Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Looking at the the work that goes on in Birmingham Archives & Heritage and the people that do it.

How to make sure your clothes and books don’t become a pest’s dinner!

A few weeks ago whilst browsing in Lakeland, I was confronted by bottles of moth killer and moth traps. It was a timely reminder that this is the time of year where people (myself included!) try desperately not to become infested and have holes appear in jumpers when taken out of the wardrobe come October. But, did you know that archival documents are just as at threat from pests as is a treasured woollen coat?

The vast majority of the collections held in the archives are made from organic materials such as paper and leather. These provide a great food source for pests. Pests we have to watch out for include silverfish, common book lice, and clothes moths amongst others. These pests survive on eating the surfaces of paper, textiles, books, some adhesives and animal skins, which unfortunately is the majority of our collection! You may be thinking just get some insecticide and kill the damn things. Unfortunately insecticides come with health and safety issues as well as not being very safe for the documents.

An example of where pests have caused damage to one of our documents. The wood and parchment in this document has provided a good food source for a wood-boring insect.

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International Archives Day

International Archives Day, 9th June 2018. Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage.

9th June is International Archives Day which aims to promote the role of archives and archivists. In the spirit of the day I am going to shed light on some of the hidden aspects of an archivist’s job.

Managing information about collections

One of the most important things that we do is manage information about our collections. This means the catalogues and indexes that give us and our users a way in to what we hold. Without these, using the archives in any way would be almost impossible.

In the past this information was produced in hardcopy format such as ledgers or index cards (some of which we still use). Nowadays archivists use catalogue databases and publish finding aids online.

Archivists all over the world deal with issues around collections information such as the challenge of converting old hardcopy catalogues in to electronic catalogue records and creating information on archives where no catalogues exist. There are international standards for archive cataloguing that archivists must follow when creating new records. Continue reading

A learning curve – my first attempt at cataloguing!

Screenshot of part of the completed catalogue for EP 12 on our cataloguing database

Cataloguing and updating  the online catalogue is an important part of what the archives team here at the Library of Birmingham does. We do this work to ensure that the collections in our care are publicised and made accessible for researchers. Being new to the team, I was given one of the extensive Ecclesiastical Parish collections to work on, which already had a list, but wasn’t properly catalogued. So this blog is about what I have learned about cataloguing  a parish collection!

The Ecclesiastical Parish records (EPs) are the records from parish churches around the city and some from the surrounding areas. Birmingham as a city covers a much larger area than you might think, and the city limits have contracted and expanded over time. The records cover the running of the churches, meetings, charities, day schools, and records of baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as many other things. These records can be invaluable to researchers and family historians.

In many cases the records have come into the Archives at different times, and sometimes form different sources. Each ‘deposit’ is given an ‘accession’ number to differentiate it from other deposits, but pulled together to form one collection – and all of the ecclesiastical parish collection references begin ‘EP’.

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Attending Historic England’s Salvage and Disaster Recovery course

It feels that hardly a month goes by that we don’t hear or read a story in the news about natural disasters such as floods and man-made disasters such as war, terrorism and arson. Rarely reported is how these ‘disasters’ affect cultural institutions and how valuable cultural heritage is damaged or destroyed. Recent events such as the flooding in Paris in 2016 where the Louvre had to move their collections to safety and the Glasgow school of Art fire in 2014 and it subsequent restoration (to be completed in 2019) mean that disasters like these, although unlikely to happen, are never far from my mind as a conservator.

Since joining the Archives and Collections team in May 2016, a major part of my job is planning and implementing ‘The Emergency and Collections Salvage plan’. The purpose of plans such as these is to be able to respond effectively to emergency situations such as fire and flood and ensure business continuity. Having successfully written a plan, purchased salvage equipment and members of staff receiving training from Harwell in 2017 on salvage techniques, I felt it was important to gain a deeper understanding of how a disaster situation might unfold and to be able to get hands-on experience of salvaging objects from an incident and using salvage equipment.

Some of our salvage equipment!

Whilst writing the plan, I heard about English Heritage’s Salvage and Disaster Recovery 3 day course with West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS). After being on the waiting list for just over a year, I finally got the chance to attend with the Facilities Manager in February 2018.

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Explore Your Archive 2017


 

Explore Your Archive week is here!

Each year, here at Archives & Collections, we like to get involved with the Explore Your Archives campaign to raise awareness of the work that the archives does. You may remember the past couple of years, we opened up our collections to visitors through pop-up exhibitions.

This year, the theme is conservation and preservation and on Saturday, we welcomed members of the public on a tour of the archives. Starting in the Wolfson Centre, our Conservator, Lucy, talked about the items we had out on display and explained a little about the types of material they were made of. The turn out was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed having the chance to look behind the scenes in our archives storage areas.

Members of the public enjoying their visit to Archives & Collections as part of Explore Your Archives 2017

We are running the event again on Friday (which is now fully booked) and so SPOILER ALERT as throughout this week, we will be featuring some of the items that were on display. We hope you enjoy!

For other events happening around the country, please visit the Explore Your Archive website.

Explore Your Archives 2017: Behind the Scenes in Conservation

This year’s Explore Your Archives week runs from Saturday 18th November to Sunday 26th November. The mini-campaign is to highlight the vital and highly-specialised preservation and conservation work of archive conservators.

Behind the scenes at Archives & Collections

Unlike the past two years when we have opened up our archive collections through pop-up exhibitions, this year we are offering the chance to look behind the scenes…

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this workshop about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio.

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early by e-mail at archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk to avoid disappointment!

 

There are two workshops:

Saturday 18th November 1pm – 3pm

Friday 24th November, 2pm – 4pm.

 

Venue:

Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

 

For details of how to get to the library, please see the Library of Birmingham website for details.

For more about the Explore Your Archive campaign, please visit http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/.

 

 

Connecting Stories, Our British Asian Heritage – Behind the scenes

Have you ever wondered why exhibition spaces are sometimes a little bit dark? Why objects are displayed in the way that they are? How an exhibition is even put together in the first place? Conservator Lucy Angus will explain the stages of preparing and installing our current exhibition ‘Connecting Stories.

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Six months ago I met the British Library Curator Penny Brook who had the difficult task of choosing over 100 objects from collections held at the British Library and Library of Birmingham which would help tell the story of our British Asian heritage. Once Penny had come up with her wish list of objects for inclusion for the exhibition, I was then presented with the objects which included a rare 19th century board game reflecting Britain’s trading interests in Asia, 1940s police reports on meetings of the Indian Workers Association and India League in Birmingham, photographs showing protests and counter-protests in 1960s and 1970s Britain amongst others.

Before and after conservation treatment
[MS 3147/5/ 616]

Upon looking at the objects I had to determine whether the objects were fit for display and what conditions would need to be in place to make sure that the objects were cared for and did not potentially suffer from being displayed. Some factors I considered were the condition of the objects, whether the objects were to be displayed in a case or framed and the potential exposure to light over the course of the exhibition.

Most objects I was shown were thankfully in a good condition and required no conservation treatment. Only a few objects required minor repair with a colour drawing of an Engine House for His Highness the Nabob Vizier of Oude (MS 3147/5/616) requiring the most conservation treatment which included surface cleaning, repair and filling in losses with a sympathetic paper to the original. Continue reading