With the advent of accessible digital technology in the 1990s, image archive collections that were once the sole preserve of the conservator or researcher with white gloves could now be made available to all. Creating digital surrogates offered promise for increasing public access, however, not without considerable challenges in the making. This article recounts and reflects upon how a local authority aimed to make, potentially, 250,000 glass plate negatives in numerous different local history collections generally accessible by scanning and subject indexing. It considers the challenges of providing metadata that would best meet end-user needs in a touch screen public access system and how and why a hierarchical classification scheme was developed to allow productive browsing of these historic collections of everyday life. The photographic archive case study is then revisited through a twenty-first century lens, discussing latest developments and the potential of open source tools for multidimensional access.