Picture Perfect!

Photo album coverBeing lucky, as I am, to work with a wide variety of archival collections relating to the history of animal genetics in Edinburgh, it can be mightily difficult to select an all-time ‘favourite’ item. However, it was ‘make-up-your-mind time’ last month at the University of Edinburgh’s Innovative Learning Week, when myself and several colleagues from the Centre for Research Collections were invited to give a Pecha Kucha (a fast-paced and time-controlled) presentation on our favourite items or aspects of the collections with which we work.

For me, there were a few strong contenders, but the ultimate winner had to be a photograph album presented to C.H. Waddington, the director of the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh, by his staff and students on the occasion of his 50th birthday in 1955.

Wad presentation of album

The beautifully presented volume is still in perfect condition and contains a wonderful selection of photographs, all with careful names and annotations. The more formal portraits of staff and scientific researchers give a unique insight into laboratory and research work in the 1950s. In terms of white coats and microscopes, not much has changed today, but I’m not so sure about this suave example of pipe-smoking!

George Clayton

The album also contains pictures of individuals who don’t always feature in the official histories of Edinburgh’s animal genetics community, including the scientists’ wives. The Institute was sometimes rumoured to be a hotbed of scandal and intrigue, so one would like to have been a fly on the wall at this particular party…

Wives cropped

I also love the informal and humorous photographs in the album, which paint a much more individual and human picture of the geneticists’ lives and working environment than can be gained simply through printed papers, research reports and official correspondence. Who can fail to be inspired by pictures of an amateur ballet based on the fruit fly Drosophila, for example?

Drosophila ballet cropped

You can watch a video of the Pecha Kucha here: http://vimeo.com/87273640

IGAP – Institute of Grassland and Animal Production (1987-1989/90)

IGAPReport1987imageWhen the new AFRC Institute of Grassland and Animal Production was created on 1 April 1987 it had five research stations: Aberystwyth, including the Bronydd Mawr Research Centre (Trecastle); Hurley, including the Bernard Weitz Research Centre (Arborfield); North Wyke’s Grassland Production and Utilisation Department;  Shinfield’s Pig Department and Roslin’s Poultry Department. From, information found in the IGAP Report, 1987, the Institute was designed to:

undertake an integrated programme of strategic and applied research concerned with grassland use and the environmental consequences of farming practices, the production and utilisation of grass and other forage crops and with the nutrition, physiology, welfare and production of ruminants, pigs and poultry and other animals. The objectives of the research are to improve the efficiency of the production and utilisation of feed, and other resources; to improve the predictability of animal performance; to reduce the costs of production of animal products, especially milk, meat and eggs; and to improve the consistency and quality of these products, having due regard for environmental and animal welfare consideration.

At the station in Roslin; however, IGAP shared the site with IAPGR (AFRC Institute for Animal Physiology and Genetics Research) which required a certain amount of restructuring of the laboratories, staff and offices.

One of the major research topics investigated by the Poultry Department at the Roslin station was in improving the efficiency in poultry nutrition and production:

Within the remit for poultry nutrition research, work on the broiler breeder hen and the turkey hen receives a unique emphasis. Nutritional biochemistry is a strong feature of the programme with work on amino acid metabolism in muscle and in lipoprotein and adipose tissue metabolism. Computer simulation techniques are widely used in both biochemical and nutritional studies. The Metabolic Pathology Group brings a range of skills in morphology, histology, histochemistry and ultrastructural studies to the poultry research programme and carries out research into skeletal and other metabolic diseases of poultry.

According to the Roslin Institute’s Library and Information Manager, Mike McKeen in his paper, ‘Roslin Institute Online:  A brief history of Roslin Institute,’ (November 1994; Rev. April 2008):

In the original reorganisation at Roslin the nutrition, biochemistry and pathology programmes of PRC were incorporated into the Institute of Grassland and Animal Production. The IGAP Poultry Department remained on the former PRC site and was subsequently incorporated into IAPGR in 1990 on the creation of the present Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (which was itself transferred to Aberystwyth University in April 2008).

It’s been fascinating to follow the history and development of the various institutes over the course of time and seeing how they overlap and merge!

Preserving the Past

When you consider archives and printed collections, you might immediately think of the information they contain, but you may not necessarily consider what surrounds this information, such as the pages or book covers. If both aspects are not cared for, all can be lost. This is why a crucial part of our job on the ‘Towards Dolly’ project is not just to catalogue the collections, but to preserve them. Some of the material we encounter is fragile, damaged and in need of careful handling, cleaning and repackaging to ensure that it is preserved in the best condition possible, for as long as possible. Many of the items are nineteenth or early twentieth century, so they are not only old but may also have previously been treated roughly or stored in unsuitable conditions.

A few weeks ago, Kristy Davis (the project’s Rare Books Cataloguer) and I received some preservation training, provided by professional conservator Caroline Scharfenberg of Books and Archive Conservation Services Ltd, who also conducts work for Edinburgh University Library. Caroline trained us on the correct procedures to handle and clean items without causing further damage to them, such as using specialist brushes to clean the covers and pages of volumes. In the picture you can see Kristy using the brushes to clean a fragile volume of offprints from the collection of early geneticist Francis Albert Eley Crew (1886-1973).

These preservation techniques seem basic, but the impact they can have is huge! Whether cataloguing these collections or performing some simple ‘TLC’, it is all part of the same thing – that is, ensuring that these important collections are made available for future generations to learn from and enjoy.