A VAST archive containing thousands of records from Oxfordshire’s history is to be safeguarded in a digital “cloud”.

The Cowley-based Oxfordshire History Centre said the new storage system would allow it to better protect the original material for future generations.

It has signed a £15,000 deal with Preservica to create a digital strongroom of its most popular records, initially amounting to about 14 terabytes, almost enough to store about 28 years of music in cyberspace.

The “cloud” is actually a bank of servers in a warehouse in Dublin.

It will include about 120,000 digital pictures from the 1850s to the present, prints and drawings from before the age of photography and 4,000 oral history and radio recordings made since the 1960s and the records of 300 church parishes.

Some of the photographs preserved even come from the Oxford Mail’s archive at Newspaper House.

History centre manager Mark Lawrence said: “Over the past 15 to 20 years many libraries and archives started scanning material to make them more accessible and that has produced an enormous amount of material.

“The county council has been taking care of ours up until now, but it doesn’t really have the infrastructure to carry on running it.

“This is a very significant step for us, because it puts our digital material on a sure footing. It is the electronic equivalent of a strongroom that will keep the county’s heritage secure and safe.

“We will focus on providing digital services for things like photos and church records, which are in demand at the moment.”

The system will be future proof, he said, which means the formats of the digital records will be continuously updated to keep pace with modern technology.

The centre gets about 5,000 visitors every year and since January has had 40,000 people access the online archive.

Residents will still need to visit the history centre to view certain records that are not already accessible at pictureoxon.com But Mr Lawrence said the digital copies would never replace the originals.

“The crux of what we do is trying to strike a balance between preserving material for future generations but also making it accessible for the public now.

“We would never throw away the originals, because you never know what future generations might be able to do with it, but in our lifetimes we can do our bit to reduce excessive handling.”

Mr Lawrence said the initial cost of the project was about £15,000, rising to about £18,000 annually as the size of the collection increased.

The history centre is located in St Luke’s Church in Temple Road. It is open 9am to 5pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays, and 10am to 5pm on Tuesdays.