Bentley Beetham, a schoolmaster at Barnard Castle School, highly-regarded natural history photographer and avid rock climber was selected, along with a handful of others that included George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, to join the ill fated British expedition in 1924 to scale Mount Everest. Mallory and Irvine lost their lives on Everest that year and to this day it is unsure as to whether they made the summit or not. The question of 'did they, or did they not?' is the biggest mystery yet to be solved in mountaineering history!
The Bentley Beetham Collection website gives access to a large collection of images, maps, strategy papers and newspaper clippings from and about the 1924 expedition. The collection paints a portrait of Tibet shortly after the turn of the century, a fateful moment in history, as well as life in Barnard Castle, the surrounding area of Teesdale and Bentley Beetham's mountaineering exploits in the Alps, Tatra and Atlas mountains.
The website is the end product of a year-long HLF funded project and long-term partnership between The Bentley Beetham Trust and Palace Green Library, Durham University. MGH Consultants secured the contract after completing the MLA North East's pioneering Supplier Training Scheme.
The Bentley Beetham Collection consists of approximately 1150 glass plate slides, partially catalogued by Bentley Beetham, two photographic albums containing nearly 1000 images, many produced from the surviving glass-plates but with interesting handwritten captions, newspaper clippings, expedition strategy papers and maps.
We assisted the Bentley Beetham Trust and Durham University’s Palace Green Library by putting together a detailed project, specification, process, budget and timescale for the delivery of digitisation services, cataloguing, repackaging, metadata input, archiving to DVD, collections reports, collections catalogue database development, branding, website development and website content copywriting. We also advised on delivery standards for scanning facilities, image scans and website code and content.
The detailed budget breakdown and timescale report allowed a comprehensive funding application to be put forward to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Working on-site at Palace Green Library in order to minimise risk to the collections, items were scanned in a room optimised for purpose in terms of heat, light, humidity, workflow and equipment. Each item was lightly cleaned and carefully catalogued as it was scanned at either 300, 600 or 1200 dpi, depending on its format. Items were then repackaged and taken back to archival storage conditions. At all times, exposure to unnecessary heat, light, humidity or foreign contaminants was kept to a minimum.
In order to prepare catalogue information for the intended website and to allow easy mamnagement of the collection from within the Durham Universoty's archive a bespoke MySQL database was designed and built. Existing catalogue information (from Bentley Beetham’s typed and handwritten information) that was input into a spreadsheet during the scanning process, was mapped to this database and transferred. A password protected web interface was built as a tool for managing the collection information, enabling the tagging of additional information for use on the collection website, and for content managing the presentation of the collection on the internet in logical themes whilst enhancing the public database search facility. This backend catalogue tool allows both The Bentley Beetham 1924 Everest Trust to access and amend collections details as well as Palace Green Library who administer access to the collection held on their premises and copyright licensing.
An aesthetically pleasing, high impact, easy-to-navigate website was essential to delivering the public interface for the collections.
An eStrategy that identified and detailed potential user-journeys, menu structures, potential page content, search features, thematic and graphical information presentation styles as well as standards and best practice formats to comply with was drafted and presented to the project partners.
Following approval of the eStrategy a brand was developed for the collection and graphical design drafts were brought together and presented to the Trust and Palace Green Library.
On approval of the design draft designs, production began.
Domain names were registered and a hosting account set up. A simple but extremely powerful, very easy-to-use content management system was installed on the server and the production of the template designs began to take life on the internet.
MGH Consultants converted and optimised the c. 2200 high-resolution scans into web-friendly images, both thumbnail previews and large format screen display versions and uploaded them to the web.
At the same time as producing the content, MGH Consultants began work, in collaboration with subject specialists and members of the Bentley Beetham Trust, on the production of user-friendly page content and interesting and enticing galleries – all created to encourage the user to advance to the main collection catalogue, to delve into the collection and hopefully to become moved and excited by it, to the point that they want to investigate more.
Meanwhile, the collections catalogue database was in full use as MGH Consultants tagged each and every image from the collection with relevant metadata so that the website could interact with it with a userfriendly search facility as well as through thematic and geographical references. This allowed for versatility in the production of content and the presentation of alternative ways to look through a large collection.
The additional meta-tagging carried out for the website will allow for future expansion of the content and also for new formats of user-journey to be developed.
Furthermore, the collections catalogue database has been created so that it can be expanded both in metadata fields but also in the types of images that can be added to it. It is likely that the Bentley Beetham 1924 Everest Trust’s Chairman, Mr Graham Ratcliffe, MBE, will add images of Everest from his own collection in a sort of, ‘Compare & Contrast’ fashion.