The public have joined forces with academics and archivists to transcribe letters written between twentieth century book publishers and authors from The Hogarth Press publishing house, created by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. This co-created digital archive shines a light on this fascinating period, opening up a sample of Reading’s Special Collections to wider audiences.

Letters sent by Virginia and Leonard Woolf from their Hogarth Press publishing imprint and its authors are among 1,000 digital images that have been transcribed by volunteers for the University’s archives. Guided by archivists and academics, members of the public have worked remotely to transform selected twentieth century correspondence and financial documents into findable, searchable and more accessible records.

The virtual volunteering pilot project is part of The Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP), a digital archive focusing on book publishing and an international teaching and research project. Archivist Helena Clarkson and Sheila Fisher, Volunteer Coordinator, enlisted 29 local people, from students to history fans, to co-create a vibrant resource for the public and researchers alike. So far, they’ve spent over 500 hours transcribing more than 1,000 items. Along the way they’ve enjoyed glimpses into a period of publishing history when book-buying boomed and progressive new writers’ voices began to be heard.

The team at Reading designed their own training resources for the project which will be reused and shared with other libraries and archives partnering on MAPP. They’ve built on experiences of virtual volunteering beginning during the pandemic, engaging the local communities with collections. Furthermore, they have gained insight into participatory research and archiving methods, such as ‘gamifying’ the archiving process, strengthening equitable archiving practices and opening the University’s archives to ever broader audiences.

“I find the subject matter to be fascinating… this has meant I’ve genuinely enjoyed the work, which didn’t really feel like work at all. I really feel like I’ve been able to contribute to academia, and, more specifically, the field of twentieth century literature, even if it has been in a small way.” — Saniya Mehmood, Virtual volunteer

Judges' comment

“An excellent project which developed innovative activities for the public to contribute to academic research and where the mutual benefit of volunteering is clear.”

Team: Helena Clarkson, Nicola Wilson and MAPP virtual volunteers


  • Modernist Archives Publishing Project
  • University of Reading Museums and Special Collections
  • Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)