New Professionals – Skills Development

This blog post comes from one of our project volunteers, Daisy Stafford.  Daisy made a significant contribution to the project in her work data cleansing retro-converted catalogue descriptions.  As Daisy points out, this can be one of the more mundane archival tasks that can take up our time but equally an essential means to an end.  We were delighted to have Daisy on board and thanks to her great work we are ever closer to that end.  Thank you Daisy!

As a postgraduate student, working towards an MSc in Book History and Material Culture, there is nothing as invaluable as hands-on practical experience within your field. My course introduced the range of professional roles that surround working with special collections, but last summer I decided it would be useful to gain further experience within one particular collection. Having volunteered within the Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), I was on the lookout for any other relevant archival opportunities. My time with the LHSA had also focused my interest on access issues surrounding collections, particularly how administrative and cataloguing tasks can increase the visibility and facilitate the use of a collection.

Frieze panorama of Paris; ink, chalk and colour wash by Adrian Berrington. 1914. (Ref: Coll-1167/A1.56A)

Daisy’s work contributed greatly to enhancing catalogue descriptions and consequently access to many beautiful collection items. One such item is this frieze panorama of Paris; ink, chalk and colour wash by Adrian Berrington. 1914. (Ref: Coll-1167/A1.56A)

I was subsequently introduced to the Patrick Geddes project, and working with Project Archivist Elaine, I committed a half-day a week to help with a data clean-up task. Using Optical Character Recognition, the data had been retro-converted from an historic printed catalogue into an Excel spreadsheet, with varying degrees of accuracy. The majority of the information was there, but the order was very jumbled and needed manually re-ordered, checked, and tidied to become comprehensible and fit for transfer to the online archive catalogues. Consulting the printed catalogue, and occasionally undertaking my own research, I methodically checked the details for each item, correcting where necessary. I then split the data into separate fields which complied with the International Standard for Archival Description (ISADg): including but not exclusive to; title; date; creator; format; dimensions; scope and content etc. This work would eventually enable the application of Encoded Archival Description (EAD), which would transform the completed spreadsheet into a fully searchable online catalogue. In total, I cleaned over 363 catalogue descriptions.  The prospect of increasing the access to and eventual use of this exciting collection is what motivated me through the occasionally monotonous data cleaning.

This task developed my previously non-existent archival cataloguing skills, teaching me to interpret, analyse and sort data, identify OCR errors and apply corrections, and generally increase my experience with Excel. It was also a supremely satisfying task for someone as committed to organisation and imposing order as I am. Overall, the experience may have dispelled any romantic notions I had of archivists spending their whole days looking at beautiful collection items, but it impressed upon me the importance of cataloguing tasks in the management of special collections.

Grant Buttars (University Archivist), during the collections stock-take, discovers the print mock-up for the Pepler Cities Exhibition, London. 1948. (Ref: Coll-1167/A.8.3)

An archivist looks at a beautiful collection item. Grant Buttars (University Archivist) discovers the print mock-up for the Pepler Cities Exhibition, London. 1948. (Ref: Coll-1167/A.8.3)

Since the end of my volunteering on the project, I completed a work placement at the National Museum of Scotland, where I was responsible for enhancing the catalogue records of the museum’s rare books collection. Although a very different cataloguing system, the Patrick Geddes project introduced me to the key data fields and showed me the level of detail necessary for this kind of work. It is an experience that will only increase in relevance as I progress in my career working with special collections.


The Metamorphosis of Patrick Geddes

Work continues on re-cataloguing the Geddes family photographs.  Working in such close proximity with these photographic collections has provided a rare opportunity to follow intimately the changing face of Patrick Geddes throughout his lifespan. We hope you enjoy the visual journey as much as we did.

  • Carte de Visite, studio portrait of Patrick Geddes, aged 10. May 1864 (Ref: Coll-1167/GFP).
    Patrick Geddes, aged 10. May 1864

Sticky Situations

Last week our Project Conservator, Nicole Devereux, wrote about how she had uncovered an unusual sticky situation among the Patrick Geddes Collection photographs.  Rising to the conservation challenge, Nicole explored some fascinating and experimental conservation processes in order to resolve this particular problem.  Read more about Nicole’s work here.

Cataloguing the Sir Patrick Geddes papers

Our project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, provides an update on cataloguing work.

One of the major aims of our Wellcome Research-Resource funded project is to catalogue the papers of Sir Patrick Geddes held at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde.  The completion of the cataloguing work will allow the remaining project conservation work to be undertaken and will facilitate the eventual virtual reuniting of the two collections of papers held at both institutions.

I am delighted to report that, after a 6 month hiatus, the cataloguing work which was started in 2017, has re-commenced in earnest.  I have been undertaking a stock-take of the Geddes family photographs that are held at the University of Edinburgh, along with creating descriptive content of these for the new collection catalogue.

The Geddes family photographs held at the University of Edinburgh are a fascinating series of approximately 175 photographs which range in size, format and content.  Photographic processes discovered include ambrotypes, albumen prints, Carte de Visite through to black and white photographic prints.  These illustrate not only Sir Patrick Geddes in formal portraits but also include informal compositions of his family and associates in a variety of locations including, but not exclusive to, their home in Perth, Scotland; the College des Ecossais at Montpellier, France; and also in Mumbai (then Bombay), India.  The collection contains original items, duplicates and some related items or duplicates can be found within our own collections at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Strathclyde but also at other institutions, such as the National Library of Scotland.

Sample of photographic images held in the Sir Patrick Geddes collection at the Univesity of Edinburgh

Sample of images from the Sir Patrick Geddes family photographs held at the University of Edinburgh (Ref: Coll-1167/3/GFP).

To create a catalogue of a photographic collection, an incredible amount of descriptive content needs to be captured, not only in relation to the photograph subject matter but also in relation to the photographers; photograph formats; the photographic processes; and whether the items are original or duplicate (which is not always easy to establish!). I have also been looking to record the relationships with duplicate or related archive items held elsewhere in other institutions.  Thankfully, much of this information had already been captured previously in the extensive work undertaken by our colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Sample of legacy catalogues and indexes created by colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Sample of legacy catalogues and indexes created by colleagues at the former Patrick Geddes Centre.

Containing a phenomenal amount of information these inherited lists and indexes were previously only available as hand-written lists and were each arranged in a different way; some numerical, some chronological and some alphabetical and sometimes with differing descriptive content relating to the same photographic item.   A sometimes complex process, the descriptive information gleaned from the legacy catalogues and indexes, was however successfully captured and condensed into one electronic document. Creating an electronic and condensed version of these catalogues which combined all of their content has provided us with a fairly comprehensive interim catalogue of the Geddes family photographs.  This is already a fantastic step forward in enabling access to this part of the Sir Patrick Geddes collection.

Illustration of new electronic interim catalogue

Illustration of new electronic interim catalogue

A stock-take of the physical photographs is now well underway.  During the stock-take we will also assess the physical condition of the photographs to inform remaining conservation work (this will include re-housing the collection); and additional descriptive content and corrections will be added to the interim catalogue.  Once thoroughly checked and edited the content from the interim catalogue will be transferred to the University of Edinburgh’s online archive and manuscript collections catalogue and made available to the public. In the mean-time, we look forward to sharing many of the highlights from the Sir Patrick Geddes photographic collections that we discover in the coming weeks.

Black and white photograph of Sir Patrick Geddes sat in a window recess with a sculpture (unidentified) to his right.

Sir Patrick Geddes sat in window recess with sculpture to his right. (Ref: Col1167/3/GFP/5).

Can you help?

I would be very interested to hear from any Geddes experts who may be able to help me identify the sculpture in the background of the photograph above of Sir Patrick Geddes sat in a window recess.  If you can help, I would be delighted to hear from you, you can email your thoughts to me at

Conserving Patrick Geddes

I am very excited to be working on the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project as Project Conservator which runs for 10 months. During my first month on the project I have been getting to grips with the collection which is split over Strathclyde University in Glasgow and Edinburgh University. Whilst looking through the collections I have come across a variety of different media including photograph albums, photographs, glass plate negatives, and transparent paper, loose sheets of correspondence and drawings.


A portrait of Patrick Geddes


The majority of the collection requires rehousing, flattening and minor paper repairs. Tearing of the paper collection has been caused by years of handling and inappropriate storage. To repair them remoistenable tissue with gelatine is being used. This method is being used because of the different types of inks used throughout the collection which are sensitive to moisture. It is also a faster repair method for a larger collection. The rehousing will consist of new archival folders for the collection housed in 180 archival boxes and three different sizes of melinex sleeves for the larger items in plan chests. We also hope to set up a crowdsourcing event to help rehouse the 180 boxes.

Survey Graphic magazine in need of paper repairs