Last week I attended my first gathering for members of the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts (GLAM). The University of Worcester Research Collections has recently become a member of this group and I was glad to attend as a representative of my workplace. The meeting was held at the British Library in the Conservation Studios and was made up of 35 archivists, librarians, curators, writers and researchers. GLAM was established in 2005 and was initiated by The John Rylands University Library, at The University of Manchester. GLAM is an independent organisation which supports the collecting, preservation, use and promotion of literary archives and manuscripts in Britain and Ireland.
The focus of the day was on negotiations within acquisitions of archives and the issues that may arise as a result of these discussions. I gained a lot from this meeting as I was able to talk with and listen to institutes who purchase collections rather than relying solely on donations from generous depositors. Although this was not directly relevant to my current workplace it was useful to understand the methods which other repositories undertook in order to secure their collections. The advice that was provided widened my knowledge of the archive sector and helped to situate our current position at the Research Collections.
The next topic of discussion was on the benefits and issues of using living or recently deceased creators. Having a creator and/or depositor who is still alive can greatly enhance the understanding and context of the material being housed. They can be interviewed and their statements can be recorded within the archive and they may even be available for future questioning if any uncertainty arises. On top of this, a living depositor can also answer questions relating to access and allow certain permissions of access to their own work. However, an issue that may arise is one of sensitivity. Their collection is their work and so it is difficult to place a value (whether research potential or financial) on their material without causing any undue offence. It is important to remain empathetic when dealing with depositors as many will see the removal of their work as a cathartic process; this is particularly true in cases where the creator has recently passed away.
The next meeting of GLAM is in October and will be a 10 year celebration of the group. I am hoping to attend as it was great to discuss how different bodies manage their collections and it was nice to see the level of support amongst members.
The University of Worcester provides great staff development opportunities for its employees; including mindfulness, time management and software skills, to name just a few. I thought I would make use of this opportunity during my time at the Research Collections and was recommended to attend a course on Minute Taking and Servicing Meetings. Initially I was apprehensive as I thought that spending a day learning how to take effective notes was a little excessive. However, I was wrong and I actually learned quite a lot from this session which will benefit both my traineeship and hopefully my future career.
The programme was provided by the enthusiastic Jill Bowman from On Target Training who took us through the full protocol of how to service a meeting alongside the Chairperson. In previous experience, I have frantically written notes verbatim until my hand hurt and my energy had gone. This was because I was unaware of the level of detail required and wanted to make sure I did not miss anything important. This is a very ineffective and inefficient method of writing minutes as you recite information which does not need to be recorded and lose focus of the main points of discussion. Jill suggested that minutes needed to contain the following components:
- Background – why was this item brought to the agenda?
- Discussion – what are the views surrounding it?
- Decision – what conclusions have been made?
- Action – what has to be done? By who? And when?
The decision and action points could be interchangeable but one of them is required for each agenda item. This is all you need to ensure that your minutes are informative and relevant whist capturing areas for concern and objectives for the future. Focus on what the key issues are and make sure these are fully represented in your minutes. The best minutes come from a good rapport with the Chair as they can summarise and go over points to ensure that everyone understands and that you have recorded the discussion correctly.
The day increased my confidence in minute taking and pushed me to try new techniques to enhance my efficiency both in and after meetings. I am very grateful for the opportunity and would recommend the course to anyone who, like me, felt they did not need specific training on the subject.
I will leave you with some top tips from Jill:
- If you are new to minute taking, do your research on the attendees and try to understand the topic of the meeting.
- Sit by the Chair – you can quickly ask questions and clarify any notes with little disturbance to the meeting.
- Once the meeting is finished find a quiet place to immediately read over your notes – clarify your words and make sense of your text whilst it is still fresh.
- Try to compile a rough draft of your minutes (for your eyes only) within 24 hours of the meeting to ensure that you retain as much information as possible.
- Make sure what you present is a true representation of events at the meeting as they will need to be agreed by the attendees / Chair.
Receiving an award from the Worcestershire Historical Society for my Independent Study
Just lately, my working life, academic study, and spare time have all been about the Worcester Infirmary. I have been preparing to deliver my first ever workshop and it is based on my independent study about local funders of Worcester infirmary. I received a fantastic grade for the original work and subsequently two great prizes, the latest presented by the Worcestershire Historical Society. And now I am ready to present my research to the public. I hope.
The Worcester Infirmary board room
Like similar services around the country, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service offers courses and workshops to the public to help customers with their research and show them what we have. This also helps the service to maintain its reputation with customers new and old, and to generate a small amount of income to cover costs. When I first arrived I sat in a few very interesting workshops and when I offered to run one myself that’s where the work really began. It is one thing to have written an academic piece of work, but quite another to develop that into something I can deliver in an interesting way to the public.
My independent study and the Worcester Infirmary minutes
In preparation for my workshop, I have attended some workshops by other members of the team, and taken staff training at the university on how to train and deliver research. I even used training as for my last assignment for the PG Cert in Leadership and Management. And I have practiced public speaking by talking to colleagues and students.
Picture curtesy of the George Marshall Medical Museum: Postcard of Worcester Infirmary 1914
Now the time is drawing near. I have done further research on different subscribers to the Worcester Infirmary to be able to tell their stories in the workshop. I have delivered research in tours and talks as preparation for the big day: a successful tour of the Infirmary for Worcester Belles WI and a talk for University of Worcester history students. I have advertised on social media, helped to write a press release, and now a blog post….now there is nothing more to do but to walk into the room and deliver my workshop on 19th May at 2pm at the Hive. Places on this workshop can be booked through this link.
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.
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
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
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.
Last month Lily and I attended the Museums Association’s conference for early career professionals, Moving On Up. This year held in Leicester, the event “aims to help people increase their confidence, meet new contacts and find out about innovative and creative ways of getting ahead rather than just relying on traditional career paths.”
The entire day felt very positive and inspiring, and I particularly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Kathryn Perera and Hilary Jennings, which focused on aligning your values and goals with who you are as a person, wellness and fulfilment. Both speeches could have applied to virtually any sector, and were a reminder of things to consider beyond a role’s tasks and practical aspects such as salary or commute time when job hunting.
Charlotte Holmes from the MA then led a session on professional development and goal setting, asking us to reflect on where we were seven years ago, where we see ourselves in seven years’ time, and one step we would take within the next year to be closer to the future vision. The session made me wonder what will happen within the next seven years, as the past seven for me have seen a lot of growth and change – in 2008, I was in my first year of sixth form.
There were also sessions on interviewing and a Q&A with three museum directors (Maggie Appleton, Tony Butler and Iain Watson) who spoke about how they got to where they are now. One of the things that really stood out to me from the Q&A was not to underestimate the value of experience from outside of the sector. I think it is easy when pursuing a career in heritage to think that heritage experience will always be the most important thing on your CV, but many of us have worked in other industries and have gained useful experience there. An example Iain Watkins gave in relation to this is that everyone he has hired into the retail arm of Tyne and Wear Museums has come from a retail background.
I found the day really useful as as we are now well over the halfway point of the traineeship, I will soon need to begin to think about my next steps. The message of not being afraid of a meandering career path and the value of transferable skills was a pertinent one to hear when I will be soon be re-entering into such a competitive and relatively unstable heritage job market; I’m well aware that I will most likely need to be flexible about both sector and role when it comes to my next position!
You can read the MA’s round-up of the day here and a blog based on Kathryn Perera’s keynote speech here.
We have turned into fledgling botanists-cum-poachers tracking down and hunting wild beasts – and museum pests are our prey.
We 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.
Luckily 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.
The 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.
I have a love-hate relationship with Regina Spektor’s 2012 song All the Rowboats. On the one hand, it is a cool song about museums and art galleries; on the other, it deals with a concept that cuts close to the bone for museum professionals. The song title refers to The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer that hangs the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the lyrics describe artefacts as imprisoned in museums:
First there’s lights out, then there’s lock up
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences
It’s their own fault for being timeless
There’s a price you pay and a consequence
All the galleries, the museums
Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs
And, one of the most galling images:
But the most special are the most lonely
God, I pity the violins
In glass coffins they keep coughing
They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing, how to sing
A recent event at at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum made me think of this song and pointed out that while Spektor can write a great tune, she has little idea of inventiveness and care of museum professionals. Thanks to the efforts of Senior Curator Philippa Tinsley, Marketing and Events Manager, Helen Large, and cellist Julia Palmer-Price, on 20th February, the incredible trench art oil can cello in Museums Worcestershire’s collection broke a silence that may have lasted for just under 100 years.
The beautifully and inventively crafted cello was created during the war by Reginald Quelch who served as a sapper with the Royal Engineers. He lived in Pershore and died at the age of 94 and his cello was subsequently donated to the museum. Last Friday, visitors to World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People and members of the press had the privilege of hearing an evocative rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on this poignant instrument.
To continue to preserve this singular artefact it will certainly be some time before it is played again, but this event is a fabulous example of how as museum professionals we can balance care and calculated risk to both preserve objects and allow them life.
You can still see the cello on display at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery in World War I in the Words of Worcestershire People until march 14th.