The End is Nigh

As we near the end of our traineeship we are busy completing projects, thinking about all we have learnt on our placements, and applying for new jobs. My last few projects at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service are a hand over pack for my absent voter project, photographs for the Explore the Past leaflet I have designed and a project to catalogue and care for the Kinver archaeology Collection.

absent voter pack

Absent Voters Hand-over Pack

The Absent voters from 1918 are being transcribed by a loyal band of volunteers I recruited and trained. I have supported them as they completed the work and congratulated them as they finished one book and moved to the next. But they in turn have supported me as I wrote up the project for my PG cert assignment. Now the volunteers know what they are doing I just need to leave a pack for my colleagues who will take over supervising the project.

David Sarah - archive (david)

A photograph of Sarah with volunteer David Bonnick taken by David Tyrell – for the Explore the Past leaflet

Meanwhile I have been running around trying to rope in photographers and models for some photographs to advertise the service. The staff and volunteers at WAAS, their children, and some students from the university as well as Tom from the Cathedral library, all kindly helped by posing for photographs, and I was lucky to find two very talented photographers to take the pictures. I have been researching and writing the leaflet for months, so it’s been lovely to get the last bit completed, and now it’s on the way to the printers.

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The finished boxes made by Sarah for the Kinver Archive held by Worcestershire Archaeology

And the archaeology project has given me a chance to learn more about the Heritage Environment Record, and to input items into it, while learning some more about archaeology. At the same time I have reinforced some of the skills I have previously learned in archival care and conservation, finally getting my head around how to make boxes to fit the archives.

It’s a little sad as each individual trainee departs on their new journey, but great for the project to revel in our success and I am really looking forward to my own new roles as I continue to apply all that I have learned here. I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity to work with so many experts at WAAS, and to be leaving the role to continue working within heritage.

Sarah Ganderton

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Red Sticker Day

Cataloguing items in the archives means they can be accessed by customers. This involves lots of different tasks and I had the opportunity to help: checking through a collection of log books from the Worcestershire fire brigade to see whether they could be used by the public. As a member of staff I was cleared to work with such confidential and sensitive information, so I was able to read samples of the books. Then under the guidance of the archivists I had to put stickers on the archives to avoid other people doing the same. The stickering bit was fun – yes I am just a big kid at heart.

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Sarah updating the inventory

I was able to read through the log books, learning about the bathing routine of the firemen. I could also see patterns of chip pan fires in the winter and grass fires in the summer. I read only a sample of the collection, but after a few years’ worth of log books I noticed a change in the format. Additional data started to be included. Now the names, addresses and phone number of callers, home owners and details of casualties were recorded. The data protection act states that data has to be protected where it can identify a person, so where all these facts were included the books had to be closed to the public. Sadly I will be the last person to read these records for some time – now that they have been closed for 84 years, (or 100 years where children were mentioned).

Boxes in the archives - complete with new red stickers

Boxes in the archives – complete with new red stickers

But, where I had to close the records I was able to play with the stickers. I have left a rash of red stickers in my wake – across the boxes on the shelves in the strong rooms, on the books inside the boxes, and even on the inventory. In this way, everyone can clearly see where I the boxes contain sensitive information, and are to be avoided.

Firemen's log books

Firemen’s log books

So now when customers and staff are searching within BA11011, boxes 1 to 14 and 91 and part of boxes 15 and 92 can still be viewed. But the rest can’t be viewed, in some instances, until 2085, which means my work will be recognised long after my placement has finished.

Sarah Ganderton

What is eating your collection?

We have turned into fledgling botanists-cum-poachers tracking down and hunting wild beasts – and museum pests are our prey.

insect 1We had no idea there were so many different kinds, all with their personal favourite hiding places, and diets. Some like the dark corners, under cases, where they munch on the carpet. Some venture into boxes and cases for a tasty morsel of skin, fur or textile. Others with a sharper tooth spend their lifetime wriggling through wood. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and can nibble at most things you might find in a museum or archive, if you don’t keep tabs on them.

insect from english heritage poster 2Luckily at the Archives there are very few live pests to worry about. A shiny new building with climate controlled strong rooms and carefully followed procedures mean only the most agile spider or fly can make it inside. But the conservator does deal with the evidence of insect attacks, after freezing everything to remove lodgers. Those books and documents scratched and gnawed by silverfish or left with delicate holes by the tiny Common Booklouse can be carefully put back together in such skilful hands, but it was interesting to learn more about the culprits.

At the Worcestershire Museums though the insect detecting now begins. The collection contains many stuffed animals, insect collections, textiles, carpets and wooden artefacts. These provide a veritable feast for biscuit beetles, furniture beetles, vodka beetles, and clothes moths, and require constant surveillance and control.

insect from english heritage posterThe National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent provided the perfect setting for this training course with Jayne Thompson-Webb with great (if repulsive) actual examples and a chance to look around the museum itself to assess any possible pest control issues. This was also an opportunity to network with professionals and volunteers from other midland museums and historic houses, including Coventry Transport Museum, Middleport Pottery and Wightwick Manor. If you are tempted to learn more about museum tests, you can follow this link to the English Heritage pest poster.

Sarah

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

The trainees had a wonderful day in London last week, visiting a range a museums and archives. At the Imperial War Museum, and the Wellcome Library, we met and talked to professionals. Both venues have recently refurbished and installed an area that invites curious visitors to get closer to the collections, and coming from my placement at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I was interested to see how both venues are attracting new audiences to research.

At the Imperial War Museum Tim Free the Visitor Engagement Officer kindly showed us around. He explained the new layout of the displays, with the idea of a ‘cluster’ of objections linked together by a story which really appeals to visitors. The new layout has ‘post-it’ style labels don’t reveal a lot about the artefacts, but in the Explore History area the most interested visitors can learn more.

Explore History

Visitors are invited to Explore History at the Imperial War Museum

During the time I chatted to the assistant in Explore History, several people popped in to utilise the touch-screens for information on the museum displays. But visitors can go further. The area is full of books that give more in-depth information about artefacts, while oral histories can be searched and listened to on the computers. And yet there is more. The assistant told me about the number of people who are inspired by their visit to the museum to research their family and local history. Via a collection of leaflets and the next door research room visitors can access original documents. This is a brilliant way to connect with visitors who are inquisitive enough to get started with research.

Wellcome Reading Room

Wellcome Library Reading Room: for the incurably curious

And the story at the Wellcome Library is a similar one. There I was met by Ross Macfarlane who showed me around the ever growing library of medical- and health-related books and artworks. The library was wonderfully spacious and quiet, with industrious students working away in each corner. But my favourite part of the library was the brand new Reading Room. Here, visitors to the Wellcome Collection are encouraged to be curious. Exhibits such as phrenology heads, and medical implements are displayed with very limited labels alongside connected books, copies of documents, images, and even medical equipment, to encourage visitors to search for themselves, to learn more about the objects. For a while we chatted about the area and the ideas behind it, while watching visitors look around and interact with the displays, before I could no longer resist and had to get my own hands on the books and artefacts.

It is such a brilliant idea to have an area in between museum exhibits and research collections. The new areas provide a link between museums and archives, breaking down the invisible barriers between visitors and documents.  Judging by the number of visitors enjoying the two London sites we visited, access to documents is popular with the incurably curious.

Sarah Ganderton

“Welcome to Dudley Archives”

Dudley Leaflets

Dudley Archives leaflets

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Dudley Archives

No, I didn’t get lost on the way to work. I had a day out at Dudley to see their new Archives and Local History Service.

Dudley Archives sent me some leaflets for another project I am working on, so more on that in a later post. The people and the place looked so inviting from the leaflet that I decided to visit.

It was lovely to see how a different archive is run and to meet the team. Rob Bennett the archivist met me and gave me a tour around the building, showing me the lovely new building. We saw the strong rooms and he pointed out the lift with teething problems as we took the stairs. The meeting rooms are beautifully decorated with local archive photographs, and the large room that holds the cooling system for the strong room is completely space aged. Rob even made time to explain to me the theory of cataloguing archive collections, which was really useful.

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Sarah at Dudley Archives

Sarah in Dudley Archives

Sarah hard at work at Dudley Archives

The building is shared with the home libraries team and the meeting rooms are used by local council departments, so there is a busy atmosphere to the place. The day I visited, there was a job centre plus meeting upstairs, and the Friends of the archives trained people to use the computers. Meanwhile, staff were putting together a World War One exhibition and preparing hand-outs for the next day’s visit of 100 school children. Yet Jane, Sophie, Luke and Phil still had time to welcome new users to the service – and to welcome me. Under their supervision I helped with locating and putting away boxes of archives for customers, and repackaging council archives.

I learnt lots while I was in Dudley, and I took away some new ideas and an appreciation of how different archives operate. I especially liked the friendly atmosphere and the welcoming feel of the building: it really was as welcoming as it looked from the leaflets.

I you are interested in archives from Dudley you can search their collections online or pop along and visit.

Sarah Ganderton

#DCDC14

Yesterday, Tom and Sarah and I travelled to Birmingham for the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference. This was the first conference that I have attended so I was unsure as to what to expect. However, I came out of it with some brilliant new ideas on how to promote my collections and more importantly how to forge partnerships and collaborate with other institutions and sites of cultural heritage. The Library of Birmingham was a fantastic setting for such an event as it promotes collaboration in itself, having both archives and a library accessible for all. Being open for only 14 months and already attracting just under 3 million visitors signifies what a great role the library has in the local community.

Birmingham Library

Inside Birmingham Library

The main themes that I picked up on throughout the day were collaboration, diversity and inclusion. This was to show how archives, museums and academia can work together to formulate stories and common experiences to heighten the impact and interest in their collections. This selection of varied institutions from across the heritage and cultural sectors created a discussion on future improvement and possibilities for further collaboration. It was inspiring to see this already in action through some of the speakers such as Kirsty Pattrick, from the Mass Observation Archive, who has been working alongside Lewes Prison Library to provide a voice for inmates who would otherwise be silenced in the pages of history. This project acts as a springboard for further engagement with offenders and provided them with a cathartic release within their rigid daily schedules. Another example of inclusive projects was provided by Katie Giles, from Kingston University Special Collections, who showcased the various ways in which she worked with both school children and adults with special educational needs. Her emphasis was on creative outputs and how to tailor to and inspire different audiences. One bit of advice I took from her presentation was to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

DCDC14

The programme cover for the conference

I was lucky enough to meet the author of the Special Collections Handbook, Alison Cullingford, whose book has been of great use to me during this placement. As I am responsible for the social media output here at the Research collections, her talk on the use of blogs and twitter was really helpful. She explained how to take an object and create a story around it as this is a more engaging approach that people will be more likely to take an interest in. Audiences like a good story and if you find an object within your collection that people would not expect you to hold then show it off, do not be afraid to stick simply to what people are expecting to see. I am hoping to visit Bradford University Special Collections soon to learn as much as I can from Alison and bring it back to Worcester.

The main thing I took from this conference was the confidence and inspiration to see how the seven placements across Worcester can take this notion of collaboration to increase engagement in our collections. I’m hoping to share what I have learnt with the others who did not attend to see what steps we can take towards working together.

Danielle Joyce, Tom Hopkins, Sarah Ganderton

Us outside the Library

For more information on the events search for #DCDC14 on twitter or follow @UWRColl

 

Danielle Joyce

Stanhope Forbes’ England, part 1

I was happy to find that one of the first things on my to-do list here at MAG was to help research and secure loans for our upcoming exhibition exploring Newlyn artist Stanhope Forbes’ paintings of England and its people.  As well as working towards the loans and interpretation, I’ve also drafted press-release for the exhibition. To let you know a little about Forbes and the show, here is a brief extract from my draft:

“Born in Dublin to an English Railway Manager and a French mother in 1857, Stanhope Forbes went onto study painting at renowned institutions in London including Dulwich College and Royal Academy, followed by the private Paris studio of French artist Léon Bonnat. But like many of the cutting-edge painters of his time, Forbes chose to leave the salons and art schools of the city in favour of rural areas of Brittany in France to paint the areas people, landscapes, and beautiful light. Working in France, Forbes adopted the fashion for painting en plein air – outdoors and from life. This practice captured the young Forbes’ imagination and he developed a skill for depicting landscapes and the people who live and work within them.

Stanhope Forbes, Chadding on Mounts Bay, 1902, Copyright Museums Worcestershire

Stanhope Forbes, Chadding on Mounts Bay, 1902, Copyright Museums Worcestershire

After searching for a picturesque town in England with a similar beauty of light, Forbes found this in Newlyn, Cornwall, and moved there in 1884 joining a growing group of artists. Here Forbes became a leading member of the Newlyn School – an artist colony dedicated to seeking out the picturesque and poignant in the lives and landscapes of England.

With the spirit of a colonial anthropologist, Forbes hunted out traditional life to record in paint, as well as documenting the growing rail network that linked these previously remote communities. Through pinpointing picturesque spots, hiring local people as models and painting from life, Forbes’s work tells an idyllic story of English life and character with his own powerful narrative voice.”

The full version of this text is currently in the hands of our marketing officer and I will post again when I have her changes and suggestions. I’m looking forward to hearing how text can be altered to bring out the marketable, popular and exciting.

Emalee Beddoes