Monday, 29 October 2012

A trip to the V&A...for work, of course

For a few days last week I was at the SIMBAS (International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts) conference hosted at the beautiful V&A museum in leafy South Kensington.  It is certainly a time of firsts: first time at the V&A; first time in South Ken (and, as my Mum commented, it gives me something to aspire to); and my first time at an international performing arts library, archive and museum event.

The lovely V&A on a less than lovely London morning

The conference was truly international with delegates from as far flung as Canada and Japan and most places in between.  As a chap from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa commented, our institutions are in very different settings, cultures and locations but the problems we face are all very similar and actually hinge more on from where funding comes than the language they speak or in which country they happen to be.  There were papers delivered by representatives at a vast range of institutions and, at times, the gap between state funded bodies and private funded ones was clear to see.

Even though this was only a day and a half conference, there was way too much interesting stuff to write about here but I just wanted to touch on some things that I found appealing and themes that came across.

Kenneth Schlesinger, the Theatre Library Association President, and Barry Houlihan, from the NUI Galway Archive, touched on the cross-disciplinary aspects of theatre archives.  Not only are archives, libraries and museums converging (as the Syracuse University course run by Prof. Lavender studies) but the users of theatre records are coming from an ever-broadening background.  Theatre scholars are perceiving theatre performance history in broader social and cross-cultural context and using collections in ways that were not envisaged years before.  This is another reason for careful thought being given to ensuring non-bias in cataloguing material - you never know who is going to want to access it and for what reason.  A poster designed by Dr. Amy Staniforth from Aberystwyth complimented this: she had interviewed staff as they used the archive catalogue and she studied how they went about their research in an effort to understand their usage and how to improve the service.  We need to comprehend how each researcher works in order to ensure that the service we provide meets their needs - communication is key and this can often be an issue with the ever increasing access to collections being online and often hundreds of miles away from the archivist themselves.

I have no relevant photographs so am just including pretty pictures of London

One of the projects that was pretty exciting was the new 100 Plays 1945-2010 app being designed by the V&A.  This app is not focused on the best 100 or top 100 plays but rather on plays that have affected theatre in post-war Britain and have made their mark.  There will be essays on each play, production photographs, interviews, cast, press reviews and comments.  This is meant to appeal to all kinds of users from school children studying plays to directors and producers looking for ideas.  The focus was on broadening the appeal of the V&A and encouraging communication between people who would not otherwise engage with the V&A’s collections.  The app will be £7.99 when it is released and it will be interesting to see how it is received and who will be willing to fork out that amount to read about plays on a mobile application.  

Some other thoughts:
  • Barry Houlihan also mentioned that he has the support of the president of the university, an engineer, since he views an archive as ‘the laboratory for the humanities’ - what a lovely thought!  If only more people in positions of authority had such a view.
  • we should not digitise for digitisation’s sake - there needs to be a purpose and eventual use for these images.
  • Flickr can be used to release images and it is interesting to follow where these images are reposted and what happens to them - can this be used to gain extra meta-data?  Nena Couch from Ohio State University has experimented with this and had interesting ideas about 
The lovely new King's Cross

An overarching message, and something that is not new but is of note for a new member of this community, is the necessity for the performing arts information professional to be part of the theatre, to know the workings of the technicians, the role of the designers, the importance of various recordings etc.  The theatre archive is part of the machine well-oiled by communication and understanding of the various departments.  I think that this is more true in the performing arts archives than in the other settings in which I have worked, primarily academic, since theatre archivists have to understand where the material has come from and how it effects and fits with other records from the same production etc.

In short, this conference has really opened my eyes to the issues facing all information professionals in this field and made me appreciate the work being done and fascinating projects being undertaken.*

Please stay tuned for a post on NT Live and another on the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A.

* I haven’t had space to touch on the 3D modelling of objects at the V&A or UK Web Archive or the Virtual Shakespeare Theatre Archive etc. etc.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great opportunity and awesome conference Erin! As someone who is particularly fond and generally involved in the performingbarts such as theater and music making this was a great informative read!