Monday, 29 July 2013

A lot has changed...

It has been a while since I have written and that is down to mere business and laziness.  A lot has changed since my last post and there is a bit too much to write here but I'll try!

I'm just back from an excellent break in Sweden
Firstly, I have a new position.  I am now the Archive Manager of the National Theatre and, as such, have taken on a lot more responsibility and projects.  I must say that I was becoming rather frustrated in my position as Archive Assistant since I was not being stretched nor did I feel like I was working to my full capacity.  The new position of Archive Manager has been created to support the Archive through the 50th anniversary of the NT and ensure that the HLF funded projects are delivered on time.  There are many other facets of my position, such as physical audit of the archive, building better relationships with each department within the NT, delivering content for the various digital projects and cleaning our CALM data for, firstly, CALMView and then a tailor-made online catalogue.

There is much to be done and it is quite overwhelming at the moment but I am thoroughly enjoying being more involved in the decision making and have a closer working relationship with the main building.  There is a lot to be done in my year and a lot to plan for where the Archive can go but I am enthusiastic about the road ahead, not only for my personal development but also for the NT Archive as a whole.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference day at the White Cube Gallery on the use of archives by artists.  This was an interesting day from the point of view of the mix of presenters.  Around half were archivists, who got up and spoke about their collections, how they opened them to the public and how they dealt with sometimes tricky artists' materials.  One interesting tale came from Glasgow where an artist in the 70s had given out his recording equipment to whoever walked through the door and invited them to take it away and film whatever they wanted.  What resulted was a fascinating archive of recordings but with no inkling of who recorded them and what they feature.  They have been kept due to their inherent use for cultural studies but they have no direct link to the institution in which they are housed...interesting one.

The other half of the speakers were artists, who discussed how they used archives or created their own ones.  A point that I had not considered was that the archive has no imperative to display and so there is a fresh canvas for artists to work from.  It was a bit hard for me to follow everything since there were a lot of allusions to other artists etc. but a few main points shone through:

  • an archive is 'the present through the ages'
  • we cannot underestimate the importance of the archive in the institution's current activities
  • archives need to embrace their professional setting so that there are no archivists 'in limbo'
  • 'Transparency and a willingness to share information gives rise to trust, and trust is known to be the basic condition that keeps any network alive.' (Claudia Fontes, 2000) - this really hit home in terms of the NT where I am working towards building trust between the Archive and other departments

Morton's Tower at Lambeth Palace

Today I went to a new professionals meeting at the beautiful Lambeth Palace Library.  Among some interesting talks about the library and their holdings, one of their cataloguers spoke to us about the 'Returned Books' collection.  Around 1,400 books have found their way back to the library after having been stolen during the 1970s by a member of staff.  They had no idea how many books had been stolen since the damage suffered during the war resulted in an unknown quantity of losses (it's good to know that not everyone else knows what's lurking in their basements).  This was an interesting afternoon but I am less and less drawn to old books as I work more and more in born digital archives and with teams from digital and commercial departments.  I am beginning to sense my future lies in digital content and data visualisation rather than cataloguing and conserving special collections but we will see.

Some gems from Lambeth

So, apologies for the pause, I will endeavour to keep more up to date.  I have a lot of projects going on and I will post about them when they come to fruition.  No-one told me how tiring being a manager can be...but it's a rewarding tiredness and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Narrow stacks in Lambeth