At the suggestion of the Publications Committee we have been working to bring the NCHT into the world of electronic information. The objective here is twofold: firstly, to provide better communication among the membership and the wider world, and secondly to preserve our existing and future materials, primarily the annual Journal, in a form that is both long-lived and easy to store and manage. It should be stressed that there is no intention to discontinue any of the existing paper methods of communication, merely to add to them. There is a saving in removal of the need to keep multiple paper copies of the Journal. Remember that the British Library keeps one copy for us anyway.
Future issues of the Journal will exist in paper form as now, and also on the World Wide Web. There will also be a commitment to keep an electronic master copy. Members will have the option of receiving reminders of events as e-mail messages, and they will be able to check the current programme on the web, where they will find more information than can be fitted on the members' programme card. Organizers of events will be able to add such information to the web site with a minimum of formality or complexity.
In due course a unique domain name will be purchased for the site, but at the moment a trial version is being hosted on the Settle District U3A web site. It is available for inspection at the URL:
The main pages of the web site are simple to navigate, containing all the basic information about the NCHT, together with information on the Committee, the Sunday walks, Outings, Lectures etc. Pages are also included on How to Join, the Gift Aid Scheme, Publications, Health and Safety Advice on Walks, Archived material, and the Historic Churches Fund. There is also a Noticeboard, which will be regularly updated; other pages will be added as and when required.
The most challenging and interesting part of the development of the web site was the transfer of the annual Journals to the web. As a digital form of the Journals, which date from 1992, was not available the first task was to scan each page of every Journal. This was done by Mike Slater; a CD ROM of the Journals in this format is available from him. This gives a digital picture of each page. Although these pictures can be put onto a web site they would take a user with a modem (Broadband not yet being available in the NCHT area) too long to download due to their relatively large size. Moreover they cannot be searched electronically for, say, key words, as of course there are no words! Consequently the next stage was to pass each of the digitized pages through a program, which attempted to convert them to characters and words, while keeping any pictures on a page as such. Although this software is 'clever' errors are incurred; for example, the picture of the word 'died' was usually read as 'thed', and 'audience' as 'authence'. In addition words as part of a diagram were usually wrongly placed in the main body of an article away from the diagram itself. Some errors were easily corrected with a spell checker, although this turned out to be time-consuming, as there are many unusual words in the Journals which do not appear in a standard computer dictionary.
The final step took these word pages and formatted them into web pages for easy reading. Each article was then given a final proof reading, by Mike Slater. Placing future Journals on the web will be much simpler, as we will start with digital text and images supplied by authors.
The web is about providing access. An archive is slightly different since its primary function is to be a long-term historical record. We are keeping the images of the Journal pages as an archive. These are just computer files, and currently are stored on CD. As technology moves, they will be copied to different media. Digital copies are identical to the originals, so there is no loss of quality. Future NCHT members yet unborn will be able to see the Journal, just as it originally looked, on their 22nd century screens. However, for searching through the material, we really need the text available as text, not just as a picture of the text. This is where the material on the web is in a more convenient form. Not only can we load it more quickly, in due course the search engines of the web will find our material, and people all over the world with an interest in rural history will start to discover the groundbreaking work of the NCHT.
We regard this very much as a web site under development and would genuinely welcome as much feedback and suggestions for future development as possible.