Friday, 17 October 2014

Thinking about the Box: Storage of Plastics

My favourite part of my job is coming up with new creative ways of storing the modern objects found in the HIV/AIDS collections. It’s not just a case of sticking them into a box and hoping they will be alright; you have to think about what the item is made from, how it will deteriorate, in what way it will be used in the future and how frequently it will be consulted.

Conservation Scientist, Anita Quye, recently visited the LHSA studio to give advice on how to identify different plastics and how to store them. One top tip she described when identifying plastics, is to think about how the item was used originally. For example, balloons need to be flexible to be blown up; therefore they are likely to contain a lot of plasticisers. This means that as they degrade and lose their plasticisers, they are likely to become very brittle. Plastic banners made for use outdoors, on the other hand, need to be lightfast (not discolour in light) and as such, are suitable for exhibition, where they are subject to light for a long period of time.

Once the type of plastic has been identified and the potential conservation risks considered, it’s time to think about the storage of the object. Storage can depend on the conservation needs of the particular object. We have a large collection of balloons in the HIV/AIDS collections, that were used in health promotion campaigns. Since balloons are likely to become brittle over time, it is a good idea to create storage that will reduce flexing of the balloons as much as possible. Balloon samples were previously housed wrapped in tissue paper, inside the original envelope which recorded the type and colour the balloons it contained. This was not ideal as the balloons needed to be handled a lot to view them, and in some cases the balloons had become stuck to the tissue paper. To store these, I made shallow trays from box board and created a frame from mount board to hold the balloons and envelope in place. I also lined the boxed with an activated charcoal cloth to absorb any acidic gases released from the balloons and slow down deterioration.  
GD22 - Balloon samples, before treatment. Balloons are wrapped in tissue paper and stored inside a paper envelope.
GD22 - Balloon samples, after treatment. Balloons are inserted into a polyester sleeve and stored in a shallow clam shell box with frame.
There is also a plastic banner in the HIV/AIDS collection which has a strong ‘plastic’ smell, suggesting it is deteriorating rapidly and likely to become brittle as it ages. To avoid excessive handling of this object, I created a ‘concertina’ folder which could display three flags only and leave the rest untouched. Since the “Take Care” logo is repeated on each flag, it is not necessary to view the entire length of the bunting.  This way, the general design of the bunting can be viewed and the condition of the item can be monitored without touching it at all.
GD22- Plastic bunting, before treatment. Object is wrapped in tissue paper.
GD22 - Plastic Bunting, after treatment. Object is stored in a 'concertina' folder.
If an object is at high risk of deterioration and needs to be monitored regularly, it may be best to store it so that it can be viewed easily, without excessive handling. For example, a collection of vulnerable plastic watches were previously stored wrapped up in tissue paper, again making the items difficult to view and hard to wrap up neatly once the package had been opened. To aid monitoring of these items, I made a box using mount board with a clear polyester window on top. As plastics degrade, they release acidic vapours. If these are trapped inside a box, they can speed up the deterioration process of the object. Therefore, ventilation holes were made at the corners of the box to ensure these vapours can escape, whilst still protecting the object.

GD22 - Watches, before treatment. Watches are wrapped in tissue paper.
GD22 - Watches, after treatment. Watches are stored in box with clear polyester window.

Thoughtful storage can ensure the longevity of the object. I hope these items will survive for many years to come!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Thinking Outside the Box - Educational Outreach and the HIV/AIDS Project

In this week's blog, Project Cataloguing Archivist Karyn talks about dipping her toes into the world of archive education:

When I started working as the Project Cataloguing Archivist on the HIV/AIDS project in May, I had very little knowledge of HIV/AIDS as a disease and the effect it has on people’s lives. Working through the records to prepare them to be catalogued really opened my eyes to the impact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic had on Edinburgh as a city. The collections' inscription to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register highlights the ways in which the epidemic impacted upon world history and the role that Edinburgh has played in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Official recognition of LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections by UNESCO, awarded in 2011.
As the project progressed, it became apparent that the records contained huge educational potential and that the subject of HIV/AIDS is not discussed in schools as much as it should be. Although the content of the material is in many ways sensitive, the importance of educating the public about the dangers of the disease and the importance of safe sex is no less important.
It is for this reason that the project has expanded over the last few months to include a targeted educational outreach aspect. Project staff have been working hard to use the records to produce a series of educational resources for use in classrooms across Scotland. These resources have been produced in line with the Curriculum for Excellence, and it is hoped that we can win further funding to build a dedicated website and to run a series of workshops to show teachers how to use the resources and where to find more information on HIV/AIDS.
The resources are based around the more visual aspects of the collection, including posters, postcards and other promotional material. We hope that this will provide an avenue for class discussion, debate and creative output.  External input from education profession is important to the success of the resources: advice and feedback from Education Scotland, education professionals and teachers themselves will help the material to be put to good use.

World AIDS Day resource pack (GD21/4/3), an example of some of the amazing graphic design in our HIV/AIDS collections.

Teachers and pupils will be able to access the website long after the project has ended and it is hoped that future LHSA projects will add to the resources already produced. The HIV/AIDS project has shown that there are many different ways for archivists to provide access to their collections - and sometimes thinking outside the box provides the best results.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Abseiling Archivists...

Project Cataloguing Archivists Liz Course and Karyn Williamson have bravely (or foolishly!) signed up to abseil from the Forth Rail Bridge on Sunday 19th October to raise money for Waverly Care, a Scotland wide charity which provides care and support to people living with HIV and Hepatitis C. They will be abseiling down 165ft from a platform at the first pillar of the bridge onto the beach below at South Queensferry with several hundred other fundraisers collecting for various charities. They are smiling in this photograph, but there will be further photographic evidence to show they have completed the challenge and we will see if they are still smiling then!
Liz and Karyn - all smiles for now!

It looks pretty high to me... image from Edinburgh University Archives Collections EUA CA1/2

LHSA has established links with Waverly Care over the past few months as part of the Wellcome Trust funded HIV/AIDS cataloguing and conservation project. Material relating to and produced by Waverley Care can be found in some of the collections that Karyn and Emily have been cataloguing and conserving.  Following discussions with the charity and after an afternoon spent with them appraising material, they have decided to deposit some of their records with LHSA.

Waverley Care was established in 1989 and works to provide care, advice and assistance to individuals and their families affected by HIV and Hepatitis C in Scotland. They provide a range of services and also focus on educating people to promote understanding and prevention. To find out more visit their website:

Good luck to Karyn and Liz in their fundraising efforts and in not developing a fear of heights between now and the 19th!

We also say goodbye to Intern Stephen Bournadet today after 10 weeks with us and we look forward to welcoming new Archive Intern, Clair Millar, to LHSA on Monday.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A sporting partnership

In this week’s blog, LHSA Archivist Louise explores a fruitful sporting connection:

With the Ryder Cup just under way in Gleneagles, I was inspired to look again at one of our collections with a golfing theme. Although many doctors undoubtedly enjoyed playing golf, the connection between the game (developed, of course, on our own Leith Links) and one Edinburgh Hospital was much more involved than that.

The Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children (REHSC) had been bequeathed the estate of Muirfield by Lady Jane Meikleham - they first opened a convalescent home there in 1906. This initially modest venture with accommodation for ten children proved inadequate and a new building was opened there three years later. With lucky chance, the building was adjacent to the Muirfield golf course, and from 1929 the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers allowed the REHSC to profit from the sales of and advertising revenue from the Open Golf Championship held annually at Muirfield in late June.

Although we do not hold a copy of an actual programme, we do hold the evidence of how the REHSC put the programme together, particularly for the 1932 and 1935 programmes. Our most extensive information lies in files of letters to companies around the UK asking if they would like to buy advertising space in the tournament programme, including 1930s company logos and ‘mock-ups’ of advertisements, of which there are a selection here:

Advertising proofs for Open Golf tournament programme, 1932-1935 (LHB5/34/34-35)

Considerable time was spent on other content, too. From letters about the 1935 programme production, we know that writer J B Priestly contributed a forward to the 1932 programme, whilst Punch cartoonist G L Stampa contributed a drawing. We have copies of programme proofs with cartoons like this one:

Cartoon - part of programme proof sheet, 1935 (LHB5/34/35)
The scorecard of American superstar golfer Walter Hagan (1892-1969) was also reproduced in both the 1932 and 1935 programmes:
Walter Hagan score card (LHB5/34/35)
In the same collection, LHSA also holds photographs of illustrations used in a 1931 golfing calendar (sponsored by the Life Association for Scotland):

Photographs of illustrations used in Life Association for Scotland Calendar, 1931 (LHB5/34/37)
along with copies of the photographs on which they seemed to have been based:

Golfing photograph, 1931 (LHB5/34/37)

So whether you’re braving the Perthshire traffic or safely ensconced in front of the TV, LHSA wishes you a good golfing weekend!

Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children collection:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Cheyne-Stokes respiration on display

Within LHSA’s collection are a number of display boards and captions, created for exhibitions over the years, which bring together images and stories from the history of medicine in the Lothian region. As such, they have become archive items themselves, a record of how the history of medicine has been displayed and many have been rarely viewed since their original display period. One of these items is a board illustrating Cheyne-Stokes respiration (ref. D P264 FM), probably dating from the 1970s or 1980s. The display shows on the left a portrait of John Cheyne and on the right is a portrait of William Stokes with a sample trace of Cheyne-Stokes respiration between them.

John Cheyne was born in Leith in 1777, the son of a general practitioner. Initially apprenticed by his father, he studied for an M.D. at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1805. Cheyne worked as an army surgeon, then at the Ordnance Hospital at Leith Fort. In 1809, he moved to practice in Dublin where he became the first Professor of Medicine at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1813. While there he published his description of a phenomenon of malfunctioning breathing in very sick patients. He noted that the patients’ breathing would stop entirely for a quarter of a minute then it would start again slowly, increase by degrees until it was heaving quickly then gradually cease again, with a total of approximately 30 breaths per minute. Some of the principle causes of this condition are brain haemorrhaging, advanced renal failure, heart failure and narcotic poisoning, therefore it is often thought of as a sign of imminent death.

William Stokes (1804 -1878) is regarded as one of the greatest teachers of clinical medicine. Stokes studied in Glasgow and Edinburgh and like Cheyne he relocated to Dublin. Twenty-eight years after Cheyne’s work, Stokes recorded another example of the respiration phenomenon for publication in the ‘Dublin Hospital Reports’ and quoted Cheyne, although he apparently added no new details. Perhaps because of his renown in the medical world, Stokes’ name has become inextricably linked to John Cheyne in the definition of Cheyne-Stokes Respiration.

What is also interesting on the display is that below the Cheyne-Stokes trace is another for comparison, where the patient has been injected with a drug, theophylline-ethylenediamine. In this case the respiration has gone back to normal, showing 20th century developments towards preventing the condition. According to the caption, this trace is from the first use of the drug in Great Britain for this treatment, in 1937 in Edinburgh.
Cheyne-Stokes respiration demonstration board (ref. D P264 FM)

Reference: Notable Names in Medicine & Surgery, Third Edition, Bailey, H and Bishop, W.J., 1959

Friday, 12 September 2014

A last blog from our intern Stephen

Here is the last account of my internship with LHSA - today I am going to talk about… money!

Archives often have to be very imaginative in order to find funding for important programmes such as conservation, cataloguing or educational projects. So I have been collecting information on possible external funders and have created a directory for future use.

With more than 8,500 funding organisations in the UK alone, a fundraiser should always stay clear-minded! What is the taxonomy of funders? 1. Firstly, the big funders. They generally fund a large spectrum of projects. We find public (or assimilated) bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund or the Research Councils. Charities such as the Wolfson Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Wellcome Trust (funder of LHSA's current projects) are extremely generous and award annual grants amounting to millions of pounds. 2. Family Trusts, professional bodies and London livery companies populate the second category. They generally give several dozens of thousands of pounds to charities operating in fields related to their main interests. 3. Finally, there are the small trusts distributing a few thousand pounds a year. Their scope of activity is often more restricted - one example is a bursary that is only available for descendants of French Protestant families from the Charente area (north of Bordeaux) who settled in Scotland in the 18th century, to study in Scottish universities! 

One other task I’ve been given is to prepare an application for the funding of a touring programme to several British universities to present and promote our case note cataloguing project. It has involved a good deal of costing (transport, meals, accommodation) and my skills have been branded as good as those of a travel agency! At least I have a plan B if not successful in the archive profession…

When not prospecting for external funding, I have visited other collections nearby. Firstly, a tour of the University's Anatomy Museum to admire skull casts of Burke and Hare. And then the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh where I have been able to discover the surgical tools used by Norman Dott, a neurosurgeon, whose archives I’ve previously been cataloguing. The picture below shows my colleague Liz and I at the College of Surgeons - Liz wasn't too keen when I suggested we try out the instruments!


Friday, 5 September 2014

Conservator and Archivist, Working Together

This week Project Conservator, Emily, talks about the benefits of working with an archivist in the HIV/AIDS project….

The HIV/AIDS project consists of two parts; conservation of the entire collection and cataloguing four of the twelve collections which have not yet been reviewed. For the first five months of the project, I was working alone focused solely on the conservation of the material. In May, project archivist Karyn Williamson was recruited to catalogue the four uncatalogued collections. Difficulties arose, however, as the conservation of the catalogued material was completed by the time Karyn began. This meant that the cataloguing and the conservation had to be carried out in tandem to avoid the interruption of the work flow. Working together, we came up with a temporary numbering system that allowed me to record what conservation treatments had been carried out on which documents and also allowed Karyn to begin box listing the collections. This means that although the order and composition of the collection may change, any conservation work carried out is always recorded. 
Postcards and stickers from GD22, before conservation, items wrapped in acid free tissue and cotton tape.

Postcards and stickers from GD22, after conservation, rehoused in polyester album sleeves.
Through working with Karyn, I have learnt a great deal about the process of cataloguing and what archivists actually do! I had trained in the conservation of works of art on paper, so I had little idea of how an archivist would record and order the meters and meters of documents in the HIV/AIDS collections. The materials used to create a fine art print and paper office documents are similar, so my conservation skills could be transferred to archival items, but I had no idea how an archivist would make sense of seemingly random papers in the collections. I now understand how a well ordered collection with a clear catalogue can aid access to the material and encourage use of the archive. For me, the whole point of conservation is to ensure that the useable life of the collection is extended for as long as possible. I believe archives should be used for the benefit of all, and not just locked away in a store room. I want the items to be seen, used and enjoyed (safely!) and through good conservation practice and a concise catalogue, this is possible! Karyn’s ideas on outreach; creating educational resources, oral history programmes and exhibitions have also been inspirational and injected new life into the project. As a newly qualified conservator who is used to working in isolation, it is great to have a new set of eyes on the material and has also given me ideas to take on for future projects. 

I hope that working with a conservator has also been beneficial to Karyn. Many of the re-housing techniques I have used can easily be applied, by a non-conservator, to other collections. For example, using paper tabs rather than a plastic clips, which can cause planar distortion, to hold sheets of paper together and making bespoke boxes to house mixed material. As a conservator, I have also been able to offer advice on digitisation and re-housing to groups who are considering depositing HIV/AIDS related material into the LHSA collection, as well as being on hand to deal with tricky material, such as pages stuck together with ink or degraded sticky tape.

Sticky tape that has become discoloured and brittle over time.
Overall, I think the partnership between conservator and archivist working together rather than sequentially has been extremely valuable. Not just in terms of preservation and cataloguing of the material, but the chance to learn new skills from each other that can be taken on to new projects and the opportunity to collaborate on outreach activities.  Come down and find us for our #librarypop session on the 24th September (10am-12pm) on the first floor of the main library to find out more!