Over the last 2 years, I’ve had the opportunity to see how the archival collections we hold have been built up since the first deposit of material in 1879: from estate papers, personal and family papers, school, hospital, religious, council and business records to deposits by photographers, pressure groups and activists, trade unions and employer’s associations, voluntary organisations, charities, societies and clubs. This has been without going into the strong rooms and without opening any boxes, but instead through retro-converting our accession registers which record brief details of every deposit we have received and where they came from.
Between 1879 and 2005, our accessions were recorded using a multitude of different numerical and alphabetical systems in various formats. These ranged from the large, heavy leather bound volumes with gold embossed titles of the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the drawers of handwritten index cards and slim handwritten notebooks of the mid-late 20th century to the early 21st century ring-binders of computer printouts. As part of the preparations for the move to LoB in 2013, one of my tasks has been to ensure that these accessions are entered onto our electronic database in a standardised format.
This process has given me a bird’s eye view not only of the wonderful wide-ranging collections we hold, but also of how our collecting policy has evolved in the space of 130 years. It has shown me how we are indebted to the late 19th and early 20th century librarians of the old Birmingham Reference Library: it was they who started collecting archival material of local interest at a time when local authority record offices and archive repositories had not yet developed in England.
Now that this work is complete, BA&H staff can access any of the 8000 accession records of archival material deposited with us since 1879 at the click of a mouse instead of leafing through one of our many paper registers or card indexes.