and found new audiences for their work.”


Ciara Eastell, President of the Society of Chief Librarians said:

“The Digital War Memorial is a special combination of three things – public libraries, their communities, and the arts. Public libraries have enabled people to work alongside established artists and play an active part in the creative process. For many people this is the first time they will have had such an experience. As well as being rooted in their local communities, public libraries are connected across the country and, as this project shows, can work together to create a national response to major events.”


Jamie Andrews, Head of English and Drama at the British Library

We have been delighted that British Library colleagues in Yorkshire and London have been able to support the work of libraries and artists across England to create a collaborative Digital War Memorial. Together with the British Library’s work with major European libraries on the Europeana 1914-1918 project, this new war memorial for the twenty first century will encourage fresh understanding and responses to the events of hundred years ago.”


Jane Mason, independent choreographer and performer

“Working with the source material from the libraries and talking through what it meant with school children from the local community had a deep impact on all of us.  When we focused on just one personal story or event we got transported back in time, very much fueling a deeper emotional engagement with the movement work we were exploring.  We could see and hear what was happening, imagining ourselves as those people and taking those feelings into our movement and dancing, more fully connecting us to them.”


Gillian Moran, Leeds Digital Scrapbook participant

“Seeing and working with the original photographs and documents made things very real. It was a hundred years ago but the emotions are still with us today and I felt the people in their pictures and letters were still within reach.  My understanding of the First World War was deepened and I doubt I will ever see it in quite the same way ever again.”


Local projects


Brent Remembers                                                            Brent

More Than We Can Imagine Here                        Devon

The Courage of conviction                                                Lancashire

The Digital Scrapbook                                                Leeds

Wor War                                                                        Newcastle

Homefront Stories                                                            Norfolk

Street Art                                                                        Rochdale

The Hidden Pressures of Staffordshire’s War            Staffordshire

Lest We Forget                                                            Stockton

(A project based in North Tyneside will take place in September/October 2014.)



For more information contact:

Elizabeth Elford, Advocacy Manager, The Society of Chief Librarians

Tel: 07891 056114, Email:


Sophie McIvor, Media Officer, The British Library

Tel: +44 (0) 207 412 7790Email:


Notes to editors

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) is a local government association made up of the chief librarian of each library authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. SCL takes a leading role in the development of public libraries, through sharing best practices, advocating for continuous improvement on behalf of local people, and leading the debate on the future of the public library service.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2010 and 2015, we will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website – – every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

Historypin was created by We Are What We Do, a not for profit product design and behaviour change company. Through products such as the I’m Not a Plastic Bag shopper, developed with Anya Hindmarch, and Historypin, created in partnership with Google, We Are What We Do sets out to address social issues like mental illness, waste, inter-generational division and youth obesity. Historypin brings people together from different generations and cultures to collaboratively explore, share and document the history of their communities. Through a set of web and mobile tools, anyone can upload historical photographs, videos, audio clips, stories and memories. Historypin also runs a series of projects around the world, running local activities and events on the ground to generate positive social impacts in communities. For more information go to or follow @WeAreWhatWeDo and or follow @Historypin.