Posts under the 'Behind the scenes' category
Did you know that The National Archives has a Business Archives Advice Manager? Alex Ritchie is the man in question, and I thought today’s blog should introduce you to some elements of his work. It’s all part of a national strategy for business archives, in which The National Archives is a partner.
What’s so special about business archives?
The written heritage of Britain is not only in public hands, and represents more than individuals, families and organisations. Any commercial entity, from massive international corporations to small family businesses and sole traders, needs to maintain records to succeed. They keep accounts, staff records and production records. Designs, publicity, staff records and product images are also kept. Their value can be anything from heritage branding to patent information crucial to company income or Victorian engineering diagrams for structures still in active use today. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many businesses retain an archive and that they are among the richest collections for historical research.
My role here at The National Archives is to carry out and manage customer research and make sure that the voice of the customer is heard. When I say ‘customer research’, I don’t mean the historical research that our users explore but rather researching the needs, wants and expectations of our customers. This can involve a whole host of activities including focus groups, interviews, sitting next to someone at a computer observing how they behave and even asking people to fill out diaries of their experiences for us to look at. All of which is helps us improve the services we offer, with our users at the heart of it.
One audience which has always been a challenge to get in depth and real time feedback from is the ‘online user’. A dauntingly large group which incorporates over 13 million people a year carrying out a huge breadth of tasks for a huge number of reasons. Some of them are regular visitors while some visit just once never to return again. With such a broad and diverse audience, how can we make sure individuals get their opinions heard and how can we get them more involved in what we do? Myself and colleague James Lawson set up a project team to find a solution.
The day was organised on a minimal budget by staff from across The National Archives and this year we were delighted to have support from many external organisations including Asthma UK, NHS Stop Smoking, Volunteer Richmond, Richmond Adult Community College, Civil Service Sports and Social Club, Nordic Walking, Cycle to Me, West4Harriers, Fusion, Fit Club, CS Healthcare and Roko Gym.
Following on from my first and second blog posts, these registered designs for ‘straw plaits’ demonstrate how the image capture and processing technique of Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) enables detailed examination of finely textured surfaces. This fosters appreciation of the exquisite quality of the ‘plaiting’ and also demonstrates the richness of the BT Design Register as a resource for understanding the history and technology of the straw hat industry.
Following the positive feedback from my first post, here are two further designs represented using Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), including one application of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). These designs were chosen in order to explore the effects of this image capture and processing technique on shiny surfaces: a ‘gilded’ and embossed envelope showing the Crystal Palace, and knitted silk gloves with ‘floss’ silk tassels. Continue reading »
Looking for a picture of Santa in a kayak or cats taking part in a wheelbarrow race? Well, you may be surprised to learn you have come to the right place. If you have more serious pursuits, you can also get your hands on manuscripts such as a copy of the earliest printed document, pages from the Magna Carta or 18th century plans for parliament.
It’s a pleasure today to wish a happy centenary to Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service which – as Bedfordshire Record Office – was the first ever county record office to be founded in Britain, in 1913. As any archive student knows, this foundation was the start of a network of county-based archive services which came to form the backbone of local archive provision in the UK.
…Except any archive student also knows, it’s a bit more complicated than that!
By 1913, there were already many local institutions deeply involved in preserving local records. Some were within local authorities themselves – the clerks of the peace and those who cared for city and borough muniments. Local public libraries collected important historical documents. And in some areas, antiquarian, archaeological and records societies were providing a third sector solution, collecting and preserving their local history through voluntary effort. 1 The solution that Bedfordshire adopted, of a county records committee which evolved into a record office run by the County Council, was by no means the only solution. (Hertfordshire actually got there first with the records committee model, though they don’t claim to have had the same unbroken institutional history.)
- 1. This is a very brief summary of the analysis made by Elizabeth Shepherd in her Archives and Archivists in 20th Century England (Ashgate: 2009), pp 95-102. ^
The vast collection of The National Archives includes nearly 3 million ‘ornamental’ and ‘useful’ designs, registered by the Board of Trade Representations and Registers of Designs, between 1839 and 1991. The BT Design Register, as it is commonly known, aimed to foster design innovation; put simply, registration gave copyright protection to the designs.
Many classes of materials and products were registered, including metal, wood, glass, earthenware, paper hangings (wall paper), carpets, and six classes of textiles including shawls and lace. The representations of the designs take many forms: drawings, tracings, photographs, small samples of the products, as well as whole artefacts, e.g. embossed envelopes, straw bonnets, collars, gloves and printed cotton handkerchiefs.
Over the last year the other Opening Up Archives trainees and I have blogged on everything from Richard III and ice cream to medieval archives and LGBT history month. We’ve created a Polish Community Project, apps, trained archivists on the digital preservation process, and one of us even ventured outside to an archaeology dig. As our traineeships are coming to an end we’ve picked some highlights and interesting archives for one last blog post.
Julie Thomson – Leicester and Rutland Archives
It’s been a busy, slightly wacky, but overall rewarding year of digital preservation training! The best part is that I was able to throw myself into the day-to-day functioning of my host Record Office in a really hands-on way, and at the end of it all feel like I’d made a significant contribution to preserving its holdings. I also hope my work (both digitising large numbers of items and helping to create an accessible, commercially viable online image library) will ultimately generate some real revenue for the Record Office, as well as promoting local heritage to a global audience. I’ve genuinely enjoyed learning about my colleague Kasia McCabe’s Polish Community Project too. Archives are definitely looking like a viable career path, especially with regard to digital technology.
Personal favourite archive item? That is a tough one. We’ve had Richard III material, Isaac Newton’s property rolls, and a lot of interesting medieval documents. But the photography collections are especially rich, and dealt with exciting material from throughout the 20th century. One of my most abiding interests is the role of women on the home front during the First and Second World Wars. I’ve cheated and made a collage because there are too many good ones!