Monday, 29 October 2012

A Doppelganger!

We had a really interesting enquiry this week when an ex-student contacted us after friends spotted his double in the 1927 Cambourne School of Mines School Photograph. Due to the apparent possibility that his grandfather went to CSM we were charged with finding the identity of the said student and checking various family names against the admission registers to see if it was indeed his Grandfather. Despite our best efforts, none of the family surnames corresponded with the registers which left us with the difficult task of finding out who the mystery student in the photograph could be.
(c) CSM
He was a happy looking chap, having obviously had a fit of the giggles midway through the very serious business of the school photograph. Unfortunately, none of the school photos included any names which makes identifying specific students particularly difficult, however, we had a lucky break. Lewis & Hathoway eat your heart out!

In one of the sports team pictures was a young man with a hairline very reminiscent of the laughing student, although this young gent was sporting a moustache. The name given was Beattie and when we checked in the admission register we were surprised to find that there was actually two Beattie boys in the school, possibly brothers who attended CSM at exactly the same time.

So, although it seemed unlikely that the Grandfather attended CSM, we did solve the mystery of the Laughing Student!

Monday, 22 October 2012

An Exchange

Last week we were lucky enough to be hosting a visit from an archivist who works at the University of Arts Archive in Berlin. A number of trips were organised for her so she could experience different Archive Services while also getting to see a bit of Cornwall. I was lucky enough to be accompanying her on the visits which included the University Library at Woodlane in Falmouth, Heritage Collections at the University of Exeter at their Streatham Campus and St Ives Community Archive.

Interestingly, these trips raised a number of differences between practices here and in Germany, the most significant being the role of volunteers in archival practice. In Germany, if there is not a qualified archivist on staff then you are not allowed to hold archival material. In light of this, our trip to St Ives was an interesting experience for her as well as an impressive example of what community groups can achieve.

St Ives Archive is run by a Board of Trustees and boasts around 40 volunteers. With costs per month of £1700 to remain open, they exist very much on a year by year basis. Like many small groups they are constantly fundraising and seeking new sources of support to enable them to continue their work. Without that dedication these valuable collections could be lost.

St Ives Archive
There has been mixed opinions within the profession towards community archives. Some have voiced misgivings, particularly towards access to such collections by people outside the 'community' [ARC March 2011]. Yet, without these groups, valuable aspects of our past could be lost. Indeed, for both our visitor and myself the obvious commitment and enthusiasm of those volunteers involved was the most striking aspect of the visit. Certainly, no limitations on access are applied at St Ives, which is open to the general public 10-4pm Tuesday to Friday.

The second difference was the terminology. Sarah, our Archivist, and I were enthralled to discover that in Germany there are specific terms for documents as they pass from what we term 'semi-active' to those with actual archival value. 'Archivreif' refers to documents which are no longer needed for current administrative purposes, but are being kept for a fixed term to satisfy  legal or organisational conventions. Financial records, for example, must be kept for 7 years, so during that period those records would be archivreif. We would term this semi-active.

Similarly, once that period has finished and the appraisal process has judged the document of archival value, in Germany it would be referred to as 'Archivw├╝rdig.' We don't really have a specific archival term for these time frames, other than a semi-current record and eventually an archival record.

The issues of professional terminology and cultural differences provided a real topic of discussion throughout the week. One such debate centered on the application of the rather generic term 'archive'. In English it can refer to the repository, a collection or even a single item. It was suggested by our Archivist that if our professional terminology is so generic should we really be surprised that the general public are sometimes confused about exactly what Archivist's do. A dissertation topic perhaps!

Monday, 8 October 2012

A Surprise

The Archive Service had quite a surprise on Thursday when a delivery of boxes containing university records arrived. Although we had been expecting them for some time we were unsure as to when they would actually come and just how much material they would contain. This will be quite an introduction to the archival practice of appraisal; that is the decision making process of what should be kept, and equally, what should be disposed of. The profession has long debated these questions, as of course, you cannot keep everything. Watch this space to see how we progress!

Social Media

It has now been two weeks since I started here in the Archive and Special Collections Service and it has certainly been a baptism of social media. I have gone from being someone who has never used Facebook, let alone Twitter, to someone who not only has their own blog, but has replied to a number of tweets and scheduled the next week of messages for release. Of particular help was a course I attended during my first week which provided an introduction into the various social media sites available and how businesses use these platforms for marketing. Browsing through some company sites demonstrated how different companies employed various strategies in their use of social media. Some brands tended to use Twitter just to advertise promotions or special offers and preserved a distant association with their users; whereas others tried to present a friendlier informal persona, replying to individuals, and in so doing, constructing a relationship between the user and the business.

Interestingly, the September issue of ARC, which is the Archives and Records Association journal, featured an article about Twitter being used to publish content from an historical diary thus improving the visibility of the collection. Last year the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Archives started to publish extracts from the diary of the cashier at the bank during the Jacobite rising in 1745 called @Johnofthebank. To retain the authenticity of the Twitter feed the group started an extra feed @RBS-Archives to allow for discussion and comments without affecting the historical content. A website was also introduced to provide the historical context and explanation that was required to support the feed. It began during the summer of 2011 and currently has, at the time of writing, 418 followers. There are also a number of other historical diaries being published on Twitter such as the Gertrude Savile diary by Nottingham Archives. The course certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities that these sites present to the profession. Archives are always trying to improve accessibility and encourage new users to come and have a look at material. Twitter provides us with a fantastic and free opportunity to reach new audiences and get collection content in to the public arena.