Once they are formed, the digital collections of cultural and collecting institutions do not exist in splendid isolation. As well as being aggregated data sets, digital heritage collections are also links to tangible objects and specific historical experiences. Digital collections may allow users to find the actual analogue objects from which they were derived, they may allow users to understand a particular historical experience (or a simulation of it), they may connect them to a particular place, or they may lead them to other digital collections. Digital heritage collections need to develop generous interfaces in order to maximise their unity across these different demands and to appeal to a variety of users. This article takes as its case study the digital database and interface made by the Australian-based research team, ‘Heritage in the Limelight: The Magic Lantern in Australia and the World’. It examines how the culture, ephemera and documentation around the magic lantern’s use in Australia across the nineteenth and twentieth century calls for its digital presentation in a dynamic, operational archive. The following piece surveys scholarly debates around digital collections that have informed the construction of the Heritage in the Limelight database and prototype Collection Explorer as well placing the creation of this Australian initiative in the context of work being done on lantern slide digital resources globally.