German Heritage in Letters

Not all libraries, staff, volunteers and communities are the same: we use a tailored approach and adapt our plans to local needs and requirements.

We worked with the German Historical Institute, Washington DC (GHI) on devising and developing a platform for sharing and transcribing a collection of correspondence between Germany and the US for their German Heritage in letters project.

We were tasked with creating a modern, clean and user-friendly website for the project, as well as working with the GHI to launch a platform for users to contribute their own photos, letters and transcriptions to the project.

The project started from initial sketches, branding and workflow discussions which led to the launch of a new platform built using Omeka and Scripto. We created a custom, responsive theme using the Foundation CSS framework. One of the main goals of the project was to make it welcoming for potential collaborators so there was a strong focus on friendly and welcoming language and user-friendly workflows for users of all skill levels.

An important part of the project was to highlight the amazing German Heritage in Letters collections and the significance of this correspondence as vital and insightful historical records.

We worked closely with the German Historical Institute to help them share these fascinating stories of the collections as well as the story of the project itself.

Telling the stories of the project and the collections

Letters are fascinating artefacts that can reveal so much about people’s experiences of migration. We worked closely with GHI to help them share these fascinating stories of the collections as well as the story of the project itself. The landing page was designed to highlight these stories and to encourage people to contribute their own.

The power of metadata and enhanced discoverability

Using the Omeka Classic platform allowed us to utilise advanced metadata support and discoverability features while also creating a user interface for the public-facing pages that was easy to navigate for non-technical users.

Users are able navigate through the correspondence in a number of ways, including browsing the items and collections, searching by keyword and via various exhibitions and links between interconnected items.

Friendly crowdsourcing

The transcription functionality is provided by Scripto integration with Omeka and we wanted to guide users through the workflow to minimise the impact of using two different systems together.

It was also important to ensure that new contributors understood the process and the different ways that they could get involved. This meant ensuring that there was sufficient onboarding in place for new users and that they had plenty of help and guidance for their interactions with the site.

Transcription advice was embedded at different points through the user interface in order to help just at the point when users needed it. And in order to make transcription possible, collection items needed to be available in high quality, with the ability for users to zoom and navigate through pages of correspondence.

We also wanted to show the transcription and translation data together alongside the letter images to provide users with a complete picture of the items in the collection (and the status of any transcription work underway).

Providing avenues for further user-driven design

We work in an iterative, user-driven way and so we are continuing to work with GHI to hear feedback from users and we continue to improve the experience to ensure people can participate and contribute as the project continues.

You can visit the German Heritage in Letters project at