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Collections at Risk (CILIP rare books conference 2017)

ucylgng18 October 2017

At the beginning of September I visited the University of Sussex to attend the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group’s annual conference on the theme “Collections at Risk”. The three days of the conference covered different types of risk, from mice and silverfish to thefts to catastrophic floods. Terrifying, but very useful!

As in previous years, the attendees and speakers were from a range of libraries and institutions, from the keynote speaker Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, consultant archivist at the UNESCO Memory of the World project, who spoke about using the UNESCO brand as a way to promote and protect collections, to Anastasia Tennant from Collections and Cultural Property – Arts Council England, who gave an informative talk on some of the ways export laws and tax breaks work to keep special collections material from being sold abroad.

This year’s conference was largely practical, looking at ways to prevent and mitigate risks to the collections whether within the library or out and about. There were, however, two sessions that particularly stood out to me.

First, Sarah Bashir, who is the Preservation Manager at Lambeth Palace Library, shared some of the work she and her team do to look after their collections with a very small budget. It’s easy to say “prevention is key” in the abstract, but she put prevention in context. I think we all know that regular cleaning is important to prevent mould and pest infestation, but when was the last time anyone saw the powerboxes on the floors being cleaned? She also reiterated the importance of monitoring – not only does regular monitoring help ensure that early problems are nipped in the bud, tracking the results of your monitoring provides valuable data in the event of a major problem (or, as another attendee pointed out, when trying to secure funding for building works!).

Second, Adrian Edwards, who is Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, gave a talk about preventing thefts. While much of his talk was about the sorts of things you’d expect, from having a good policy on bags and coats to excellent invigilation, I was surprised at the emphasis he placed on the role of good cataloguing in securing library collections. Without good records of holdings, you can’t be 100% certain of what you’ve got. And without those same records and records of reader access to the collections, you can’t prove that a stolen item was really yours in the first place.

Adrian summed up by explaining how the best security policies are embedded in all aspects of library work, from reader services to cataloguing; I think it fair to say that the well-being of our collections generally ought to be embedded in all aspects of our work.

UCL Rare-Books Club launch

Helen Biggs30 August 2017

Posted on behalf of Dr Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian.

What: UCL Rare-Books Club
When: 1.15-1.45pm, Tuesday 5 September
Where: Science Library Rm 417 (*meet at library entrance 1.10pm if you don’t have a UCL library card*)

You are warmly invited to a new series of half-hour talks in which researchers will introduce individual items from UCL’s rare-books collections.

These talks will give our researchers an opportunity to share ongoing discoveries and new observations about the selected item, while audiences will be able to share their expertise and find out a bit more about the larger collection to which the item belongs. Booking is not required: just turn up!

The first talk will take place on Tuesday 5 September, 1.15pm–1.45pm, in UCL Science Library Room 417. Cerys Jones, PhD Student in Medical Physics, will present a talk on Seeing Beyond the Visible: Multispectral Imaging applied to Heritage Artefacts.

Detail from a humidity-damaged letter, Karl Pearon Papers.

Detail from a damaged letter, Karl Pearson Papers.

Multispectral imaging consists of capturing images of an object illuminated under ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. This technique enables faded text and pictures on historical artefacts to be recovered and reread. Cerys will be discussing the process of multispectral imaging and image processing, and present results from multispectral imaging applied to artefacts from UCL Special Collections and other heritage institutions.

The next Rare-Books Club speaker will be UCL Honorary Senior Research Associate Jacquie Glomski on Tuesday 12 September. More information on her talk, John Evelyn’s Contribution to Restoration Bibliophily, will be forthcoming.

A Rich Tapestry: Diverse Collections and Audiences (CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference 2016)

ucylgng6 October 2016

At the beginning of September I visited the University of Liverpool to attend the annual RBSCG conference. The 70-odd attendees were mostly library staff from universities, but there were also representatives of independent and special libraries, as well as colleagues from archives and museums.

Over the course of the conference, we heard sessions on a range of topics relating to diversity, in our collections, among our readers, and within the profession. These ranged from Kay Jones (Museum of Liverpool) giving her keynote address on the benefits and challenges of working with diverse audiences, to Valerie Stevenson (Liverpool John Moores University) discussing the practicalities of exhibiting special collections materials outside the library space. We also heard Yvonne Morris, the CILIP Policy Officer, presenting the initial results of the CILIP workforce mapping survey and how CILIP plans to respond to those results.

The latter was particularly interesting. While there is still a great deal of work to be done analysing and acting on the survey results, the initial findings presented were as follows. First, they estimate that there are around 87,000 people working in the information and knowledge sector, of whom around 69,000 are working in libraries. Around 45% of CILIP members will reach or have reached retirement age by 2026, and 97% of the workforce identify as white. Finally, while women make up 79% of the profession, 47% of the top earners are men. Obviously there are some issues to be addressed here; while full details of how they plan to address diversity issues are yet to be confirmed, CILIP’s action plan for the next few years is now available and highlights these issues.

In addition to the sessions, we were able to visit special collections in institutions around the city. I went to the University of Liverpool’s special collections and to the Anglican Cathedral archives, where I was impressed by the range of documents held, not to mention the incredible work being done by a team of three part-time archivists.

The theme that kept coming up throughout the conference was that of storytelling and voices: how we can use our knowledge of our collections to tell new stories; how we can work with users to make sure our collections reflect their experience and stories; how we can listen to the diverse voices of our profession to provide a better experience for users and for each other.