After a morning spent with project conservator Emily Hick who introduced us to conservation theory, we had the chance to try out some of the techniques in practice. From surface cleaning to tear repair, we were able to take the first steps in learning how to conserve paper and understand the practical and ethical considerations involved in conservation.
Fin West and John Glass then led a session on the fascinating world of rare books. As cataloguers themselves, they picked out items in collection they had worked with personally. As well as seeing items dating back to the 16th century, we were surprised to learn that the department also features examples of graphic novels and comics. To give us a flavour of their roles at the university, we were each given a varied selection of donated books to assess by checking for duplicate records within the library catalogue.
The final session brought a complete change in tone with a visit to the Anatomy Museum, where we were greeted by two giant elephant skeletons. Ruth Pollitt then introduced us to the university’s extensive collection of specimens. We came face to face with the skeleton of William Burke, of the notorious murderers Burke and Hare. Once part of the teaching resources for Edinburgh’s medical school, the collections are still invaluable for visiting researchers and historians.
As part of the summer school, we were each assigned projects to complete over the week. Our role has been to investigate the significance of social media within the heritage sector. Other projects include designing events to promote the recently acquired Paolozzi mosaics; planning an exhibition using items from the collection around the theme ‘Green’; and learning about the different methods used in collections documentation. Each group will present their findings at the end of the week.
Yesterday brought a slight shift in focus, from a general introduction to an in-depth look at specific departments and museum collections. Our morning was spent discussing both current and future projects and organisation of the library, followed by a more detailed session on Metadata and cataloguing.
Fun fact #1: On a tour of the library we discovered that the self-return machine is based on a potato sorter!
The afternoon introduced us to the University’s Musical Instruments and Art Collections. Sarah Deters, the Learning and Engagement Curator of the Musical Instrument Museums, talked us through both the exciting redevelopment of St Cecilia’s Hall and the extensive collections she works with (including 1000 clarinets!). Today’s hands-on session tasked us with assessing and investigating the provenance of some of the instruments. Due to the redevelopments the instruments are in storage, so we were able to see and learn about the conditions they need to be kept in.
Fun fact #2: Some 19th-century gentlemen commissioned novelty instruments
concealed in walking sticks!
Our final session, led by Art Collections Curator Neil Lebeter, gave us a whistle-stop tour of the collection and its development. An early Picasso, signed by the artist later in life, brought home the uniqueness and extent of the art held by the university. One of their ongoing major projects involves rescuing and reconstructing Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics, which had previously adorned Tottenham Court Road tube station.
This week the Centre for Research Collections is running its very first Summer School to provide an overview of different aspects of the heritage sector; with a focus on collections, exhibitions and engagement. We are participating in the Summer school ourselves, and will be taking over the CRC’s social media – so make sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter takeover.
The programme offers its participants hands on experience from a variety of professionals. Staff ranging from an Academic Support Librarian who showed us how much interaction and support the library provides to its users, to Rachel Hosker – the Archive Manager, who presented a powerful case for the relevance of archival material as a ‘memory of society’ as well as highlighting the challenges of managing a collection. Possibly one of the most interesting sections of her presentation was the range of material in the collections: from manuscripts and letters, to drawings and records it was clear that archives contain a broad range of fascinating material which we were lucky enough to handle.
A fascinating afternoon session included an introduction to the Lothian Health Services Archive, which allowed us to engage with some of their many records and gain a greater understanding of the volume and range of records that they held. Using records such as these we were able to trace the lives of individuals, giving us a window into the everyday work of LHSA.
The day left us reflecting on the extent of the collaboration required between departments and individuals, and we look forward to furthering this understanding throughout the week.
Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.
Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis
A model, with some wings, in the Playfair Library…. No, it’s not a new version of Cluedo, it’s this year’s University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Museums photoshoot!
With only a month to go until our One Last Adventure Festival of Museums weekend (13th-15th May), the adventurous times have begun with an action-packed aviation-inspired photoshoot with the fantastic Laurence Winram!
Fuelled by tea and coffee and with the model, Graham, dressed as an early aviation pioneer (complete with goggles and a pipe!), Laurence and his team worked tirelessly to get the perfect ‘adventurous’ shot in the wonderful setting of the University’s Playfair Library.
We can’t wait to see the results but in the meantime, if you fancy an adventure of your own, registration for all our events is now open https://onelastadventureuoe.wordpress.com/ – pirates, treasure, anatomy and bugs (yes really!) await so…
Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This is a guest blog post from Laura Keizer, one of our volunteers working in the Centre for Research Collections.
Archives are delightful places. Working in such a place regularly puts you in touch with a motley crew of visiting researchers who merrily toil away to complete diverse portfolios of original research. We help out where we can, provide documents, answer queries, and generally solve all sorts of interesting little mysteries. But despite our best efforts, we don’t often get to see where their local research takes the visitors afterwards, making the precise impact of the archive sometimes difficult to gauge.
This is where I came in. Having volunteered at the CRC for the past couple of months, I have attempted to trace the outcomes of research undertaken within these walls through reference analysis in Google Scholar. By examining and cataloguing every single digitised publication mentioning our university library for 2013, a handy account of authors, articles and associated archival sources appears (although itself absent of alliteration). Continue reading →
Claire Rochet, Musical Instrument Museum Edinburgh Volunteer
I have been working with the Musical Instrument Collection since October and I had the chance as a volunteer to explore different areas of their two museums, St Cecilia’s Hall and the Reid Concert Hall. During the first 3 months, I was a guide at St Cecilia’s Hall, which was great as it permitted me to familiarise myself with the collection. During my Bachelor’s Degree and first Master’s Degree, I specialised in museology but never came across musicology which means that I was a complete beginner when I first started. Needless to say that I learnt a lot!
Since last month, I have been working in collaboration with Colette Bush, the Museums Galleries Scotland Intern based with the CRC and Museums, at the Reid Concert Hall, where we are in charge of reviewing the display of the collection. I am very excited about this project, even more so when I learnt that the Reid is actually the first purpose built establishment as an instrument museum in the world.
This project is connected to the redevelopment plan at St Cecilia’s Hall which will lead to its temporary closure next September for about a year or two. Until now, the musical instrument collection was equally spread out between both museums. During St Cecilia’s Hall’s closure, the collection will be only visible at the Reid which means the museum will become the collection’s main venue. One other aim of this project is to expand the museum’s engagement with the general public by making the content more accessible. In order to do that, we are planning a display based on thematics but we also intend to make the content of the cases more comprehensible by putting more explanatory labels and less instruments on display. Even if the Reid itself is quite small, the collection on display is actually quite extensive which can be quite disconcerting for the visitor (around 1000 items are on display!).
Although, the collection being first of all a teaching collection, it should still be complete enough so the music school can use the collection as a point of reference for their classes, which is a big challenge as we need to find the right balance between accessibility and educational purposes.
Since October, I have been volunteering with the CRC, doing one or two day sessions with each department and discovering how every job contributes to the task of running the University of Edinburgh’s Special Collections. Just by volunteering one day a week, I was able to jump right into assisting with book collections, responding to queries for information or digital images, and the beginnings of rare books and archive cataloguing. Among other highlights, I discovered a fascinating drawing in a late 19th century casebook from the Lothian Health Services Archive, encountered more books in Icelandic than I’d ever imagined would be in Edinburgh, and spent a rather poignant day sorting materials associated with alumni who fought in WWI.
As a student in the MSc Material Cultures and History of the Book programme, the experience has proved invaluable in my understanding of how the modern library handles rare books, manuscripts, and archives, and the varied professions associated with an institution such as the CRC. This practical information has dove-tailed nicely with my academic interest in book history, and rounded out my studies in a way that simply completing my course-work never would. When I started volunteering, I knew I wanted to work in a library but wasn’t sure where I would be the best fit, but by learning about every department, I was able to determine that my strongest interest is in rare books, which led directly into my new position as one of two cataloguing interns in the rare books and manuscripts division of the CRC, which I am eagerly looking forward to as the next step on my career path. I would strongly suggest that anyone with an interest in literature, art, history, or, obviously, book history, take the time to volunteer at the CRC, because it’s a rewarding way to see how your academic interests can be applied to managing and preserving the wealth of material culture available at the University.
Once a fortnight for the past two years I have been conserving 550 sheets of paper belonging to the Carmichael Watson Collection. These date from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and are all mostly in Gaelic, written by the scholar Alexander Carmichael. Most of the sheets needed quite a lot of attention. The majority of them needed surface cleaning. This entailed using a chemical sponge and gentle use of an eraser. There were also sheets which had rust on them where metal paper clips had been attached. Rust was removed with the tip of a scalpel using magnifying glasses. Great care was needed so that only the damaged fibres were taken away. Tears were repaired using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste with the pages pressed to ensure the ‘glue’ had dried. Finally all the sheets were placed in acid-free folders and housed in a low-acid board box.
Some of the sheets had interesting watermarks on them and as an aside from the practical element of this paper conservation I decided to do a bit of investigation in my own time. Some of the watermarks originated from a papermaker in Glasgow. I found out that the United Wire factory which I live near created the wireworks used for making paper, so it is possible that some of the paper on which I had been working might have been created on wires made in this factory.
I have been working on the Quatercentenary Collection for more than 6 months. In 1983 the University celebrated its 400th anniversary and, as part of these celebrations, the University library put out a call to all alumni and ex-staff (this was before the archive existed), asking them for contributions to a collection which would be used to illustrate student life at Edinburgh. Hundreds of people responded, and the library was sent thousands of items including class cards, degree scrolls, lecture notes, tickets to dances, menus for club dinners and photographs. It’s not just documents, though – I have found two embroidered velvet caps and a box of 1930s cigarettes! I think my favourite thing in the whole collection is a dance card from the 1920s, which has a tiny pencil attached by a piece of ribbon. The collection ranges in date from the 1870s to the 1970s – more or less 100 years of student life at the University of Edinburgh. Many people who sent items also included letters with their recollections of their time at university. This enormous, important collection was then split up according to type: photographs in a box with other photographs, boxes full of party invitations, boxes and boxes containing only class cards.
My job is to put each individual accession back together again – instead of items being catalogued by type, they will be catalogued in groups according to who deposited them. This has meant making a list of what is in every one of the 42 boxes, and then going through every box and taking out the separate items and rehousing them in proper archive folders and boxes. It is very satisfying bringing all the different items together to make a little picture of an individual’s time at the University of Edinburgh. I love knowing that these things will be catalogued in their proper place, and that one day someone will look at them and find out about an ancestor’s student days.
Some of our volunteers gave presentations at a special event yesterday to say thank you to our volunteers for the all hard work that they have been putting in over the past few months. Eleven volunteers gave short presentations outlining the work they have been doing, what skills they have been learning and how their experiences have been helping them to develop. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who attended yesterday’s event in the CRC and especially to those who did presentations.