Studying history helps to explain the past, interpret the present, and predict the future. The digital archiving of old documents serves various target groups seeking historical information online for different purposes. Leo Mechelin Foundation and the Prime Minister’s Office started a project, where Identio had the opportunity to be involved in building a new platform for the digital archive. We utilized modern technology to improve the discoverability and usability of this vast archive.
The Leo Mechelin archive had previously been built on an existing platform. However, the archive’s website faced various usability issues, which were attempted to be fixed by building a new system on top of the old existing one. In such development projects, there usually comes a point where limitations are reached, and the same happened with the Leo Mechelin archive. Its development could no longer continue on the old platform.
The previous development of the platform had not been documented, making it challenging to understand past development efforts. The website also lacked essential features, such as a search function. Due to technical challenges, the old site was not visible on search engines, which meant that no one would discover archived texts through search engine queries. This was one of the project’s key challenges and could not be solved with minor technological changes or fixes.
Since this was a project of the Leo Mechelin Foundation and the Prime Minister’s Office, with a defined beginning and end, it was essential to find a long-term solution. The website needed to stand the test of time and operate with minimal maintenance for years after the project’s completion.
It was important to me that communication is easy and that the contacts wouldn't change during the project. Communicating with Identio during the project went smoothly.
The goal of the project was to publish various sources and documents preserved in the Leo Mechelin Archive of the National Archives. This involved a total of tens of thousands of documents. Material was also collected from other archives and libraries.
Since it was a small-scale project, hiring an in-house software developer was not an option. An external partner was needed for support. The project found Identio through our strong presence on social media, which made it easy to be in touch. It was important that once a suitable partner was found, work could begin quickly and agilely.
The first step was to assess the overall situation regarding the platform and the website, as well as determine the best approach for development. It was clear that building on top of the existing infrastructure was no longer feasible.
Together, we made several good decisions regarding the progress of the project. Outdated technologies were replaced with modern ones that would also be viable in the future. Technology choices were crucial for search engine discoverability as well. Next.js was chosen for the frontend, and Python was used to develop the search engine and document indexing on the website. As a first feature, we specifically built the search engine, which was integrated into the existing old site. This ensured that the client could quickly access a highly valued feature that also provided significant value to end-users of the website. After these steps, we were able to focus on revamping the website itself. This approach allowed us to keep the old site operational during the renovation.
The new search page now allows users to browse Leo Mechelin’s writings using search terms and filters. Language support for both Finnish and Swedish was implemented on the search page, enabling users to read texts in either language. The goal was to create a fast, user-friendly search page that could easily be integrated into the current site. The search engine component has already served numerous users and has proven to be a desired feature among users.
Towards the end of the project, we also implemented a directory of people on the site. The directory allows users to search for individuals and their information related to the archive’s sources and documents.
Even though not all the details of the project were clear, we solved them together with the client through good discussions. We maintained a strong level of trust throughout the entire process.
The new digital archive was built to withstand the test of time. Its functions have been designed and developed to serve numerous target groups interested in 19th-century history. Rewriting the entire website improved its speed, enhanced existing features, and enabled the development of new functionalities. The website’s content is now visible in search engine listings, and important features such as the internal search function serve the site’s visitors. Texts can be read on the site in both national languages.
The website’s functionality is now more predictable and clear, requiring only minor updates for maintenance. It was important for the client to be able to easily update the site themselves and publish a new version after each update. Therefore, we also helped establish a working process for updating. The Leo Mechelin Archive will continue its operations even after the project between the Leo Mechelin Foundation and the Prime Minister’s Office comes to an end.
Technology choices and design of a new, modern and scalable website
Search engine development and implementation on both the old and the new site
Building the new site to enable future development needs and updates
Designing and building a people directory as part of the new website
Leo Mechelin (1839–1914) was a Finnish politician, developer of state institutions, economic influencer, legal expert and leading defender of the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland.
The Leo Mechelin archive is a digitized collection that brings together historically and socially important materials in one place, openly accessible to the public. The archive allows users to search for digitized writings that depict Mechelin’s life and era using various keywords and filters. The texts can be read on the website in both national languages.