Training on various aspects of archival care held at London Metropolitan Archives
Our training day took place at the London Metropolitan Archives on Tuesday 31 March. I say “our training day” because such was the demand for places that another day is planned in the autumn for those not fortunate enough to have been among the 20 who met on 31 March.
Our registration and coffee at 10.30 am and our welcome by Margaret Harcourt Williams set a friendly tone for the informative sessions that followed. Sue Donnelly, Assistant Archivist at the British Library of Political and Economic Science, London, our first speaker, has been for fourteen years “Sorting and Listing Archives”. She has worked on the Duke of Wellington’s papers and the Liberal Party papers.
Sue defined the central task of the Archivist as arranging and describing the content of the Archives, making a list of contents for the benefit of depositors and users and for the use of the Archivist who will administer the collection. An identity statement is of prime importance. This would indicate: WHAT, WHERE and SIZE of the material possessed thus creating a reference code which identifies the repository and links with the material represented. The title names the unit of description.
The context area is set by giving the name of the creator or organisation or individual that created the unit of description, and any administrative or biographical history which places the material in context. The date the material was accumulated should be recorded in any relevant custodial history. If the custodial history is unknown this should be recorded. Then follows a description of what is on file and what has been done with it, recording any appraisal or destructive actions if this affects the interpretation of the material. Note also if any future accruals are expected.
One system of arrangement could be to sort into shelf arrangements before listing, arranging the material in the final order in which it was used by the Creator. Where the final active order is unknown, sort the material according to date order. Deal first with the major series and avoid putting reference numbers initially. Combine descriptions and then describe at more than one level. Specify the principal characteristics of the internal structure and the order of the material and how the archivist acted. Finally, identify any finding aids that the repository may have that provide information relating to the content of the units of description, i.e. NAME, SECTION, SUB-SECTION, ITEM NUMBER of the deposits. Write the reference code clearly on the files or box.
Sr. Judith Greville, Archivist to the Daughters of Charity, Mill Hill, in the excellent handouts she provided, set before us answers to the many queries that most of us raise, e.g. “What constitutes and archive?”. Sister told how from almost having no material at the beginning, material came in from the local convents so that today there is an Archival room, a strong room and a heritage room with a small reading room attached. Sister warned of the need to ensure that any archival material lent to researchers is used for a stated, specific purpose. A recant film documentary had altered the context and setting of material provided by the Sisters.
Penny Hughes, Conservator at the City of Westminster City Archive Centre, in her talk on “Preservation and Packaging” gave as back up material several suppliers’ catalogues with price lists. As she spoke, she distributed samples of archival boxboard and folder paper and demonstrated the self-help way of making storage containers. Attention was drawn to storage needs and disaster planning precautions for fire, flooding or theft. Photos are best stored in the Melenex plastic sheets. Unbleached linen tape is best for tying bundles of loose papers. Maps should not be folded but should be kept flat or rolled or hung. There is an archival quality ink, but pencil is also useful. Attention to lighting and room temperature should be given a high priority. Problems, such as mould or insect infestation, should be isolated and dealt with as soon as practicable.
There were useful exchanges of questions and answers in each session and since this presentation of mine omits many valuable factors, I recommend that you go along to any future training days, where you will have an opportunity to become an “Expert” in matters archival.
Sr. Eleanora Murphy, OP
On Tuesday, 15th September 1998, a Training Day was held at the London Metropolitan Archives – just round the corner from Kings Cross Station (I drove Margaret in from Hatfield and it appeared miraculously in front of us from nowhere!). The venue was highly suitable – an excellent room put at our disposal with all the facilities we could wish for. A good buffet lunch was laid on, together with limitless tea and coffee and soft drinks.
Twenty participants turned up for the Day some from the far end of the world, even York, Durham, Scotland and Wales, but mainly from the London area. One gratifying aspect was that there were several recently appointed archivists, and others who were obviously being groomed to take over an archive. We even had a Parish Archivist.
The day started at 10.30 a.m. and continued to 4.30 p.m. During the Day there were three talks:
- Sue Donnelly spoke on “Sorting and Listing Archives”. It was a very useful and basic subject, especially for those who were new to the job, and was very well covered.
- Sister Judith Greville spoke on ”Setting up a small religious archive”. The talk was very down-to-earth and practical – the results of many years experience. Her offer of hospitality to new archivists to visit her Mill Hill treasure house was especially welcomed.
- Penny Hughes spoke on ”Preservation and packaging of archives”. She had brought plenty of samples and advice, with an awareness of the limitations of cost. Her ‘question and answer’ approach brought out the’ gathered wisdom’ of the group, which could supply an answer to most problems.
It was a good day, and our thanks are due to the Host Archives and the speakers and organisers.
Father Christopher Smith, Diocese of Plymouth