Archives

Moving the RCS Archives

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Louise King: Archivist, The Royal College of Surgeons of England

In June 2017 the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (the College/ RCS) moved to the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)…well, most of them did…and they haven’t moved forever…it’s a long story but I will try to keep it brief!

In May 2015, I attended my first meeting to discuss how we would move the archive collections out of the building, where to, for how long, and how we would prepare them for this upheaval. Over the next two years I attended a lot of meetings, counted a lot of things relating to archives and was grateful to a lot of very hardworking individuals. Don’t get me wrong, the work on the archives didn’t suddenly start that day in 2015, it had been going on since the start of the century when the College appointed its first professional archivist, but the prospect of a move makes you think about things differently.

As well as the archives, the library and the museums needed to move the majority of their collections out too, but my focus was the archives. The reason for the move was that, by 2015, the College was made up of parts that had mostly gone up since the 1950s (the only 19th century parts were the portico, the Library and the entrance hall) and was no longer fit for the College’s activities and staff in the 21st century.

Preparation:
Our small team already carried out the processing, including basic repackaging when required, and promotion of the archives. Our archive collections (a mix of the College’s own papers and those relating to the history of surgery) were housed in a number of rooms in the basement (of course!) of the College. They weren’t perfect but they were adequate. With the prospect of the College being largely knocked down and rebuilt, and relying on other people to work with our collections, we now had to look at the collections and what we did with a different eye.  We had to consider questions such as: are the collections packaged well enough to protect them during journeys in a van and are the box labels correct and clear if you aren’t familiar with our collections? Every archive has labels that have been amended but not printed off again, yet, but when other people will be handling the boxes for you, suddenly these potentially confusing labels appeared to be on every other box!

Conservator Kostas Tsafaridis showing the Archives team how to make phase boxes

In May 2015 we were a team of just 1.5 people (with occasional volunteers) but to prepare for the move we took on someone to backfill the daily tasks for me and a cataloguer. The meetings I attended were largely to discuss the logistics not only of our own move, but to ensure that we didn’t clash with the library or museums as well as the rest of College. We also had to make the arrangements for the off-site storage with our new partners.

We decided that using barcodes on the archive boxes would be beneficial both during the move and for tracking future movements. Tablets and scanners were bought, each pair of barcodes were put on a short and a long side of each box. We then scanned the barcodes into an Excel spreadsheet because we were unable to scan straight into Adlib.

Harrow Green unloading the first cages of archive boxes at LMA

We used Harrow Green for the moves of the archives and of the library. For the archives we just used them on moving days but the library also used them to help with packing up the books (wrapping in tissue, moving to temporary locations). We all agreed how fantastic the team working on our project were!

The Move:
The moving days were possibly the easiest part of the whole project. Most of the archives were moved during one warm week in June. Three days were spent shuttling between the College (near Holborn) and the LMA (Clerkenwell) and one day going out to TNA at Kew. Archives staff were at each end to oversee the Harrow Green staff loading boxes into cages, onto and then off the vans before going onto their new shelves.

Archivists Sophie Gibbs and Fahema Begum with trollies ready to relocate

They felt like long days! Harrow Green like to start early, to get as many van loads done as they safely can in a day, so we took it in turns to be in early and rotated the other posts.

The shelves at LMA were already barcoded and we have put barcodes on the shelves we are using at TNA, so once boxes were unloaded, the barcode on their new shelf was scanned into the spreadsheet.

Post-move:
You’d think that the rest of the summer would have been quiet and an anti-climax. I was now an archivist separated from the bulk of her archives (without the means to provide access) and the rest of the College was gradually being packed up. But that meant that people started finding “things” for the archives so we had to start a new series of “uncatalogued” boxes (which we then moved along with the office contents in September). We also needed that time to input the new locations into the catalogue. All too soon, we were moving out of our office at the College, the Library was no longer “ours” as the whole building was handed over to the contractors, and we moved our last boxes over to LMA.

The Library just before it was handed over to the contractors in September 2017

The last of the (archives, library and museums) project staff left in August. The Archives team is back to 1.5 people working in both Holborn and at LMA.. The current situation takes a lot of explaining to some people but our researchers are gradually venturing to Clerkenwell where LMA staff retrieve the boxes and invigilate the Archives Study Area. The arrangements all seem to be working well so far.

The Future:
The architects are hard at work on the plans. Knowing that we will only have a fraction of the on-site storage that we used to, we are making plans for long-term off-site storage and retrievals. While the Library and the front of the College won’t be changing much, their use will be. This means that we are now planning a search room from scratch. It will be smaller (we used to have the whole Library) but will be easier to invigilate and provide services for researchers. The College is due to re-open in 2020.

If anyone reading this is planning a move, particularly of cross-domain collections, do get in contact as we would be happy to share our experiences and lessons learned.

Archives

McCarthy Award for History of Medicine Research

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Eligibility

This award is open to all researchers in the history of medicine, or related social and cultural history fields. Researchers can be based in the United Kingdom or overseas. Please be aware that for overseas finalists, travel expenses to the event will only be paid from their point of entry into the United Kingdom.

Application and Selection Procedure

Research must be unpublished and must have been undertaken in the last 3 years. Research which has been submitted for publication will be considered, but details should be given of when and where it has been submitted, and if it has been accepted for publication. Abstracts must be based on original research in the field.

The deadline for submissions is 31 August 2018.

Abstracts must be submitted in either PDF or Word format along with a completed application form and curriculum vitae. The abstract must not exceed 1000 words in length. The curriculum vitae must not exceed two sides of A4.

Applicants, if chosen, must be willing to present their research on Friday 19 October 2018. This is a public event, to encourage engagement with the history of medicine in Scotland.

The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh will publish the winning paper. The winner will also be asked to submit a guest blog post on their research for publication on the College’s heritage blog.

The award can only be awarded to an individual once.

Further Information

Any enquiries can be directed to Iain Milne (link sends e-mail) 0131 247 3625

Archives

Upcoming seminar: Approaches to Opening Up Medical Records, London Metropolitan Archives

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Date: Fri 19 January 2018

Time: 09:30 – 13:30 GMT

Venue:
London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB

 

At this professional seminar, LMA and St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives will share their approaches to opening up access to medical records in their collections through two current projects funded by the Wellcome Trust Research Resources in Medical History scheme. Speakers include: Philippa Smith, Lara Speroni, Giorgia Genco, Kate Jarman and Rebecca D’Ambrosio.

 

You can register for free for this event via Eventbrite:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/approaches-to-opening-up-medical-records-tickets-40179235174?aff=es2

 

 

Archives

Unlocking the Asylum Project at Denbighshire Archives

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My name is Lindsey Sutton and I am the Project Archivist employed on the Wellcome funded Unlocking the Asylum project at Denbighshire Archives. The project began in October of this year and is due to run until November 2019.

The North Wales Hospital, Denbigh, was the main institution in North Wales for the care of the mentally ill. The institution opened in October 1848 serving the whole of North Wales and the borders. A century later, its patients numbered in excess of 1,500. It was by far the biggest employer in the area and activities recorded in its voluminous archives reflect its importance in the social and economic life of the area, with its farm, sporting activities, community events and cultural festivals.

The hospital finally closed its doors in 1995. The resulting archive is unique in its completeness including: patient records; annual reports and committee minutes; financial records; plans; and staff records.

The project team is made up of three roles. There is the Project Archivist (myself), whose role is to produce an itemised catalogue of the existing accessions re-catalogued to current standards and an itemised catalogue of later accessions of administration records. There is a Project Support Officer who will spend two years indexing and repackaging the later series of patient case files, some 23,000 in total.

Finally there is the Project Conservator who has been employed for three months to assess the collection for conservation needs and suggest preventive preservation measures.

We are now three months into the project and the first phase to re-catalogue the existing accessions is now complete, the temporary catalogue is available online via the Denbighshire Archives website.

http://archives.denbighshire.gov.uk/collections/getrecord/GB209_HD-1

Work is also well under way on the indexing and repackaging of the patient files, of which just under 1000 have been completed. Additionally a detailed conservation survey has been completed, the repackaging recommendations of which will be implemented next year.

If you would like to find out more about this project please see our two recent blog posts which look at the plans for repackaging the series of maps and plans, and take a closer look at the information contained within the patient files predating the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948.

Unlocking the Asylum: Unrolling the Archive

Exploring the Asylum: Patient Case Books

We will continue to post regular updates throughout the project on our blog and Facebook pages.