Friday, 27 June 2014

Libraries & Archives : the Yin and Yang of Research

Cornish Studies Library
strong room

Last week, I visited Cornish Studies Library, with many of my library colleagues. Here they hold a large array of resources, all with a connection to Cornwall or Cornish history. The collection includes more than 30,000 books & pamphlets, over 30 local newspapers on microfilm and a collection of photographs reaching above 160,000 in total.
CSL (Cornish Studies Library) was once managed alongside the Cornwall County Council libraries but now works more closely with Cornwall Records Office. I was intrigued by the concept behind this Centre as it bridges the gap between libraries and archives. Their most common enquiries are those regarding family history and the history behind people’s houses, more akin to those we expect to come across in archives, but holds mainly published sources, as a library would.
In 2017 CSL will move to a shared site with the Cornwall Records Office and Scilly Historic Environment Records as part of a wider archive and local studies centre, Kresen Kernow. This will allow the user to conduct research into Cornish history using primary and secondary sources, side by side. This seems a very logical and intuitive idea which will simplify the research path for the user, by having everything under one roof available to them, with archive and library staff working alongside one another.
I would be very much interested to see the new arrangement once in place. This concept is arguably not too dissimilar from the position of our Archives situated inside Tremough Library. We often work closely with the campus Academic Liaison Librarians because we find we regularly direct students in their direction when we feel the Librarians may be able to offer suggestions for other resources that are available for the student to develop their research.
Our Special Collections further this relationship as both the Archive service and Library staff members have input into their care. For example, we may promote the collections through displays and Twitter, whilst the library staff will manage the processing and shelf rotation. There may also be a possibility in future that I will be more involved with the processing of these books, working alongside my library colleagues. 
With Archivists and Librarians facing similar challenges, such as working within the boundaries of copyright legislation and promoting access, it is extremely beneficial to keep these lines of communication open between the world of Libraries and the world of Archives. A traineeship in a Higher Education institution has been a perfect opportunity to encounter this and I hope that it will be something I can learn more about in my future career – how can the two professions work with each other to achieve similar goals? What can we learn from one another?
If anyone has worked within both libraries and archives themselves or have come across other centres which bridge this gap then it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Beginning to Update the Tremough Resource List

This week I have begun updating the History of Tremough Resource List , which is one of the many tasks the trainee will work on each year. For those of you who are not familiar with this list, it is a Research Guide, produced by Grace (2012-13 trainee) to offer users suggestions and direction towards where they might be able to find out more about the history of the Tremough Estate, which Penryn Campus is built on.
Unfortunately we do not hold many archives directly relating to the campus’ history (a growing number nonetheless!) but, understandably, we are often first port of call for those looking for such. This has therefore been a fantastic alternative to offer keen researchers.
Tremough House

When I first came to Tremough, I found it so unusual yet intriguing to see a historic house and grounds as the basis with a University Campus. Like many, I immediately wanted to know the back story behind this estate. Boasting a long history, that can be traced as far back as 1309, with early references to a Nicholas de Tremoghe, the estate has been everything from the C18th home of the Sheriff of Cornwall to a convent school in the C20th. I can very much understand the student interest.

Tremough House
Before I began to edit the list, I first and foremost did a bit of preliminary research into what makes a good resource list. It seems there are many archives who have likewise found producing guides useful for offering suggestions to aid our readers’ research.

Some particular favourites have been the Postal Heritage Archive Research Guides found here which include the use of highlighted tables, timelines and images from the archives to break up the text. The ultimate goal of a guide is always to find a way to present large quantities of information in an accessible way, and these are just some of the ways of achieving this. The West Yorkshire Archives also employ coloured borders and bullet points carefully to reach this same aim.

I’m looking to employ similar formatting techniques for our guide as well as editing the list to mimic the path a researcher would naturally wish to take when exploring resources – starting with books held here at Tremough library, on the Penryn Campus, and leading finally to archive material held further afield.
The really exciting part will be that I am able to undertake some additional research myself, with potential visits to local institutions, such as Penryn Museum, to see what resources I can uncover and add to the list.

As well as building on our knowledge of the sources that can be found locally, shifting from the role of research facilitator to researcher at regular opportunities is also beneficial when working in archives to maintain an understanding of the needs and aims users may wish to have met, which can only strengthen my ability to provide a good service in the Archives.  You can follow my progress in the search for resources on this blog.

 Now that I am feeling rather inspired, I am ready to get stuck in and hopefully do justice to all of Grace’s hard work and invaluable research. What will the next trainee add I wonder?

Tremough garden

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Lights, Camera, Action: Part Two

Filming has finished and the edited results are back .... here is our Graduate Trainee Programme video:

Despite the nerves, I am pleased I could take part in promoting the Traineeship, it has been a nice chance to express my appreciation for the opportunities I have had and remind myself of the goals I am still eager to achieve during my short time here. It really does fly by and I endeavor to make the most it whilst it lasts!
And, of course, not forgetting my trainee profile video too:

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

An Introduction to Conservation

We recently spent two days with a conservator to receive some specialist advice on how to best preserve our holdings. A number of Archives do not have an in-house conservator therefore many, such as ourselves, pay an annual fee to receive advice and visits from external conservators to recommend how to best care for particularly fragile archives.

It is really interesting how the main aims and goals of long term preservation are shared by Archivists and Conservators yet those who work in archives are rarely given formal training in conservation techniques, which is what makes these visits so important.

Day 1

In our Archives we hold reel tapes, contained in metal tins, which belonged to photographer Ian Stern, currently suffering from deterioration, which  crucially need to be repackaged, in order to slow this process of deterioration down prior to digitisation.
The conservator, Claire, believed it is important to suggest methods that are achievable with the resources and budgets available to individual institutions. Therefore she taught us a simple way of making temporary envelopes out of the Microchamber paper, that we already had, which removes by-products of pollutants in the atmosphere. The envelopes were constructed using a clever folding technique which meant they did not need harmful adhesives to hold them together.
I was struck by how our Archivist, Sarah and Claire together decided that it was best to keep the reel tapes with their original metal tins, when repackaging, as although they are not archival containers, they believed the many finger prints on them were just as much a part of the record as the tapes themselves.

Day 2

On day two, we travelled up to the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus to join our colleagues here for further training with Claire in book cleaning. These skills will be particularly useful with our increased responsibility for Special Collections.

With a cardboard box on its side to catch the dust, we used a very soft brush to clean the books, gently sweeping the dust from the spine outwards. For the really dirty books, we learnt that the best way to clean them was by gently dabbing away the dirt using a smoke sponge. 

It was fascinating to then have the chance to look at some individual cases of archives that needed particular care in the Exeter holdings such as this book, below, which appears to have suffered from pest damage.

I feel that both these days have taught me skills which will continue to be useful to me throughout a future career in archives. It is as much a way of thinking, as specific practical skills, which I feel I have gained, through Claire’s training, in order to achieve the best possible care with the resources that are available to you. I have also learnt that often minimal preservation treatment can be better care for an archive.

Furthermore it has opened up many questions for me to think about, such as, if the container or box which the archive is held in is not archival grade, then should it be removed or is it part of the record? Can it instead be argued that the container gives an idea of the context of the record and could possibly offer us further information? This experience has opened my eyes to many questions to consider during my study of the MA in Archive and Records Management  qualification next year.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Wandering down Woodlane

Our Archive Assistant, Carole and I recently visited Woodlane Library at Falmouth University’s Falmouth Campus to meet the staff based there. The two libraries are a part of one service based across two sites and while our Archives are all held at the Penryn campus, there are lots of possibilities for collaborating with our Woodlane Library colleagues in the use and promotion of our Special Collections.
Roger Towe Illustrated Books Collection
I was especially keen to visit because Woodlane Library is home to the Roger Towe Illustrated Books Special Collection which I have heard so many positive things about.

Roger Towe was a librarian at Woodlane who sought to build a collection of books chosen predominantly for their illustrative qualities rather than their narrative. This meant that they could be used by as sources of visual inspiration, first and foremost, rather than as your typical secondary, critical texts. This was to best suit the needs of students studying creative subjects, such as Art and Design, Illustration and Graphics. The result was a really eclectic and unusual mix of books, covering a diverse range of subjects, but which all share beautiful illustrations. This gives the collection real charm and character as you never know what you are going to find next - be it a graphic novel, a fairytale, a classic work of literature, a book written in a different language or even a volume which features no words at all. 
Roger Towe Illustrated Books Collection
I have learnt that you really can’t predict where a student may find inspiration. It has been particularly fascinating on this traineeship to compare the vastly different ways in which many students use the Archives and Special Collections to inform their work. There may be a student who wishes to view a Camborne School of Mines rare book for research into mining practices, and there may be a student who also wishes to see the same book in order to take artistic inspiration from the aesthetics of the structures of the mines - both students, of course, studying very different disciplines. 
Similarly, our Kneehigh Theatre collection is currently being used by two students for their dissertations but in strikingly different ways. One is an English student researching the way in which Cornish myths and legends are re-told through modern literature, whilst the other student is interested in ascertaining the impact the company has had on the Cornish community, through reading reports held in the collection.
Furthermore, we are home to some delightful nineteenth-century rare books on the subject of British moths and butterflies which have been of interest to Biology students from an entomological perspective, and yet equally as desirable to a student seeking to sketch the exquisite coloured plates, instead appreciating their aesthetic qualities. This is the beauty of providing a service to two universities, which together, offer such a vast range of courses. 
Roger Towe Illustrated Books Collection

The staff at both Woodlane and Tremough library have been looking into displaying examples from each other’s Special Collections for cross-promotion. Woodlane library recently featured a display of some of the Christmas books held within our Chris Brooks Collection of Victorian Culture, including a lovely edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, of course! Our Special Collections here and at Woodlane often complement each other and we can learn so much from the different ways we both promote and use them. I am looking forward to developing this relationship further and I will be spending more time at Woodlane in coming months to consider joint displays and promotional activities.

Roger Towe Illustrated Books Collection

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Cornish Archives Network (CAN)

Sarah and I recently attended a Cornish Archives Network (CAN) meeting at Trerice House.
Trerice is an Elizabethan manor house on the outskirts of Newquay which is the perfect setting for like-minded heritage enthusiasts. We all gathered around a long table in the Great Hall with a roaring fire and tea and cake - a wonderful experience!

CAN meetings are chaired by Cornwall Records Office and are designed for local Cornish Archives to connect with each other in order to keep one another informed on any collections and projects each other are working on. Most importantly, it also provides training and support for many of the smaller community archives and heritage groups who do not have a qualified Archivist and are seeking guidance on such things as copyright procedure and advisable packaging practices.

Although we do have an Archivist ourselves, I found it very useful to attend to learn more about the different resources locally that I could direct students and the public to when answering enquiries. CAN includes many small, volunteer-led local archives who will often focus their attention on the history of one particular aspect of Cornish history or a specific parish which could be an invaluable resource for specialised local research.

I did not know much about archive networks previously so it has given me a lot to think about how archives can reach out to one other through mutually beneficial connections, particularly between Archivists and volunteers who run archives.

And of course it was a good excuse for a peek round Trerice House!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Lights, Camera, Action : Part One

Tomorrow we will be filming my video for the ‘Meet Our Trainees’ series on our website. I am quite nervous about it as I am by no means a natural in front of the camera, but it will be a nice opportunity to reflect on what I have enjoyed during my time here so far, including some of the things I have learnt and anticipating what is still to come!

What I am looking forward to is meeting Mary as she will be back to film a catch-up video to talk about where the traineeship has led her three years on and life beyond the Archives and Records Management qualification, which should be very insightful.

I feel a bit nauseous imagining myself filming a catch up video in three years’ time, wherever I will be – that’s too far away to bear thinking about!

You can watch Mary's and Grace’s videos here: