Digital Preservation at the Library of Birmingham – an introduction

My name is Mike Hunkin and I am the new Digital Preservation Officer at the Library of Birmingham, currently employed on a fixed-term contract until October 2022. I am currently based in Archives and Collections, having worked here for just under nine years between 2006 and 2015. This is a bit of a new area for me, my area of work now focusing on developing systems to ensure the long-term preservation of digital archives and assets held across our library and archive collections.

What is digital preservation?

Managing digital collections is no different to looking after more traditional paper archives in terms of outcome – preservation and access to recorded information remain both sides of the same coin. It is the complex and rapidly changing technological environment in which digital objects exist that presents a fundamental challenge to their long-term survival.

The Bitstream, from Microsoft Office Clip Art

Digital records are inherently unstable. Built from a series of seemingly random binary 1s or 0s (digital bits, or bytes), they are reliant upon a complex series of digital interactions between storage media, software and/or hardware to ensure they can be read. A damaged disk or a series of missing bytes can render a digital item or set of files permanently and irretrievably lost.

In this context the Digital Preservation Coalition defines digital preservation as:

‘the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary…and refers to all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change.’ Continue reading “Digital Preservation at the Library of Birmingham – an introduction”

From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey

You may have already seen the announcement in the November edition of our Birmingham Libraries and Archive Service e-newsletter, that a project is underway to document migration in Birmingham through the eyes of the rich and varied collections at the Library of Birmingham. The project ‘From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey’ was awarded a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to curate two major photographic exhibitions and an extensive citywide community engagement programme to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

Montage of black & white and sepia studio and outside portrait/group photographs showcasing images from the Dyche Collection [MS 2912].
Montage of black & white and sepia studio and outside portrait/group photographs showcasing images from the Dyche Collection [MS 2912].

Continue reading “From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey”

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night Programme souvenir from Her Majesty’s Theatre, London,1901

Twelfth Night is a play by William Shakespeare. It was also a very popular feast, associated with the winter solstice. It used to mark the end of the twelve days of Christmas and the end of Christmas festivities.

Although we don’t celebrate Twelfth Night any more, its roots go a long way back in time. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia for many days in December. And in medieval Germany a winter solstice celebration called Yuletide was the most important time of the year. Christianity has brought a new dimension to the celebration, now associated with the Three Kings and the Feast of Epiphany. Twelfth Night is the night of January 5th, followed by Epiphany, which is January 6th.

Continue reading “Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night”

O Christmas Tree…Fund

After what has been a challenging year, I thought it would be nice to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with a nice picture of a nicely decorated Christmas tree. After scouring our indexes, what I found instead was the Christmas Tree Fund, or more specifically, pennies on a ceiling…

Interior view of an empty restaurant with serviettes full of pennies stuck to the ceiling.
Interior of Nock’s Restaurant, Union Passage, Birmingham {Finding No. WK/B11/172]

This curious photograph taken at Christmas 1911 is of the interior of Nock’s restaurant in Union Passage. When you look at the back of the photograph, the description reads ‘Showing the pennies, wrapped in serviettes, thrown to the ceiling in aid of the Christmas Tree Fund. The collection amounted to £20 5s 6d.’

Continue reading “O Christmas Tree…Fund”

Tracing Your Irish Ancestry Online

Researching family history is subject to many arbitrary and unknown factors when investigating particular branches of the family tree. Irish genealogy holds an extra layer of complication in being beset by myths and rumour surrounding the survival of records. There are also issues stemming from the legacy of the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom and the consequent Irish diaspora – the substantial emigration of peoples after the famine of the 1840s.

Historic context

From 1137 to 1541, Ireland was a feudal Lordship of England; between 1542 to 1801 – a Kingdom in a personal union with the Kingdom of England (subsequently Great Britain) and politically united with Great Britain between 1801 and 1922. For almost all of this later period, the island was governed from Parliament in London through the Dublin Castle administration in Ireland.

Colonialism & Diaspora

Map of Ireland from Sir William Petty’s Atlas of Ireland (1685)

Colonialism was a major cause of migration from Ireland as political, social and economic conditions between the constituent parts of Great Britain fluctuated over time. It’s been claimed the population of the island was halved as a consequence of famine and the millions who emigrated.

Migration from Ireland has been recorded from the Middle Ages but it’s only been possible to quantify figures since the beginning of the eighteenth century – it’s estimated between nine and ten million people emigrated which is a substantial figure if you consider the population in the 1840s was 8.5 million which is considered the historic population peak.

For the first time in 2001, the U.K. census provided an option for identifying Irish ethnicity. Previously, figures were based on birthplace. Data showed 869,093 people born in Ireland were living in Great Britain which equates to some 1.2 % of the population of England & Wales.

Continue reading “Tracing Your Irish Ancestry Online”

The Birmingham Libraries & Archives service e-newsletter is 6 months old!

In June of this year we launched our exciting, new and FREE e-newsletter – we called it the ‘Birmingham Archives & Community Heritage Update, and our 7th edition – the December newsletter – is now out. This blog post is a quick run through of our first 6 months with some highlights you may have missed!

The production of the update is a collaboration between Archives & Collections, Community Libraries, the Library of Birmingham, Library Services at Home, the Mobile Library, and the Prison Library. Our aim is to share Birmingham’s history, archives, and community heritage activities, showcasing our city’s unique and irreplaceable archival collections, keeping you updated about projects and events you can get involved with. In every issue there is a range of articles and fun quiz activities to involve you with our unique and irreplaceable collections!

June 2020’s Document of the Month

Birmingham Mail news clipping about Jamaicans seeking work in Britain, with photograph of 3 Jamaican men, 22nd June 1948
Birmingham Mail, 22 June 1948

The 22nd of June, 1948, was a deeply important date in British history. It marked the docking of the Empire Windrush, in Tilbury, Essex. The landing of the Windrush is still a relatively little-known event in the British past, yet even less is known about the lives of the people who arrived aboard the Ship. But you can use the Archives & Collections newspaper collections at the Library of Birmingham to begin to explore the very early experiences of the Jamaicans who travelled to Britain aboard the Empire Windrush, before journeying to the city of Birmingham. The newspaper collections are an invaluable source which can be accessed to explore some of the experiences of Black and Asian communities in Birmingham.

Continue reading “The Birmingham Libraries & Archives service e-newsletter is 6 months old!”

Birmingham Civic Society Blue Plaque to Marie Bethell Beauclerc (1845- 1897)

Portrait photograph of Marie Beauclerc
Portrait of Marie Beauclerc, public domain from Wikipedia

On Friday 9 October 2020, I was privileged to be one of the small number of invited guests at the unveiling of a blue plaque to Marie Bethell Beauclerc, pioneer of shorthand in Birmingham and amanuensis to the preacher and civic leader George Dawson.

This was the first public event to be hosted at the Library of Birmingham since the end of March so we all, Councillor Francis, BCS Heritage Committee members, Library managers and staff from the Everything to Everybody Project felt excited to be part of it. All masked up and safely spaced on the second floor of the Library, we heard the speeches marking the event, despite the mask –muffle! It was particularly touching to hear contributions from Marie Beauclerc’s descendants who now live in Australia and New Zealand. They had planned to visit Europe this year and join us at the ceremony, but Covid-19 sadly ruined this plan.

Birmingham Civic Society blue plaque to Marie Bethell Beauclerc, author’s own image.

Continue reading “Birmingham Civic Society Blue Plaque to Marie Bethell Beauclerc (1845- 1897)”