Our new home – a big underground move update

Yesterday afternoon, I popped up to what’s currently level 2 west of the Templeman library, for a quick glimpse of the new extension. It looks fantastic, and it’s great to see the building – and Special Collections and Archives’ space in it – coming together.

Photograph of the first floor of the library extension.

This will be the link between the existing building and the extension: leading to the Gallery and Special Collections & Archives offices.

Unfortunately, there have been a few delays, so we are now advising that we will be reopen our services by 21st September, which is Welcome Week for new members of the University.

This doesn’t mean that we’re having a quiet August by any means, and I thought I’d take a few moments to tell you a bit about how we’ve been preparing, and what we will be doing to transport all of our collections carefully over to the new basement in Templeman West. In all, we’re moving 3.5km of books and archival materials from their current locations, a number of basement stores below Templeman East, into the new space.

As you’ve probably noticed from our blog and Twitter feed, we’ve been lucky enough to have a small army of volunteers working with us since last September, who have been going through all of the books in the collection to clean and prepare them for the move. This includes making boards where books are bound in paper, or have lost their original bindings, tying them where they’re fragile and also wrapping them, in cases where damage might be done to the decoration on the cover. Although our volunteers have now finished for the summer, we’re still continuing this work. Recently, we tackled the huge scrapbooks owned by Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, several of which are far too heavy to be lifted by a single person!

A photograph of KW19 scrapbook, prepared for the move.

KW19 – the largest scrpabook in the Kingsley Wood Collection – now wrapped and ready to go.

In addition to this, we have been boxed a number of materials which previously weren’t boxed, or weren’t boxed particularly well. Some of the Cartoons collections have benefitted from this work, and we’ve also reboxed some 19th-20th century photographs of Italy which were previously in an embroidered scrapbook. In addition, materials from the University Archive are being carefully boxed and organised under the watchful eye of the University Archivist, Ann MacDonald.

Photograph of labelled shelves.

We’ve been labelling all of hte shelves in the basement to make sure the movers know what should go where.

Rather less exciting has been the work labelling everything, from trolleys to filing cabinets, shelves to whole bays of material in order  to match these up with our (rather complex!) plans of where everything is going to go. As we have professional movers coming to help us with the work, we need to make sure that everything is identified both in situ and during the move process, so that it ends up in the right place.

So as the final touches are being added to the building, we’re still continuing our ‘behind the scenes’ work of collections care and preparation. Because of this work, and thanks to all of the people who have been helping us, the archives and books will reach their new home in the best condition to continue being fascinating resources for research, teaching and study and we look forward to welcoming you to our new home, on the first floor of Templeman West, in September.

For more information about Templeman West, and what this means for library use, take a look at the Library News blog.

We’ll keep you up to date on progress through the website and via Twitter, @UoKSpecialColls.

A busy new year

Another year comes to an end already…I’m not sure where 2014 went, but once again it’s been full of excitement and events for Special Collections & Archives.

Along with our regular lecture series, and the annual teaching of Victorian & Edwardian Theatre history, 2014 witnessed the publication of the first part of a biography of Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, by historian Hugh Gault, based heavily on the scrapbooks held in our collections. Alongside this, and our normal duties, we have been preparing to move all of our collections: next spring, we will be setting up the service in the new Templeman extension. This has really been taking shape over the last few weeks, and we have been lucky enough to pop over to see the new reading room, offices and stores. We can’t wait to be in there, but first there’s just the small matter of moving all of our collections from one end of the building through to the other, over 3 weeks, along one corridor. Look out for more news about this in the new year!

The so-called 'zebra book'; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

The so-called ‘zebra book’; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

In preparation for the move, we have been working closely with a stalwart team of 15 volunteers who have been cleaning our rare and special book collections, packaging the fragile bindings and helping with collections care. This means that the books, which take up several hundred metres of shelving, can be carefully moved without risking any damage. On Wednesday 17 December, we had a special volunteers’ event to mark the end of this project, but I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of this term’s volunteers for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment, which has enabled us to get over 150 metres of books clean and ready to move.

Also this term, we’ve delivered more than 20 taught sessions and workshops with members of the University community and beyond, including a hugely popular event at the Marlowe Theatre to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. As ever, it’s been great to see people getting so enthusiastic about archives – whether it’s a book signed by Alfred Russell Wallace, acting out the thrilling conclusion of the melodrama Maria Marten or discussing Shakespeare’s Welsh connections.

We’ve had several new members join us the team this year: our new archivist, Ann MacDonald, who is curating the University of Kent Archive, and Rachel Dickinson, Metadata and Special Collections Assistant, who has been cataloguing materials right across the broad spectrum of the collections. You can take a look at Rachel’s thoughts about her experiences getting started in the collections on the blog. Another exciting development has been the appointment of an archivist and a digitisation assistant to the nascent British Stand Up Comedy Archive for a year; again, more news to follow in 2015! Finally, stalwart member of the British Cartoon Archives Team Jane Newton has gone part time, so we now have Joy Thomas working as the other half of the post of Special Collections & Archives Curator.

So as we look forward into 2015, we know there will be some major changes and a considerable amount to organise. But we’re looking forward to settling into our new spaces and continuing to work with researchers to discover rare and exciting materials in the unique Special Collections & Archives here at the University of Kent.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy 2015!

Level 4 reopening Monday 24

As you’ve no doubt gathered, Special Collections and Archives has been running the reading service out of a temporary reading room for the last month or so, following a flood in our main offices. I’m pleased to announce that repair work has now been completed and we are hoping to move our service back into the Level 4 reading room from Monday 24th November.

Because of the sensitive nature of our materials, we do need to make sure that environmental conditions are right for the archives, so we will be monitoring this throughout the week to ensure that the conditions are stable.

All being well, the interim Level 2 reading room will close at 4.30 on Thursday 20 November to enable furniture to be moved back upstairs. The service will then resume on Level 4 of the Templeman Library from 9.30am on Monday 24th November.

We would like to thank all of our users for your patience during this time.

If you want to hear more about the experience of dealing with the flood, why not take a look at Rachel Dickinson’s blog post about her first few months in the team?

A Farewell to our Gallery

This summer is going to our last in our current location and as you probably know, we’re gearing up for plenty of changes! As I type, we’re in the process of taking down our last exhibition in the Level 1 Gallery space (just outside the Level 1 office and the cafe). This exhibition focussed on Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, and you can learn more about him from the blog post ‘Wood would: the forgotten campaigner‘. In due course, we’ll provide a digital version of this exhibition on the website, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

The reason for all these changes is the ongoing Templeman Redevelopment work which will be gathering pace over the summer. Early next year, we’re due to move into the new suite of Special Collections & Archives rooms, in the extension, which is a very exciting prospect. We hope to launch the new location with an exhibition in the new gallery, which will front the office area on the new Level 2. In the meantime, the social learning space will be moving into the gallery to make sure there’s enough room while the Core Text Collection moves into the other side of the social learning space. Confused? Check out the Templeman Development webpages to have it all explained!

A lot of our work over the summer is going to be aimed at planning the Big Underground Move to get our materials into the extension, and finding ways of keeping you all informed about what we’re doing. Equally, we’re putting in place plans for teaching over the next academic year and thinking about funding and projects to keep our collections work ticking over. No doubt it will be busy, but I’ll try to keep you updated as we go.

Manuscript notes about the coronation of George IV

Manuscript notes about the coronation of George IV

The reading room is still open, so do just request items if you’d like to see anything. I thought I might just share a little gem which came out of a request yesterday. A routine request for a book in the Maddison Collection, A treatise of Oswaldus Crollius of signatures of internal things (1669), proved to contain some lovely annotations on contemporary events. In two almost page-long manuscript notes, a clergyman has written accounts of the coronation of George IV, possibly taken from newspapers at the time. The coronation, on Thursday 19th July 1821, was notable for the ommision of the Queen on the guest list. One of these accounts notes:

His Majesty was crowned without the Queen, owing to her bad conduct, at home and abroad, she came to the Abbey in the time of Service, to be admitted, but was denied entrance at either of the doors

It is, perhaps, a matter of historical debate as to whose conduct was worse, George IV’s or his Queen Caroline’s, but it’s interesting to compare this to a contemporary account from my old friend William Harris, who heard about events while on his travels around Europe.

A004208As well as the notes, the facing page has the words ‘Queen Caroline’ and an ink caricature penned after the text, perhaps drawn by the same man who wrote the accounts, one Adam Johnson. In the second account, he names himself clearly and adds:

…son of the Reverend Doctor Johnson at the Rectory of St Ruan[?] near Penzance in the county of Cornwall (England)

with ‘God Save the King’ for good measure. In the margin of the previous page, he writes: ‘For Posterity’. I don’t suppose he ever imagined that his notes would make it onto the Special Collections blog!

Preserved, Assessed and Surveyed

You might have noticed that we were closed for much of last week; if you’ve wandered past the door to the reading room between last Tuesday and Thursday, you might have seen the sign on the door saying that we reopened on Friday morning. This closure was so that the team could focus on starting on two Preservation Assessment Surveys, which will guage the level of care needed in the future to maintain our collections.

The Preservation Assessment Survey was created and is administered by the British Library, which provides the tools for the job, plus endless expertise, encouragement and support. The idea behind the survey (and based on complicated equations) is that a reasonably random sample of around 400 items in a collection can give a snapshot into the preservation needs and state of a collection. Once the statistics have been gathered, the Preservation Assessment Survey team take the data and create a report highlighting issues which need to be addressed.

For our surveys, we also asked to include a measure of whether items were ready to be moved into the new basement store which will be opening with the Templeman extension. This will give us a really good idea of the work which we need to get done in the next couple of years, as well as the next few decades.

Title page of a script for Barnaby Rudge by Charles Selby, 1841

Script of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Selby, 1841

Because our collections are quite diverse, we decided to do one survey for our books and bound items, and another for our archival items. Of course, this wasn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. We spent some time trying to decide whether published play scripts counted as books and unpublished play manuscripts are archival (answer, for the purposes of this survey: yes), which survey maps should come under (answer: books) and then classifying shelves as archival or book so that we could get our full sample! Thankfully, with help from Julia Foster of the Preservation Assessment Centre, we got the sampling done in just a day and made a start on the survey itself last week.

For each of these 800 items (two surveys of 400 items each, if you were wondering) we have to answer 15 questions on preservation, which include considerations of environment,usage levels and whether or not the item needs boxing. There is then a further set of questions, which detail the condition of the item and whether it has been damaged (by pests, dirt, poor handling etc.). As you can imagine, this provides a pretty comprehensive set of requirements for each of the items, and requires some consistency in answers, since the assessment of damage is quite subjective, and depends on the state of the last item you saw!

It took us a day or so to find our rhythm, working in two teams to start off our survey in the Special Collections Store and the British Cartoon Archive Store respctively. Archives, it turns out, take far longer to survey than books, since they have to be removed from (and returned to) boxes, and the questions take a little more imagination to answer than they do for bound items with titlepages. By the end of the first full day, we were proud to have completed surveying 60 archival objects and 47 books! (In fairness, those 47 books represented to total input of bound items from the British Cartoon Archive, which was quite an achievement).

By the end of the second full day, we had completed around 160 books and a similar number of archival items. Having started intesively, we’re now going to be carrying out the odd hour or so of surveying here and there (without closing the reading room!) to keep up the momentum until the closure of the data gathering section of this project, which should be around the end of August. Then, with our full set of 800 results, we’ll send the information off to Julia at British Library and await the report with great anticiptation.

Dion Boucicault's Deed Box

Bouciault’s deed box forms part of the collections

It really has been an interesting process so far (and we’re not even halfway through!) For one thing, it puts the size of collections into perspective. We ended up sampling just one item from the combined Fawkes and Calthrop Boucicault Collections, which makes up one of only two major collections on the Victorian playwright in the world. In comparison, we sampled several items in our Wind and Watermills Collections, which are used less intensively, perhaps due to the fact that the photographs can all be viewed online.

It has also been great to get to know the book collection slightly better. We still have a fair way to go, but already we’ve picked out some wonderful and occasioanlly eccentric items, amidst the rare editions and the early printed books. One particularly interesting section in our collection is about dialect; as Steve and I were going through the books, we came across a two volume set on The Craven Dialect (London, 1828), an area in North Yorkshire, which seems to have a lot of words specific to cows and their illnesses! Not much further on, I came across a book on Kentish Dialect by Parish and Shaw (Lewes 1888) which ranged from words which are now very familiar:

Blunder (vb) To move awkwardly and noisily about

to the very unfamiliar:

Mabbled (vb) Mixed; confused

This Kentish dialect dictionary has been interleaved with blank pages on the right hand side (recto), on which at some point someone has jotted down their own dialect discoveries, with their meanings, from time to time. It all goes to much our language has changed, even over just 100 years.

I’m sure that we’ll make many more discoveries as we carry on with the survey, which will, in the end, give us a much better understanding of our collections as a whole, and their needs. So thank you for your patience during those closure days; it really was helpful to get a chunk of the survey under our collective belt!

And I’ll let you know how it goes…(with running updates on Twitter – @UoKSpecialColls).