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Frequently asked questions

The nature of the IBCC Digital Archive

1) How is the IBCC Digital Archive different to other archives?
2) Why does the Archive organise items into collections?
3) What are primary sources?
4) Are the IBCC Digital Archive’s primary sources reliable?
5) I’ve found items of very little historical significance such as ephemera, family photographs, and mass-produced objects. Is there a justification?
6) Is there a reason why you haven’t included narratives, stories, and interpretative text?
7) Why most descriptions are so concise?
8) Scan are published with a substantial black margin. Why is that?
9) Why does some items have been redacted?

Searching and browsing

10) Searches for short keywords (617, Gee, H2S, DFC etc.) return no hits. Why is that so?
11) Why I’m getting so many hits while using the full text search?
12) Is there a way to browse specific item types (diaries, logbooks, maps etc.) regardless of the collection they belong to?
13) What’s the difference between Type and What item looks like?
14) What’s the difference between When item was created and Date?
15) Is there a way to search for broad geographical regions?
16) Is there a way to search for bodies of water?
17) The documents I’ve found are just a small part of what I was hoping to find. Is there any way to discover more?

The publishing workflow

18) I loaned you a collection for digitisation and it’s not yet online. What has happened to it?
19) The collection I loaned you for digitisation has not been published in its entirety. Why not?
20) I’ve found an item which I think shouldn’t be public. What should I do?

Engaging with the Archive

21) Can I use an archive item for commercial purposes?
22) Can I see the original of a digitised item or have it digitised again according to my specifications?
23) Can I contact the donor of an item?
24) I have a connection with Bomber Command and would like to be interviewed. What should I do?
25) I have a collection of Bomber Command items and would like it to be digitised and preserved. What should I do?
26) Can I scan the items myself and send the digital files to the IBCC Digital Archive?
27) Do you accept items in their physical form? (uniforms, memorabilia, personal papers, documents etc.)
28) I’ve found a mistake online. What should I do?
29) I’d like to help out. What should I do?


1) How is the IBCC Digital Archive Different to other archives?
By and large, National archives and other comparable repositories preserve most items in their physical form. They also focus on administrative, operational, and financial documents, with a strong emphasis on high-level decisions, leading figures, and key events. Items are preserved systematically, within a broader framework of legislation and policies.
The IBCC Digital Archive has no physical counterpart: items are loaned to us for the purpose of digitisation and then returned to the owners. Our approach in building the archive is broad and inclusive, aiming to capture the widest-possible range of experiences following a 'history from below' approach. As detailed in our collection policy, our focus is on the lives of ordinary people in wartime. There's also an element of unpredictability; few eyewitnesses are still around to tell their stories, and we have had to rely on families with collections to contact us and be willing to lend us their collections for digitisation. So, while we have preserved a vast amount of material, it is not a ‘methodical’ collection. A conservative estimate suggests that only 1% of those who served in Bomber Command have a form of direct representation, in the form of a collection in their name, in the IBCC Digital Archive.
Most importantly, our ethos rests on three linked values of remembrance, recognition and reconciliation. These principles are detailed in the Interpretation Plan for the International Bomber Command Centre, which is available on demand.

2) Why does the Archive organise items into collections?
Documents do not exist in isolation but are normally part of a complex tapestry of personal experiences. Examples include chains of letters, passages in memoirs referring to photographs (and vice versa), oral histories mentioning logbooks, documents, or photos. Value and significance can be understood in context.
All items in the IBCC Digital Archive are part of a collection, conventionally defined as a set of documents to be described collectively, normally gathered on the basis of provenance. A body of document received by an identifiable entity (person or organisation) is therefore preserved and published together.

3) What are primary sources?
Primary sources are direct, unmediated, first-hand accounts of past events, produced by people who had a direct connection with it. These sources can be understood as historical information still in its ‘raw’ state. Examples include correspondence, diaries, photographs, official documents, reports, eyewitness accounts, memorabilia, artworks, poetry etc.
Secondary sources collate, summarize, evaluate, or discuss pieces information from other sources. The author did not usually take part in the event. Secondary sources are written for a broad audience: examples include books, articles, papers, and multimedia content.
The IBCC Digital Archive consists chiefly of primary sources.

4) Are the IBCC Digital Archive’s primary sources reliable?
Primary sources aren’t automatically reliable. Documents may contain inaccuracies ranging from inconsequential oversights to deliberate misrepresentation of facts. In the process of resource description, this information is taken at face value and succinctly captured as such, unless we have good reason to question its accuracy. Explicit corrections are provided in these cases.
Furthermore, human memories are known to be fallible. Oral history interviews are reconstructions of past events filtered through veterans’ minds, not perfect snapshots. Memories shift and are constantly reshaped.
Finally, please be aware that:

  • In some cases, the chain of custody of a collection is impossible to ascertain. Some collections have changed hands multiple times, while others were found by pure chance.
  • The way a collection has been kept by its donor varies considerably. While some have remained largely undisturbed since the war, others have been recast, culled, annotated, expanded, and reconstructed over several decades.

5) I’ve found items of very little historical significance such as ephemera, family photographs, and mass-produced objects. Is there a justification?
In assembling the Archive, we have followed some pragmatic principles:

  • What future users will find interesting and meaningful is almost impossible to predict.
  • If an item has been preserved by someone, that item had a precise significance for that person - this meaning is what we strive to capture and preserve.

We publish collections as a whole, resisting to the temptation of selecting only what is exceptional: images of striking visual quality, rare or valuable objects, memorabilia about famous people, engaging stories of heroic deeds. On the contrary, we remain committed to the broadest possible range of experiences. This is detailed in the Interpretation Plan for the International Bomber Command Centre, which is available on demand, and further discussed in question 2: Why does the Archive organise items into collections?

6) Is there a reason why you haven’t included narratives, stories, and interpretative text?
An archive preserves and publish primary sources in their unedited state, allowing people to explore the past from different angles, according to their own purposes. As archivists, our task is only to make this process possible, not to dictate its outcome. By catering for no specific user group, we cater for all user groups, present and future. Limited interpretative text is provided in the tag section for all archive items. You may be interested in other resources such as our curated online exhibits or the IBCC losses database.

7) Why are most descriptions so concise?
Our Archive is highly unusual in providing description at item or even page level, which we believe is a great aid to users. This calls for concision to allow all such material to be described in a reasonable timeframe. In addition, descriptions of items are mainly based on information gathered from the item itself, not from extended research. Our main mission is to make resources accessible and discoverable; for this reason, too, we have avoided slang, acronyms and technical language.

8) Items are published with a substantial black margin. Why is that?
The main function of the black margin is to act as integrity control:

  • It reassures that the document has been scanned in its entirety, and not arbitrarily cropped or manipulated.
  • It also suggests that the item published online hasn’t been scanned from a printed source (such as a book, newspaper or magazine) or downloaded from the internet, but rather reflects a tangible object that came in for digitisation.

Furthermore, the uninterrupted margin enhances the look and feel of a period document. This is especially important since the Archive has no control over the originals. Consequently, we strive to preserve both the information and the medium.
Finally, the margin has been consistently kept at 10mm and this help assess the actual size of the document digitised.

9) Why have some items been redacted?
In some very limited cases, a form of redaction has been carried out to protect the privacy of interviewees and lenders. In accordance with accepted standards of practice, the redaction has been made explicit by using either a continuous tone (audio materials) or a uniform grey patch (visual materials).

10) Searches for short keywords (617, Gee, H2S, DFC etc.) return no hits. Why is that so?
Keywords of three characters or less are normally not included in search results. This prevents the system from processing an excessive number of keywords of no significance (the, a, up, as, so, oh, etc.), while at the same time excluding matches with irrelevant pieces of information such as unique identifiers and file names.

Top tips:

11) Why am I getting so many hits while using the full text search?
There are two reasons for that:

  • The IBCC Digital Archive is unusual in that most items are fully transcribed, and this means that a substantial number of keywords has been added to the database. This enables searches for highly-specific pieces of information (names, places, service numbers, registration numbers, codes etc.) but the process brings up for display many irrelevant items as well. The word ‘Lancaster’, for instance, may have been used to denote an aircraft, the county town of Lancashire, part of an address (‘I lived in Lancaster road’), a surname (‘Burt Lancaster’) etc.
  • Our commitment to inclusion means that we consider all documents as of equal standing, without privileging images of outstanding visual impact, engaging narratives, or stories about highly decorated people. Unlike commercial search engines, which consistently display the ‘best’ items among the first hits, the IBCC Digital Archive is geared toward completeness, e.g. making sure that all relevant items are brought up for display and subsequent evaluation.

12) Is there a way to browse specific item types (diaries, logbooks, maps etc.) regardless of the collection they belong to?

Please use the following access points:

Type

Description

Artwork

 

Any artistic expression to be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities.

Examples: paintings, drawings, sketches, caricatures, cartoons etc.

Map 

Any representations of a portion of the Earth upon a flat surface.

Examples: escape map, road map, railroad map etc.

Map. Navigation chart and navigation log

Any representations of a portion of the Earth upon a flat surface, especially for navigation purpose.

Examples: navigation map, weather map, navigation chart.

Moving image

A visual work that has the appearance of movement.

Examples: period film footage, oral history interviews in video form.

Photograph 

An image recorded by means of on a light-sensitive material regardless of the process used.

Examples: transparencies, photo prints etc.

Physical object 

A three-dimensional object normally kept as memorabilia.

Examples: tools, lucky charms, models, keepsakes, pieces of equipment etc.

Physical object. Clothing 

Clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity.

Examples: uniforms, footwear, headgear etc.

Physical object. Decoration

Any formally recognized marks of honour denoting heroism, meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.

Examples: awards, decorations, medals, badges etc.

Sound 

Anything primarily intended to be heard.

Example: oral history interviews in audio form.

Technical aid

A set of instruction - published or otherwise officially issued - intended to improve the quality of a task or to teach the correct use of equipment, machinery or weaponry.

Examples: workbooks, reference manuals, instructions, hand-outs, tutorials etc. 

See also below: Text. Training material.

Text

Any document primarily intended to be read.

Text. Correspondence

Any kind of written communication, regardless of its medium and format.

Examples: aerograms, postcards, letters, telegrams etc.

Text. Diary 

A record of events, arranged by date, reporting what happened over the course of a period and normally intended to remain private or to have a limited circulation. Entries in a diary are discrete and usually written shortly after the events.

Examples: diaries, journals etc.

Text. Log book and record book 

A record of events marked with the time of an event or action of military significance.

Examples: crew logbooks, daybooks, operations record books etc.

Text. Memoir 

Any kind of personal remembrances, organised as a continuous narrative, usually based on memory and written after the events recalled.

Examples: memoirs, recollections etc.

Text. Personal research

A secondary source that collates, summarizes, evaluates, or discusses pieces information from other sources. The author did not usually take part in the events described.

Examples: notes for personal use, drafts, speech notes etc.

Text. Poetry

A written text that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke emotive responses.

Text. Service material 

Any document issued by an official authority regarding the service life of a specific individual.

Examples: enlistment, health, awards, disciplinary or discharge papers; tax forms and extract of service records etc.

Text. Training material

A set of handwritten notes, technical drawings, schematics and procedures, prepared by an individual for their personal use.

Examples: notes, hand drawings, handwritten manuals, step-by step procedures, troubleshooting guides etc.

See also above: Technical aid.

Note that  Type captures the way an item was originally intended to be used, regardless of its appearance. For instance, Text. Correspondence brings together for display all written documents meant to be sent, regardless of their specific form (aerograms, postcards, letters, telegrams etc);  Artwork allows the retrieval of items intended to be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, irrespective of medium (oil of canvas, pencil on paper etc.). This makes the Archive more user-friendly. There’s no need to know all variants beforehand and then reiterate searches: for instance, all enlistment, health, awards, disciplinary or discharge papers, tax forms and extract of service records are captured as Text. Service material.

The list has a parent / child structure (for instance, all memoirs are textual documents but not all text documents are memoirs). This allows refinements.

Top tips:

  • Items do not exist in isolation but are normally part of a complex tapestry of personal experiences preserved together as a collection. They normally consist of different item types such as text, sound, photograph, etc. A possible drawback of this approach is that contextual information may be overlooked. See also questions 2 and 17.
  • Some Archive items are complex objects with multiple item types. For instance, it’s quite common to find a logbook with pasted-on photographs, an object accompanied by a piece of poetry, or a diary illustrated by artworks. Some hits may appear incongruous at first glance: explore the whole document.
  • It's possible to use Type to refine keyword searches or tag browsing. Please see the relevant help page.
  • Aerial photographs are treated as a category of their own, understood as a concept rather than an item type. Discover them plotted on a map or via the section Aerial warfare and related concepts.

13) What’s the difference between Type and What item looks like?

The former captures the way an item was originally intended to be used, regardless of its material aspect, size, medium etc. The latter captures its physical features: number of pages, number of constituent parts, photographic process (b/w or colour), materials used etc. What item looks like is also a good predictor of relevance: all information being equal, a 200-page memoir is likely to provide a more detailed narrative than a 30-page one.

Another important difference is that Type is a controlled field, i.e. can only have the values detailed above in question 12.

14) What’s the difference between When item was created and Date?

The former is the actual date the item was made, i.e. the actual date a letter was written, a photograph taken, an interview recorded etc.; the latter captures when the document is about. They sometimes coincide but not always: for instance, an interview recorded in 2017 may be about events in 1944; conversely, a memo penned in 1939 may be about future events, plans and arrangements.

15) Is there a way to search for broad geographical regions?

Wide areas are normally not included in descriptive information. This includes hemispheres, continents, regions (Far East, Horn of Africa, the Balkans, Middle East etc.) and fronts (the Eastern Front etc.).

Direct entry points are provided only for the following regions:

Baltic Sea

The body of water enclosed by Denmark, Germany, Poland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Sweden, plus all places on its shores. It does not include the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland; its western limits are the Great Belt and Little Belt. 

North Africa

The northern portion of the African continent, which includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan. 

Ruhr Region

The Ruhr Region is conventionally defined as an irregular polygon whose corners include Wesel, Dorsten, Hamm, Hagen, Cologne, and Krefeld.

The main advantage is that they bring together for display items about all places within that region, supplemented by items about the same area considered as a whole. The link to the Ruhr Region, for instance, displays items in which Ruhr is the only spatial information available (we flew many operations to the Ruhr) combined with items about every place within that area (Essen works or Düsseldorf marshalling yards etc.).

In settling for these entry points, we tried to find a balance between user convenience, relevance to the strategic bombing warfare during the Second World War, and the nature of the material in our Archive.

Top tips:

  • Iterate searches for contemporary states in the area. For instance, while researching the Balkans, look for Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic etc.
  • Try full text search, also taking into account period usage. Remember that some regions were normally captured by using acronyms (FE = Far East). There’s a good chance to discover some items but this is bound to be incomplete. Aim to find at least one item about the region you’re interested in, then explore the relevant collection to discover more.

16) Is there a way to search for bodies of water?

Please try the entry points below. They refer to items about something that happened at sea or on a river, and do not include places along their coasts or banks. For instance, North Sea won’t retrieve items about Borkum; Danube won’t retrieve items about Wien. Some canals are plotted on the map.

Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic Ocean--Bay of Biscay

Atlantic Ocean--Cardigan Bay

Atlantic Ocean--English Channel

Atlantic Ocean--Flensburg Fjord

Atlantic Ocean--Great Belt (Baltic Sea)

Atlantic Ocean--Gulf of Saint Lawrence

Atlantic Ocean--Helgoland Bight

Atlantic Ocean--Irish Sea

Atlantic Ocean--Kattegat (Baltic Sea)

Atlantic Ocean--Kiel Bay

Atlantic Ocean--North Sea

Atlantic Ocean--Oslofjorden

Atlantic Ocean--Rockall Bank

Atlantic Ocean--Skagerrak

Danube River

Egypt--Aboukir Bay

England--Thames River

Europe--Elbe River

Germany--Weser River

Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea--Bay of Naples

Mediterranean Sea--Suda Bay

Ontario--Thunder Bay

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean--Alas Strait (Bali Sea)

Pacific Ocean--Java Sea

South China Sea

Note that the list has a parent / child structure (the North Sea is part of the Atlantic Ocean but the opposite is not true). This allows for refinement. 

17) The documents I’ve found are just a small part of what I was hoping to find. Is there any way to discover more?
New items are added on a regular basis. Furthermore, the information you are looking for may still be hidden inside a non-searchable document such as the scan of a letter or an interview available in audio form only; names can also be passing references that have not been captured by the cataloguers. Publishing,  transcription, and reviewing are ongoing processes, so please check the Archive regularly.

More documents can be discovered in other ways:

  • 17.1 The first-line choice is to explore systematically the relevant collection. All documents received by the same person or organisation are preserved and published as a whole. There’s a good chance of finding extra information by perusing all items with the same provenance.

    a) Since documents within the same collection tend to elucidate each other, additional information will automatically emerge in the process of browsing and collating items. For instance, the location a photograph may be unknown, although strong circumstantial evidence may quickly emerge while examining other items; a person may be unnamed in a photo while being clearly identified in another; an aircraft registration number may have been partially obscured while remaining fully visible in other photos.

    b) The description at collection level captures information applicable to all items in that collection, which is impractical to repeat each time. The same applies to albums or scrapbooks, which are treated as sub-collections.

    The link to the relevant collection can be found at the bottom of each item page: 

  • 17.2 See if the field Is Part Of has been added. This field brings up for display items that either: 

    - are part of a sequence (part 1, part 2 etc), or
    - share the same filing system (e.g. have the identical prefixes such as A, B, C etc.), or
    - came in for digitisation already bundled inside envelopes, boxes, portfolios, binders, sleeves, wrappers etc.

    These items must be seen in context: they may be about the same event, person, place etc. If a common theme can be worked out, then it is succinctly captured (e.g. Family photographs, aircraft, bombing etc.); if that is impractical, then a code is used instead (e.g. Folder PHouriganM1803). Note that Is Part Of normally reflects a physical organisation established by the donor before items came in for digitisation. 
  • 17.3 See if the field Item Relations has been added. This field links items that reference each other or derive one from another. For instance, an oral history interview may mention an object (and vice versa); a photograph was later used in a newspaper etc. Note that Item relations reflects a logical connection established by cataloguers after items came in for digitisation.

  • 17.4. See if the field Where has been added. This brings up for display items about the same place.

  • 17.5. Broaden the search by exploring the next geographical tier up, which is usually the relevant state. Many items can be only be associated with a broad political or geographical entity - ascertaining the exact place may be impossible or unpractical. Information about, say, El-Alamein may come up while browsing documents about Egypt or North Africa. Links are in place for that.

  • 17.6. Explore the Archive geographically and see if places nearby have been plotted on the map – these can yield interesting information. For instance, while researching a specific RAF station, extend the search to villages in the immediate proximity: personnel were billeted and/or spent off-duty time there. If you’re researching a specific crash site, look for places around: bailed out aircrews may have landed there. Maps can be accessed from the homepage.

  • 17.7. See if the field When has been added. This brings up for display items about the same date. If the date is complete (e.g. yyyy-mm-dd) there’s a good chance to retrieve relevant items, for instance documents about the same operation.

  • 17.8. Look at the tag list at the bottom of each item page.  Some point to highly specific events such as Bombing of Mailly-le-Camp (3/4 May 1944) or Operation Manna (29 Apr – 8 May 1945).

  • 17.9. Start from a menu of subject matters and topics. They bring together under a consistent heading all items about the same concept, regardless of alternative forms, spelling variants, abbreviations, colloquialisms, and the language used. For instance, if the person you’re interested in was stationed at – say – RAF Metheringam it may be worthwhile to browse systematically all items tagged as such.

  • 17.10 The menu of subject matters and topics is also especially useful when you have a grasp of the concepts you're interested in exploring, but don't know the exact term. The nested menu structure, the example chosen, and the supplementary statements are intended to assist in this process. This may lead to serendipitous discoveries.

18) Can I use an archive item for commercial purposes?
Unless otherwise stated, IBCC Digital Archive items are governed by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) licence. You can read the terms of the licence here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ If you want to use archive items for any other purpose, please contact the archive team.

19) Can I see the original of a digitised item or have it digitised again according to my specifications?
The IBCC Digital Archive has no physical collection: items are merely loaned to us for the purpose of digitisation and then returned to the owners. We are afraid, but we have no control on the originals unless they are part of a very small subset of items that have been permanently donated to us. Please contact the archive team for further information.
For the same reason, we cannot digitise according to specifications although in most cases we may be able to provide higher resolution, non-watermarked digital images or better-quality audio materials (600DPI TIFF scans or 16 BIT Waveform Audio File Format audio files). Limitations apply. Please contact the archive team for further information and see also question 18: Can I use an archive item for commercial purposes?

20) Can I contact the donor of an item?
The archive is bound by the UK General Data Protection Regulation. We cannot disclose their contact details without having first received their direct consent.

21) I loaned you a collection for digitisation and it’s not yet online. What has happened to it?
In view of the very advanced age of most of our interviewees, and of the endangered nature of many collections it has been a race against time to collect what we have. We have initially focused on preserving material at risk. This has led to a backlog which we are now clearing. This process is described in our collection policy. If you have any concerns or questions regarding the items you loaned us for digitisation, please contact the archive team.

22) The collection I loaned you for digitisation has not been published in its entirety. Why not?
There have been items in a collection that we have preserved but are unable to publish. This is mostly because these:

  • Are covered by pre-existing copyright. Examples include printed pamphlets, books and newspapers.
  • Are only tangentially related with the scope of the archive.
  • Are considered to contain a risk to the donor’s (or any other persons) right to privacy as defined by UK GDPR.

Some items may have additional limitations attached by their owners/originators. For example, certain oral history interviews can be accessed only at the IBCC Digital Archive or at the IBCC. This is in accordance with the conditions stipulated by the interviewee.
As a rule, we have exercised extra caution in publishing items produced after the early fifties due to the expiry dates of relevant copyright.

23) I’ve found an item which I think shouldn’t be public. What should I do?
If there is an item in the Digital Archive which you believe should not have been published, please contact the archive team quoting either the web address of the page or the item unique identifier. We will remove the item from the Archive website and investigate the complaint. If we believe the complaint is valid, the item will not be displayed again. If we believe the complaint to be invalid, we will contact the you giving our reasons and an opportunity to respond (right of reply), before deciding whether to reinstate the item. We reserve the right to take the final decision in such cases, taking into account our rights to material in terms of agreements made with donors.

24) I have a connection with Bomber Command and would like to be interviewed. What should I do?
Please contact the archive team. Be aware that the interview will likely be conducted on the phone given the COVID-19 pandemic.

25) I have a collection of Bomber Command items and would like it to be digitised and preserved. What should I do?
Please contact the archive team providing a concise inventory. This is needed to assess whether it is consistent with our collection policy.

26) Can I scan the items myself and send the digital files to the IBCC Digital Archive?
We prefer to scan items in-house (so that we can ensure that the relevant standards are followed), but we accept that some items may be too precious to allow them to be handled others. Therefore, scans can be accepted provided they are in line with our quality specifications. Please contact the archive team for advice before scanning.

27) Do you accept items in their physical form? (uniforms, memorabilia, personal papers, documents etc.)
We do occasionally accept physical objects that are offered as gifts, subjected to appraisal. In such cases ownership of the original is transferred to the IBCC Digital Archive and the donor is required to sign an agreement to this effect. Please be aware we reserve the right to decide on the use: this may include display in the exhibition, forming part of a handling collection, donation, or disposal. Other repositories may be a better choice for permanent donation. Please contact the archive team for guidance; see also our collection policy.

28) I’ve found a mistake online. What should I do?
We would love to hear from you. Please see the relevant page for guidance.

29) I’d like to help out. What should I do?
There are many volunteers’ roles available, including producing summaries of oral histories interviews, transcribing written documents, cataloguing items, working with aerial photographs, proofreading, and improving existing descriptions. Please contact the archive team for more details.
Furthermore, we have a mystery page as some items have evaded identification: we invite users to identify people, name objects, or recognize places, buildings and structures.