Tag Archives: Conservation

Archives Wales Forum 2013: Working Together

Maesmawr Hall Hotel, Caersws

Maesmawr Hall Hotel, Caersws

This week I travelled to sunny Caersws for the annual Archives Wales Forum. Held in a Tudor manor house, the conference was attended by archivists from across the country, from Anglesey to Gwent. The theme was ‘working together’, and over a fully packed day, we heard from twenty speakers on a wide range of topics from educational outreach to catalogue conversion.

The guest speaker, Dr Aled Jones, Chief Executive and Librarian of the National Library of Wales (NLW), began the day by introducing the Library’s recently launched strategy document, Knowledge for All: Strategic Direction 2014-2017.

Morning speakers included Sally McInnes on the NLW’s £20.4 million Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a national Conservation Centre, which is proposed to be built onto the area of the National Library’s building affected by April’s fire. Alwyn Roberts (NLW) reported on a project to use volunteers to transcribe shipping records, and Elspeth Jordan (National Museum of Wales) discussed their £600,000 Esmée Fairbairn funded project to conserve, digitise and carry out research on a sample from their photography collection. Both Kerry Robinson from Powys Archives and Steven Davies from Flintshire Record Office spoke about using affordable portable scanners to digitise collections and catalogues. I gave a presentation on SCOLAR’s support for a new undergraduate module in the School of English – Project Management and Research – in which students undertake workplace-based projects in exchange for course credit, in order to develop employability skills prior to graduation.

The afternoon sessions focused on a number of educational outreach projects undertaken by Gwent, West Glamorgan, Anglesey and Glamorgan Archives, involving children as young as 3. All are successfully working with teachers to link local collections in with National Curriculum themes. Sarah Winning from Denbighshire archives spoke about their WordPress blog, launched to save staff time in writing annual reports and newsletters and to help reach a new online audience.

One of the most impressive presentations of the day came from Andrew Dulley of West Glamorgan Archives Service. Andrew produced an award-winning short film of the Olympic torch relay route, as it would have looked in 1908 Swansea. The resulting film is slick, professional, and successfully brings history to life – but it cost nothing to produce. Andrew used free software to carry out all transitions, image editing and sound editing, and obtained free music and sound effects under a Creative Commons licence.  It is a superb example of what archives across Wales are managing to achieve despite financially straitened times, with a bit of hard work, ingenuity and imagination!

Archives and accountability

This was the central theme of the UK and Ireland annual conference of the Archives and Records Association (the professional body for archivists) which met in Cardiff this autumn, with over 200 delegates.

The conference explored the authenticity and reliability of archival records. Talks ranged from their role in the Hillsborough Panel report, including  allegations of doctored records of the football disaster, to the role of archives as a ‘trusted repository’ in areas of conflict, such as Northern Ireland and the American black civil rights movement, both in recent memory. ARA_breakoutAs well as the main talks, there was an opportunity to participate in small break-out groups, which discussed issues affecting the profession – including workforce diversity, professional membership, collecting policies, and archival descriptive standards.

The first keynote speech was from Sarah Tyacke, previously Chief Executive of the National Archives at Kew in London, and member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The second was from Dr Jones Lukose Ongalo, Head of Archives at the International Criminal Court, The Hague. ARA_LukoseHe described the many precautions taken to ensure the security and authenticity of its war crimes’ evidence, given that the ICC is the world’s first wholly digital archive. They were joined by a wide range of speakers from organisations based all over the world.

Talks on conservation took place alongside those on archives, with both conservators and archivists encouraged to attend one another’s sessions. Conservation speakers included Jane Henderson from Cardiff University (School of History, Archaeology and Religion), Sarah Paul from CyMAL, (the National Assembly’s agency for archives, museums and libraries in Wales) and Emma Dadson, Director of Harwell Restoration.

Relating the theme of authenticity and accountability back to our own work context was not too difficult. We use examples from our archives in workshops with our students, to question and challenge the idea of ‘evidence’ (how it is preserved, and how reliably), and to highlight the difference between responsibly curated archival documents, and the potential transiency and unreliability of sources found online.

For more information, please visit the Archives and Record Association conference page.

Innovative Historical Conservation in SCOLAR

A seminar in the University Library organized by SCOLAR showcased two new innovative methods of conservation for rare books – one to extend the lifespan of the books, the other to extend our knowledge of the history of those books and their bindings.

A guest speaker from Northampton’s Leather Conservation Centre, Lara Meredith, a professional conservator, outlined a new technique for combating acidification in leather, which causes red dusty rot of the material. The new technique will give at least another generation of life to rare books suffering from ‘red rot’.

A second speaker, Professor Nicholas Pickwoad, of the University of the Arts London, has devised a new methodology for analysing, identifying, and describing the historical physical structure of rare books – in a way which opens up a whole new field for extending our knowledge of the early origins, production, trade, and use of rare books. Such new data will trace the historical and geographical journey of volumes, and chronicle the narrative of their use over the centuries, the ‘archaeology of the book’ as Prof. Pickwoad noted. Such studies based on whole collections could open up whole new layers of historical evidence to enhance our understanding of the material conditions which prevailed in the book trade and libraries, and of individual ownership and use of books since the dawn of printing in the 15th century.

Dr Thanasis Velios, a colleague of Prof. Pickwoad, demonstrated the database he has created to capture the layers of data discovered using the new methodology of analysis of binding structures and materials, and showed the potential to utilize the data for a range of potential research fields across the Humanities.

An external conservation grant from the Colwinston Trust, negotiated via Development and Alumni Relations (DEVAR), has enabled conservation already to begin on the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, and enabled this seminar, which was attended by University academics, librarians, archivists, and staff from the National Museum of Wales Library and Glamorgan Archives, to take place.