Worth More than the Paper they are Printed On: Newsletters as Research Tools

Shard End Star  [LB 15.35]

Shard End Star
[LB 15.35]

The Library of Birmingham contains a vast number and range of newsletters and pamphlets. Many are bound into complete sequences as a formal local studies resource, such as the Shard End Star [LB 15.35]. However, many archive collections also contain such items, often as single issues or partial runs, for example the Banner Theatre Collection which has three copies of the New Compass newsletter for August 1972, January 1973 and February 1973 [MS 1611/B/11/14].



New Compass [MS 1611/B/11/14]

This difference in approach partly reflects an emphasis in library practice on the informational value of resources (hence the desire for complete sets) in contrast to an archive focus on the evidential value of records, so that single booklets and newsletters may be retained if they have a direct relationship with other records. The ‘New Compass’ for instance exists in the Banner Collection only because single copies were used as research material for a community theatre project undertaken in Acocks Green.

For many researchers however, such professional differences are not immediately relevant and in practice archivists and librarians respect both informational and evidential value. Researchers frequently use library and archive resources interchangeably, often using a range of resources together. For instance, an additional dimension is given to the Shard End Star’s advertisements for local businesses by reference to photographic prints, as with this view of the Heath Way Shopping Centre in the early 1960s [BCC P & A 1999/077 9/25].

215 Heath Way [BCC P & A 1999/077 9/25]

215 Heath Way
[BCC P & A 1999/077 9/25]

As well as providing a gauge of local commercial activity, pamphlets and newsletters can be a rich mine of information about community events, concerns and politics. Stirchley Methodist Church issued a handbook for the 1911 Grand Spring Bazaar, which promoted the ‘marvellous sweet music’ to be provided ‘on Saturday’ by the local Co-operative Choral Society [MC 74/B/6/1].

Co-operative Choral Society  [MC 74/B/6/1]

Co-operative Choral Society
[MC 74/B/6/1]

The ‘Baby Week Magazine’ published in 1919 by Stirchley and Cotteridge School for Mothers provided useful information relating to the care, health and welfare of babies and children, together with the rousing message that ‘Nations are gathered out of nurseries’ [MS 2032/2].

Baby Week Magazine [MS 2302/2]

Baby Week Magazine
[MS 2302/2]

Booklets and newsletters have been very helpful in providing both evidence of the existence of local photographic businesses and information about their activities where such details are not otherwise available. So for instance, Strichley Carnival Magazine shows Sylvia Whiteway practicing as a professional photographer on the Pershore Road in the late 1930s [EP 107/17/7]. The New Compass for February 1973 asks ‘Why Pay for Kodacolor Film?’ in an advertisement for E. Glaser of Hall Green which highlights the penetration of colour processing agents to suburban areas by the early 1970s [MS 1611/B/11/14].

Stirchley Carnival [EP 107/17/7]

Stirchley Carnival
[EP 107/17/7]

All in all, newsletters and pamphlets are valuable research tools regardless of the original reason for their presence in the Library of Birmingham.

Jim Ranahan 01/05/2014


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