Tag Archives: KEW

KEW – gardens

KEW 2016’s action-packed schedule continued yesterday with an off-campus trip to the Library and Archives at the Royal Botanic Garden. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to find out more about the collections – which include the intriguing category, ‘Living Collections’ – I went along for the ride.

We were introduced to the Library by Head of Library Services, Lorna Mitchell, who explained some of the 400 year history of the Garden and described the variety of collections that the Library and Archives house. The Library has recently reached 10% in their programme to digitise collections, while continuing to provide over 70,000 monographs and hundreds of thousands of journals to users. Lorna showed us some of the Library’s rare and unique collections, including a letter from Charles Darwin and beautifully detailed plant drawings by Lilian Snelling, who drew at the Botanics for five years in the early 20th century.


A quick tour around the Glasshouses, by the Living Collections Curator, was a real highlight, and covered topics about the conditions needed to house the vast array of plants, from all corners of the globe, in the collections.


We were also shown around the Herbarium by Dr David Harris. The Herbarium began as a Victorian exercise in categorisation and collecting, which continued with the increasing professionalisation of the sciences. Here, we looked at flowers preserved through drying and pressing in the late nineteenth century, which we learned (to much surprise!) are sent out on loan to other institutions and are encouraged to be annotated. With permission, and after careful consideration, some scientists are even allowed to use a piece of the specimen for experimental purposes: following rehydration in boiling water, a plant will take back its original form (but not colour). However, this contrasts with present day collections policy, which dictates that plant samples are preserved through a similar manner of drying and pressing, but also photographed and GPS-tracked. To our relief, additional samples are also collected purely for the purpose of scientific experiments: no more trimming off pieces of the collections!


There’s some fascinating work underway at the Botanics, and it was brilliant to see collections from a very different perspective, and facing unique challenges: how do you categorise a plant that isn’t recognisable? How do you keep track of plants as they evolve – can we simply distinguish between ‘living’ and ‘dead’ plant collections? And how can we best preserve these collections for future use – be this practical or theoretical? We had a great afternoon pondering the significance of these, and many more questions besides – many thanks to the Botanics for taking the time to talk to us about their work.


Behind the Scenes at the NLS

We have had a busy day today kicking off with a trip to the University Collections Facility at South Gyle where Hannah Mateer gave a tour of the facility and Gavin Willshaw chatted about current library digitisation work. A very exciting trip back to town on a tram followed and a lovely lunch at the Outsider was topped off with a trip to the National Library of Scotland.


A big thanks to our hosts at NLS who provided us with a very interesting tour, including a behind the scenes look at some of the collections and storage areas.

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The Knowledge of Dance

Following a busy first two days in the library the Knowledge Exchangers let off some steam on Tuesday night at the The Ceilidh Club at Summerhall. There was some very impressive dancing from the group, particularly from the first timers amongst us.


One of the group danced so much one of her shoes fell apart!


Norman also surprised us with the first, and probably last kilt appearance of the week.


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Visit to the Centre for Research Collections

On Day 2 of KEW, we welcomed the participants to the Centre for Research Collections (CRC). The CRC is the main point of access for the University’s heritage and cultural collections. The afternoon was designed to give an overview of the work we do, and explore some of the specialisms that go in to providing access to both physical visitors and remote enquirers.

We started the visit with a chat about how we provide access to the collections and what this involves for the CRC User Services team, including the workflows and processes we use. The diagram below illustrates the workflow from point of request for rare books, manuscripts and archives:

CRC workflow

The group then had an opportunity to see some recent acquisitions as Joe Marshall, Head of Special Collections and the CRC, talked them through the decision-making process when considering what purchases to make. A particularly intriguing item is this Batik divination manuscript on bark from Sumatra:

CleLIBGXIAEhQj-Now we just need to find someone who can read it!

We had a quick break mid-afternoon to watch a 1968 documentary film about the Main Library. The film was directed by Eric C. A. Lucey and provided students with useful information about how to navigate the building just after it opened. We used this as a starting point for a discussion about how the building has developed over the decades. You can watch the video on the University’s Media Hopper website. It’s amazing how much online discovery has improved students’ access to library resources but interesting to see how some things don’t change!

The rest of the afternoon was spent at conservation and the Digital Imaging Unit, looking at how we balance the preservation of the collections with user access, and the exciting experiments with new technology that the DIU photographers have been doing.

Fran Baseby

CRC Services Manager

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Student and Community Engagement

How can libraries, archives, and museums reach out to students, get people interested in their collections, and engage with the wider public? Sometimes it takes doing something completely unexpected. Student Engagement Officer Serena Fredrick and Learning and Engagement Curator Sarah Deters shared how they are working to engaged people with the vast arrays of items housed at the Centre for Research Collections.


This presentation explored the concept of ‘engagement’ and how its meaning may differ between institutions; what are the different types of audiences institutions may focus on; and how funding opportunities may impact the types of activities an institution may provide.


An interactive session ended the presentation with participants creating their own event around one of the University’s more gruesome artefacts – a letter written in the blood of the notorious killer, William Burke.


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