There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a markedly different year from the one we anticipated when writing last year’s annual review blog post. Like many of you, the Special Collections & Archives team have been working frequently from home since March – but that doesn’t mean we’ve been any less busy. As the end of year (thankfully) draws to a close, we’re taking the time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and hope that this compilation sends a little bit of archive magic out to your screens!
Karen (Special Collections and Archives Manager): “What a contrast 2020 has been compared to 2019! The SC&A team, along with most other employees at the University, moved to working from home on 23rd March and we are mostly still there. We still meet at least once a week but now instead of booking a meeting room or bagging a table (and a coffee) in the Library Café we now get together via our computer screens (coffee included)!
Working remotely has presented us with opportunities to tackle some of the tasks which get overlooked and pushed aside in a busy office. Early in lockdown much of my time was taken up working on a grant application to support a project to catalogue and promote our amazing David Drummond Pantomime Collection. Our application was not successful this time round – while it was disappointing news it has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into this wonderful collection and to discover some of its hidden treasures – I’m currently exploring boxes of libretti or books of words from the mid 19th century to the mid-twentieth century. Some of them are just books of words but some have gorgeous illustrations. So far, my favourite find is Sinbad the Sailor, closely followed by Mother Goose and Dick Whittington…I could go on…It feels especially important that we catalogue this collection given the devasting effect that the virus has had on live pantomime performances around the country this year.The rest of the team have been keeping busy too: Tom has worked on and off campus on the ever-expanding University archive, while Jo has worked on new and remote ways of delivering our popular teaching sessions. Jennie has had great fun cataloguing some of Martin Rowson’s digital cartoons (so funny!) The Max Tyler Music Hall collection has benefitted from the attentions of Clair, who has now catalogued all the research files and Mandy enjoyed scanning some of the sheet music, some of which has been recorded and uploaded by Dan Harding, Head of Music Performance at Kent – it really brings our collection to life. You can listen to this recording here. Beth, our project archivist for the UK Philanthropy Archive, has continued to spread the good news about our developing collection as well as delivering an excellent online event.
Working from home has meant that much of our volunteer work stopped abruptly in the spring – we miss our volunteer community very much and hope that we can welcome back our regular team as well as some new ones – watch this space! Having said that we did manage to set up Daniella, who was able to transcribe and translate indentures from Ronald Baldwin collection from home. See her blog post here: https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/specialcollections/2020/07/08/exploring-early-modern-kent-in-the-archive-part-1-an-introduction-to-the-ronald-baldwin-collection/. Thanks to Daniella’s great work we have been able to enhance our catalogue records.”
Tom (University Archivist): “This year my highlight was the opportunity to dedicate more time than usual to looking after and developing the University of Kent Archive. This large and important collection charts the development of the University of Kent through the initial planning and development of the site in the early 1960s, its foundation in 1965, and through the succeeding 55 years of educational achievement.
Though records of the University’s activities and decision-making processes have always been collected, it was not until relatively recently these have been gathered together in a dedicated space within the Templeman Library. As a result, a considerable backlog of archival work has built up, and the collection requires sorting, duplicate-thinning, repackaging, cataloguing and being physically arranged in its dedicated storeroom.
Because my other SC&A duties have been less pressing, this year I’ve been able to make proper headway in carrying out essential collections development work with this archive, including consolidating the various caches of documents in the library into a single space, commencing weeding of the various runs of published information such as annual reports and prospectuses, grouping similar records and records from the same department together, and commencing cataloguing of important papers like those of Eric Fox, the first Registrar of Kent. This interesting collection includes papers on the establishment and development of the University and the various crises (usually student led) that afflicted the university in its first 12 years.Working from home has also given us the opportunity to catalogue the University’s extensive photograph collection which my colleague Rachel has been working on. Rachel is also a Kent alumna so her knowledge is proving doubly useful in getting context from the images. The University Archive also took receipt of two large and significant collections in autumn 2020: records of Eliot College and records of the Faculty Office. Watch this space for updates to our catalogue throughout 2021 as these collections are catalogued and made accessible to our readers.”
Jo (Senior Library Assistant): “Throughout this year I’ve often joked that because my job involves collections and people, 2020 has meant a definite shift in my working environment. Whilst this is true (I very much miss introducing students to our collections in person), it’s been a great opportunity to develop our digital learning offer and create content that will hopefully serve our communities for years to come.
I particularly enjoyed making videos of some items from our collections to help support teaching; rather than single images, filming archives helps viewers get a sense of the physicality of the object and hopefully encourages them to come and see items in person when it’s safe to do so. Our Artists’ Books Collection was the perfect example of this: the books rely (and sometimes play with) our sense of touch to convey their meaning, and it was lovely to see some of these works and convey my knowledge and enthusiasm for them digitally. You can view an example of these videos here.
On a completely different note, there has been a wealth of digital learning and training created this year and it’s been really nice to have the opportunity to develop skills that being on campus doesn’t always allow for. Thanks to Kent’s Learning and Organisational Development team I completed six weeks of British Sign Language training over the summer which will hopefully serve our users well in future. I also finally got certification for my MA, so I guess I’m ‘officially’ a Librarian now!”
Jennie (Library Assistant – Curation & Discovery): “My role is to describe the items in our Special Collections and Archives and make them easy to find on our library search systems. Traditionally this is done with the item in hand, but of course this year a new approach had to be found. Luckily, we have a large and ever-growing collection of political cartoons by Martin Rowson in digital format just waiting for someone to add them to the catalogue – and that someone was me!
I was able to download the images at home and access our archival cataloguing system remotely to add some of Rowson’s fantastic satirical cartoons to our database. My personal favourite so far is Giving up the Ghost because it took a lot of detective work to figure out who all the politicians were, and because the Nigel Farage snake under the bed makes me laugh. It also features Rowson’s famous ‘fur cups’, which I make sure to add to the catalogue record when they appear. Rowson himself explained what the fur cups mean on Twitter:
I’m sure you can work it out.”
Clair (Digital Archivist): “I’m sure I’m not the first to mention that this year has been a very different experience of working in Special Collections & Archives! For the most part we’ve been distant from our collections in a physical sense, but this in turn has provided the opportunity for us to focus on some of the more admin-heavy collection tasks that we seldom get to focus on in the “normal world”.
This year feels like a difficult one to draw highlights from, but there have certainly been some satisfying and enjoyable moments for me. First up, we’ve taken a few steps to improving access to our collections this year. I had the pleasure of cataloguing the entirety of Max Tyler’s research files. I won’t go in to too much depth here as I wrote a blog post on the subject back in October 2020, but just to say that it’s an impressive collection that touches on many subjects, performers, and music hall songs. You can browse the entire collection here. My colleagues have made tremendous progress with cataloguing our collection of Martin Rowson digital cartoons. This is an active collection with continuous accruals, so it’s great to see them getting added to our online catalogue. We have managed to clear our scanning backlog of newspaper cartoon cuttings with help from our Digital Imaging team. And last up, our collections can now be found on The National Archive’s Discovery platform.
Finally, I had the opportunity to develop my skills in social media archiving this year, collecting tweets on the subject of philanthropy during the covid-19 pandemic for the UK Philanthropy Archive. This piece of work not only enabled me to learn some coding skills in Python programming language, but also meant I got to work closely with my colleague Beth Astridge to develop a collection for our newest archive!”
Mandy (Library Assistant – Digital Imaging): “I have really enjoyed scanning the music sheets from our Max Tyler Collection! They are so delicate and the pictures are so pretty. Seeing the music sheets as how they used to be has been great.”
Beth (Project Archivist – UK Philanthropy Archive): “As with the rest of the Special Collections & Archives team – 2020 has been a year of challenges and disruption – but also a year of new ways of working and opportunities to explore. There are several things that happened in the UK Philanthropy Archive this year that I think are worth celebrating!
I have focussed some time on making connections, spreading awareness about the UK Philanthropy Archive, and talking to potential donors about their collections. As always, it is so interesting to hear about the different trusts and foundations out there, to catch up with people who are passionate about the organisation they represent and the causes they support and begin to explore how they might ensure the long-term preservation of their archives.
COVID-19 has had a notable impact on the philanthropic sector – with many funders pausing grants, diverting funds to COVID emergency schemes, and adopting more flexible grants programmes and support mechanisms. To capture a record of some of this rapid change in the philanthropic sector we have developed an archive collection of the tweets coming from many of philanthropic sector organisations and individuals during 2020. It has been fascinating to investigate how to do this, and my colleague Clair (Digital Archivist) has written about her work on this elsewhere on this blog!
In March 2020 we had planned a big event to launch the UK Philanthropy Archive with a seminar and the inaugural Shirley Lecture to be delivered by the wonderful Dame Stephanie Shirley. Sadly, we had to postpone, and the event was split into two separate events. We held the first of these – a virtual seminar on Archives of Philanthropy in November, which officially launched the UK Philanthropy Archive! This brought together researchers, archivists, funders and others from the philanthropic sector to talk about the opportunities and challenges of keeping archives about philanthropy. It was well attended with lots of great presentations and interesting questions – and if you missed it – the recordings are available on our website! A big thank you to all the speakers who did an amazing job in communicating why collecting archives from the philanthropic sector is so important.
There is so much to look forward to in 2021 from the UK Philanthropy Archive. As well as more collections being deposited with us, getting back to cataloguing and getting the collections available for research, and several oral history interviews planned, we have the inaugural Shirley Lecture (in May 2021), as well as another exciting seminar – so keep an eye out for more information on our webpages.”
The SC&A team wish you a peaceful and safe Christmas and New Year and we hope you can connect with loved ones near and far. We’re closed for Christmas from Friday (18th December) and will be back in the (virtual) office from Monday 4th January 2021.