Friday, 12 December 2014

Splish, Splash… it’s the Hydrotherapy Pool...

Hydrotherapy is a form of physiotherapy where the physical ailments of patients are treated by a series of exercises performed whilst submerged in water. The water is heated to 33-36 degrees Celsius to keep the patients and their muscles warm, improving blood flow. Carrying out the exercises helps them build up their strength and increase the range of movements they can carry out. The water supports the body weight making it an ideal situation for rehabilitating weakened limbs without causing further injury. Hydrotherapy is usually focussed on slow controlled movement and relaxation of the patient.

The use of immersion in water for treating illness dates back to ancient times. However in the 19th century in particular it was revived as a reliable treatment in western Europe, backed up by scientific research and publications. This is the hydrotherapy pool at the Princess Margaret Rose (PMR) Orthopaedic Hospital in approximately the 1950s, and comes from a pamphlet commemorating the hospital’s closure in 2001:


The PMR Hospital was built in 1932 specifically to deal with crippling diseases in Scotland. At various times the causes of these disabilities included tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, road accidents, arthritis and rheumatism and using the pool helped with rehabilitation of the patients. The pool was popular with many staff and patients and originally the physiotherapists wore chest waders as they treated patients!

The Western General Hospital also had a hydrotherapy pool and it continues to provide this type of treatment to this day. The image dates from approximately the early 1970s:

Hydrotherapy pool at the Western General Hospital, 1970s (P/PL13/P/055)

The hospital has been a centre of excellence in surgical neurology since 1960 and hydrotherapy provided treatment for patients recovering from paresis due to brain trauma and spinal surgery. Wards and clinics also likely to have made use of it would have included the orthopaedic department (which was open from 1960-1992) and the rheumatology department.

References Accessed 12.12.2014

Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital (1932-2001), Ed. Macnicol, M

Friday, 5 December 2014

Conserving Condoms: Modern Materials in Medical Archives

This week’s blog reviews the conservation symposium organised by LHSA and held at Edinburgh University last week….

Last Friday, LHSA and the CRC hosted “Conserving Condoms: Modern Materials in Medical Archives” at Edinburgh University. The event consisted of lectures, workshops and advice clinics that focused on the conservation of modern material, and grant application to the Wellcome Trust for conservation work. It was funded by the Wellcome Trust’s small grants scheme and inspired by the modern objects that I have found in the HIV/AIDS collections.  While working with these collections, I have come across many plastic items that were degrading in strange ways. As I researched these objects further, I found that there was a lot of contradictory research that was sometimes difficult to understand. Since the conservation of modern materials is a relatively new field, there is a general lack of understanding and confidence when treating these items. Also, because the items are newer, they are often not treated with as much care as older items, even though they may have equal historical importance. We thought a symposium on the subject would be a great way to share knowledge, encourage debate and dispel any myths surrounding these modern materials.
Poster used to advertise the event

                The event proved to be extremely popular, with tickets selling out within a month. Students, interns and professionals came from all over the UK to find out more about this complex subject. The day kicked off with a keynote lecture by Dr Anita Quye, Lecturer in Conservation Science at the University of Glasgow. Anita’s main area of research is modern materials analysis, so she was ideally placed to start the proceedings. She defined exactly what the difference is between plastics and rubbers, and then went on to describe how these plastics can degrade and how to identify them. Anita focused on four of the most problematic plastics that are commonly found in heritage collections; cellulose acetate, PVC, polyurethane and cellulose nitrate. Inspired by the title of the symposium, Anita also gave us a fascinating insight into the conservation of condoms! Condoms are well preserved by their foil packet, as it has good vapour barrier characteristics and prevents the ingress of moisture, light and oxygen. In fact, the foil packet is made from a very similar material to Moistop Barrier Film™, which is frequently used in the storage and transport of museum objects!

Dr Anita Quye giving her keynote lecture on the conservation of modern materials

                Sniffing modern objects was the topic of the next talk by Linda Ramsay, Head of Conservation at the National Records of Scotland. She discussed ‘Heritage Smells!’ a collaborative project led by the University of Strathclyde that aimed to identify plastics by taking air samples surrounding the items. Plastics release specific volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) as they age. By capturing and analysing these VOC’s, conservators can identify the plastic and also detect any chemicals emitted by the items that are potentially harmful to humans or neighbouring objects. An interesting case study Linda highlighted was a postcard (screen print on yellow transparent PVC) by Joseph Beuys at the National Galleries of Scotland. A large amount of “sweat” was present on the surface of the artefact, which was assumed to be caused by the loss of plasticiser. Interestingly, Beuys named this piece “Flowing Honey”, which makes us wonder; did he know the plastic would sweat? Did he choose to use this material for this effect?  Or is the name just a coincidence!
After a short break, Ruth Honeybone, Archive Manage at LHSA gave a presentation about scoping for conservation work and how to put together a successful funding bid. Ruth talked about the practicalities of deciding what to treat, how to treat it and the materials and equipment needed, how long it will take, who should do the work and where and, most importantly, how much it will cost. To be able to tap into various funding schemes is key for many smaller institutions and this sharing of knowledge was extremely beneficial to many.
Ruth Honeybone discussing scoping out for conservation funding applications

Following Ruth’s explanation on how she put together a successful bid which led to the HIV/AIDS project, it was my turn to talk about the conservation of it. I chose to talk about the some of the storage solutions I had designed for problem plastics in the HIV/AIDS collections. I have talked about these in previous blogs such as “Thinking about the Box: Storage of Plastics”. I wanted to share these solutions in the hope that they could be used for all types of collections and not just modern ones.
After lunch, Sue Crossley and Amy Vickery (Grant Advisors from the Wellcome Trust) discussed the various funding streams available for conservation at the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant scheme funds the preservation, conservation, cataloguing and digitisation of significant medical history collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland. There are lots of funding opportunities available and Amy and Sue were both very open and willing to answer all funding related questions. They suggest getting in touch and talking to a member of the team directly to discuss any potential projects.

Sue Crossley and Amy Vickery describing the funding streams available at the Wellcome Trust
Next it was time for the workshop section of the symposium and the group broke up to go to separate discussion groups based on their interests. Some people stayed with Anita to discuss the conservation of modern materials further, others joined Linda and Saho (Paper Conservator at National Records of Scotland) to find out more about the ‘Heritage Smells!’ project, while some joined Claire Knowles (Library Digital Development Manager) and Kirsty Lee (Digital Curator), both from Edinburgh University, to consider the challenge of digital preservation – another very modern problem in our collections. I hosted a workshop on ‘Ethics and Plastic Packaging’ which looked at the ethical issues surrounding the removal of certain packaging items from collections and how this can alter the meaning and understanding of the material.
Workshop group discussing ethics and plastic packaging

The day ended with tea, coffee, cake and advice clinics. These were informal one to one clinics where delegates could talk to the speakers directly about specific points. It was also an opportunity for the participants to discuss the topics raised throughout the day and to network. There was also the chance to have a tour of the CRC and conservation studio with Conservation Officer, Emma Davey.

Overall, the event was really well received with many positive comments and feedback from participants. I think the interest in this day points to the growing concern surrounding the conservation of modern materials and the need for further information on the subject. Hopefully, based on the success of this event, many more like it will be hosted at Edinburgh University in the future.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Occupational Therapy: history behind the photographs

As I am coming to the end of my ten week internship at LHSA, working on the photograph collection, I have come across a selection of photographs from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (REH) that led me to do some further investigation. The following set of photographs show patients from the REH carrying out activities in occupational therapy (OT). OT, in principal, endeavours to improve mental and physical health by providing practical support and activities, for individuals suffering from a wide range of conditions. OT helps individuals apply themselves in practical activities, from day-to-day tasks, such as preparing meals, to work and leisure.  This helps to bring purpose to people’s lives and helps them to live as independently as possible, which plays a key role in rehabilitation and helping the recovery of many health related conditions. Improving general outlook and well-being are also key concepts of the role of occupational therapy.[1]

A garden created by the patients at MacKinnon House over the past few years and now maintained by them, P/PL7/P/068

Keep fit class, P/P7/P/066

Whilst the roots of the development could be arguably traced back to China in 2600 BC, when Cong Fu was taught as “medical gymnastics” where physical training was believed to promote health[2]; I decided to try and track the developments at a more local level. It was not until around the eighteenth century that new approaches were beginning to take shape in the treatment of psychiatric patients by founding fathers, such as French physician Philippe Pinel, in moral treatment. This was a more humane approach to treatment of the mentally ill that preferred the use of practical therapy over incarceration or punishment. In his book published in 1801 Pinel prescribes, “physical exercises and manual occupations” for mental illness because “rigours executed manual labour is the best method of securing good morale discipline. The return of convalescent patients to their previous interests, to the practice of their profession, to industriousness and perseverance have always been for me the best omen of finial recovery”.[3]  Whilst OT was also evolving in the treatment of physical conditions, it was this relationship between OT and the treatment of mental illness, where some pioneering work was demonstrated in Edinburgh hospitals. 

An important recent development is the introduction of industry into the hospital through the co-operation of outside firms, P/PL7/P/065

A cooking lesson, P/PL7/P/067

Dr D.K. Henderson (1884 – 1965) was a Scottish born physician. He was a Physician Superintendent of the REH and a Professor of Psychiatry, through the hospital’s links with the University of Edinburgh.  The pictures from this collection would have been taken at a much later date, from Dr Henderson’s time at REH but they demonstrate some of his founding work there. A balance of farming, gardening work, as well as domestic and craft activities tailored to the patient’s condition, are examples of OT that he believed could, “increase a person’s self-esteem [due to the] ability to accomplish something”.[4] These sorts of activities could also create structure and organisation to a patient’s day, creating a balance between work, rest and play. Henderson believed this ultimately helped individuals adapt and removed feelings of hopelessness. By 1932 he had encouraged the founding of the Scottish Association of Occupational Therapy. 
Instruction in typing P/PL7/P/061

A corner of the farm, P/PL7/P/062
For individuals suffering from more physically debilitating conditions, OT was also being encouraged as a form of treatment. Casualties resulting from the First World War saw many men facing adapting back into civilian life with debilitating injuries and a lack of employment support. Curative workshops were opened within military hospitals, based on similar workshops already established in the United States, and were equipped with tools and machinery to exercise joints and muscles. Application in work based tasks could, therefore, help in physical healing and strengthening help but also in rehabilitating into society with permanent disabilities. Based on these workshops the first occupational therapy department in Scotland was opened in 1936 at the Astley Ainslie Institution in Edinburgh. The Astley Ainslie grew from being a convalescent hospital to become a leading rehabilitation centre and school for training occupational therapists.

An important recent development is the introduction of industry into the hospital through the co-operation of outside firms, P/PL7/P/064

Brush up your baking, P/PL7/P/063

From these early days of establishing the role that OT could play in improving health and wellbeing, we can see that as the profession has grown, it is still very relevant in society today.

[1] College of Occupational Therapists:  Last Accessed 27/11/14.
[2] Hopkins, H. An Historical Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy (Sixth Edition, USA:1983), p. 3.
[3] Ibid, p. 4.
[4] Creek, J. Occupational Therapy and Mental Health (Elsevier:2008), p.9.

Friday, 21 November 2014

‘Thought is the Seed of Action’… Neurosurgery on screen

This week's blog is from Liz, our Project Cataloguing Archivist on our Wellcome Trust -unded case note cataloguing project.
A letter I came across this week, while continuing with my cataloguing of Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes, led me to looking into a ground-breaking  (and somewhat controversial) BBC television series, ‘Your Life in Their Hands’. The letter was from a former patient of Dott’s who had been successfully treated by him and his team in the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1954. She opens her letter by referring to his appearance on the BBC series broadcast on 11 March 1958. Dott’s reply is also contained in the case note, ‘How kind it was for you to write on the occasion of our Departmental Broadcast. It was quite interesting to consider what would interest people and the split-second technical side of it was quite an experience’.

The series featured ten programmes each looking at a different medical condition and how it was treated. Each of the programmes came from different hospitals around Great Britain, and in Dott’s case the focus was the treatment of head injuries in the Department of Surgical Neurology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Bangour Brain Injuries Unit. Other episodes featured the treatment of conditions including respiratory paralysis following poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever and mitral stenosis. The broadcasts were presented by Dr Charles Fletcher and aimed to provide clear information to the public about medical conditions and the modern techniques being used to treat them. What made the programmes so notable was the inclusion of footage of surgical operations taking place.

BBC filming of an operation at the Western General Hospital, GD28/8/2/10
The episode featuring Dott was entitled ‘Thought is the Seed of Action – a look at neurosurgery from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’.  Fortunately we have a copy of the transcript for the programme in our collections, as well as a VHS recording (which I look forward to watching at a later date). The broadcast opens with Dr Fletcher introducing the subject and then handing over to Professor Dott who describes the Royal Infirmary as a general hospital that ‘deals with all the ills that flesh is heir to’ and he makes sure to credit all the staff at the Hospital with the valuable work done there, ‘Nor would our work be at all possible without our nurses and our large background staff’. Several members of the Surgical Neurology team also feature in the broadcast including Dr F J Gillingham, Dr Kate Herman, and Mr Philip Harris, with Mr Harris describing the brain as a ‘complex organ’ which can be compared to ‘the BBC and a vast telephone exchange. Messages are constantly coming into it – and are being received, interpreted, recorded as memories and messages are constantly being sent out to other parts of the body’. The programme looked at how patients were assessed, treated and their rehabilitation, with a focus on the treatment of a young man who sustained a head injury while playing football. As a result of his injury he developed a blood clot which is shown being operated on by Dott and his team. The programme signs off with a warning to motorcyclists about the importance of wearing crash helmets. The inclusion of Dott’s Department in the series was testament to the important work they were carrying out. 

Transcript of 'Your Life in Their Hands'

‘Your Life in Their Hands’ was met with a mixed response, on the whole well received by the public and press, with the exception of the British Medical Journal, who were opposed to the series and who published several articles about it in 1958. They believed the series would heighten public fears of illness and increase hypochondriasis. The discussion even made it into the House of Commons with a question being raised on 26 February 1958 about the potential ill effect the programmes may have on the public. Despite the initial unease felt  at the candid and graphic depictions of medical treatment in 1958, ‘Your Life in Their Hands’ was a huge success with further series being made over the last 50 years and the presence of medical documentaries on television becoming commonplace now.

For more information see:
M. Essex-Lopresti; “The 50th anniversary of ‘Your Life in Their Hands”, J. Vis. Commun. Med., vol 31 no.1, March 2008:36-42

Friday, 14 November 2014

Explore our Archive

Today, we’re coming to the end of Explore Your Archive week, an initiative from the Archives and Records Association that aims to raise the profile of archives and their role in our everyday lives. Archives can risk being seen as dusty and irrelevant, telling us about the past but with little relevance to how we live our lives now. In Explore Your Archive week, we need to say very much the opposite – archives not only preserve our memories, but also act as vital evidence for the present and future to ensure that our society is run openly and fairly.

Climbing off my soapbox for a minute, we have been having some serious fun in Explore Your Archive week! We’ve been taking part on Twitter, joining together with archivists from across the United Kingdom and Ireland (and also worldwide!) who have been tweeting on a different theme every day.

Monday was an insight into a #DayInTheLife of archivists, peeking into what archivists get up to all day in the office and amongst the stacks in the stores. From work in the search-room to cataloguing to taking part in talks and lectures, a great variety of activity was on show. It had been an enquiries day for me, seeking out images like this one...

At work in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital hen house, April 1959 (P/PL7/P/038) well as researching people’s ancestors though our asylum records. The case books of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital are not our largest collection, but they are certainly the most popular with researchers.

On Tuesday, First World War archives were the focus (#ww1archives). This year, we’re getting a  lot of enquiries about the period for obvious reasons. Although we can’t help people with soldiers’ medical records, we have a wealth of sources giving a glimpse into everyday life in Edinburgh’s hospitals during the war, including nurses’ scrapbooks like this one from Bangour Village Hospital (taken over by the War Office in 1915):

Scrapbook from a Bangour nurse, c. 1917 (Acc13/044)

Wednesday saw a chance for Twitter followers to #askarchivists. Although I didn’t take any questions myself, queries ranged from oldest archives to guides to academic and genealogical research. And don’t worry if you didn’t get your question in on the day, because as one participant said: “Archivists don't just answer questions one day a year! We do it all day, every day!”

We took an #archiveselfie on Thursday – here are our wonderful CRC conservators, posing with their favourite equipment:

Our CRC conservators, left to right: Emma, Ruth, Anna and Emily.
My own favourite 'selfie story' was that of Edith Halvarsson, who’s been with us from the Information Management and Preservation MSc at the University of Glasgow. In two weeks, she’s very much explored archives and taken the papers of the Medical Women’s Federation from this:

Medical Women's Federation papers before cataloguing

To this:

Edith with a beautifully ordered trolley!
As the ‘mad cat lady’ of the office, I’m ready to post pictures of our #archiveanimals today (cats and dogs, for example, can often be found in both informal and formal images of hospital staff). Here’s one with First World War soldiers recuperating with the help of some feline friends at Edenhall Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers:

First World War image from a photograph album from Edenhall Hospital, c. 1917 (Acc12/054)
The Explore Your Archive initiative doesn’t end today for LHSA. Worth a mention is our participation in the Previously… festival over the next couple of weeks. The Previously... festival celebrates Scotland’s history with events all over the country. On Saturday 15 November, we’ll be at the Family History Day in Edinburgh Central Library on George IV Bridge (and tweeting, with the hashtag #explorearchives). From 10:30am until 4pm, you can come along and ask Ruth and Louise everything you’ve ever wanted to know about finding family history in hospital records.

On Tuesday 18th November here at the Centre for Research Collections, Louise is going to be talking about how to use our records in genealogy, with a chance to get up close and personal with some of our nineteenth century patient records:

And on Saturday 22nd November, we’re running a children’s event on making your very own medieval manuscript!

We need to speak up for and use archives to keep them alive, so come and visit LHSA at these events – and Explore Our Archive!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Exploring LHSA's photographic collection

I am currently the LHSA intern and I am at the halfway point of my main task of cataloguing the vast and varied photographic collection.  As a (very) newly qualified archivist, this has been such a great opportunity for me to work full-time and engage with the skills that I have developed over the last year.  As I volunteered with LHSA throughout gaining my qualification, I have equally enjoyed becoming part of the team, including the glorious views of Edinburgh from my desk and copious amounts of home-baking at tea break. 

My main task has been to bring all of the LHSA photographic collection under the same system to ensure maximum access to over 6000 photographs, documenting many aspects of the development of medicine and hospitals from the mid-nineteenth century.  From the photographs that I have been working with thus far, I would like to share with you some of my favourites and others that I have found rather interesting. 

This photograph is from c. 1879-1910 and is a view of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Lauriston Place, from the Meadows, with sheep grazing in the foreground.  Whilst it is a lovely image of the grand hospital, I was rather surprised to see sheep.  As a student I often enjoyed spending hot and sunny days at the Meadows but I am not sure how students nowadays would feel sharing it with these woolly beasts.
Moving on, some of the photographs have been really interesting in their depiction of medical treatments.  I have been learning about ‘sunlight treatment’ from this picture taken c. 1930 - 1950 at Deaconess Hospital. This is a photo of a child lying on an operating table being exposed to bright light with two seated children and a nurse standing at the side, all wearing protective goggles.  What would certainly be a controversial treatment now was in fact a regular treatment for many children and adults between 1920 and 1950.  The artificial light lamp was invented by Niels Ryberg Finsen and was thought to be of most benefit to those suffering from tuberculosis of the skin.[1]  

This is a photograph from the very early days of using x-ray to diagnose patients, around 1900.  William Law is pictured here wearing protective clothing and radiography apparatus.  Law was one of the first radiographers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which opened a ‘Medical Electrical Department’ in 1889.  The protective clothing is particularly distinctive and highlights the dangers of this type of work in the early days of its use.

Finally, the LHSA photographic collection has an excellent selection of portrait photographs of Edinburgh medical greats working as physicians, surgeons, nurses and as other medical practitioners.  In keeping with the theme of pioneering radiology in Edinburgh here is a portrait of Robert Knox, d. 1928.  Knox was Consultant Radiologist at Chelsea Hospital for Women, but his work in treating cancer with x-rays played a major role in setting up the new Radiological Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1926.[2]  Whilst he is certainly not the most famous ‘Robert Knox’ associated with medicine in Edinburgh, it has been nice to highlight the positive advances this Knox brought, in comparison with the notorious Robert Knox associated with the Burke and Hare murders.   
I look forward to the rest of my time working with the photographs at LHSA and hope to find more unique images from this exciting collection.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Looking forward to Tweeting you

LHSA has a very rich, diverse photograph collection, dating back to the early years of photography. To help celebrate this, and highlight some of the less well-known images and stories, we have decided to put up a series of themed images on Twitter in the following weeks. As a quick taster of what's to come, here are just a few:

 A delivery to the Blood Transfusion Service at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 1940s.

Dr Margaret Martin, Paediatrician at the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital.

Bangour Village Hospital staff and Harry Lauder, 1942.

Occupational therapy in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital garden, c1960.

Ward 14 at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 1937.

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents 1854 (resident first year doctors) including pioneer of antiseptics, Joseph Lister, front row, third from the right.
To see more great images, look out for our tweets in the next few weeks. If you haven’t joined us on Twitter, our account can be found at

Friday, 24 October 2014

Seeing our History: Edinburgh's Register of the Outdoor Blind

Over the last few months I have been helping as a LHSA volunteer on the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Scotland project ‘Seeing our History - Living with Sight Loss in Edwardian Edinburgh and the Lothians’.  With the backing of Heritage Lottery Funding, this project brings expertise and volunteers together from many different backgrounds to help to unlock the history of what life was like for blind and partially-sighted people in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland during the Edwardian period.

According to RNIB, the experiences of blind and partially sighted people have been largely neglected in areas of social and cultural history, but by bringing to life a resource from the RNIB Scotland/Edinburgh and Lothians Archive, now held at LHSA, teams of experts and volunteers are about to take on this gap in history.  Therefore the project is based around an excellent source within the archive collection, the Register of the Outdoor Blind for Edinburgh and Lothians from around 1903 to 1910.  This Register was used to document the lives of 1170 blind or partially-sighted individuals. The period in which it covers was a time before major development and support for sight-related disability was available and so often these individuals had to depend on minimum support.  The Register enables us to trace details about these individuals including: name; address; place of birth; age when sight was lost; cause of blindness; marital status; how employed; weekly earnings before losing sight and weekly income after; and date of death.  This raw data, alongside records held within the National Records of Scotland (NRS) such as Census and Parish Registers, will be used in a research collaboration between partnerships of sighted and partially sighted volunteers.  Between them the aim is to collect life stories about those individuals recorded in the Register and hopefully contribute to a better understanding about the lives of blind and partially-sighted people years ago.  Once life stories have been compiled, a series will be broadcast on the RNIB Insight Radio and other resources made available about the projects findings.      

This project has created an exciting opportunity for many different people to get involved at its different stages.  As was one of the aims, certainly from my experience at the pre-research stage, the project has also provided an opportunity for those involved to develop skills useful within the heritage and information profession.  I have only very recently finished my degree in Information Management and Preservation from the University of Glasgow. Working on a project such as this has not only allowed me to gain new practical skills, but it has also allowed me to tackle issues surrounding the best ways to make archival resources accessible. 

The Register is a single bound volume in handwritten format, often difficult to read, and therefore had to be transcribed for the researchers to use for preservation needs as well as on account of the difficulties that interpreting handwriting can bring to those with limited experience.  As a volunteer with LHSA I was asked to create an Access database and produce a set of guidelines for another volunteer, alongside some very helpful LHSA staff, to use in order to input the data from the Register.  Transcribing the information into an Access database was the most effective way to ensure that the data from the original document identified each individual in a coherent and organised format, and could best assist the needs of the researchers. 
Clair hard at work with the Register

This has been a really interesting process because it has made me think about the role of the archivist and accessibility, dealing with issues such as avoiding personal interpretation of archival materials, whilst at the same time making a rich resource easier to use.  It was really important to get this balance right and to emphasise within the guidelines the importance of getting as accurate and as authentic transcription of the Register as possible.  Working with the original document flared up many issues that were important to address to ensure that those transcribing the Register were consistent throughout the whole transcription.  For example, as the Register was filled in between around 1903 and 1910, different people have used different abbreviations to describe details, such as the cause of blindness or people's marital status or religious denomination.  It was important that every variation of the abbreviation was transcribed and accounted for. To solve the issue of what they all denoted, a key was created in order to provide meaning to each and every abbreviation that was used.  The guidelines emphasised the ‘golden rule’ for transcribing – the importance of transcribing exactly what you see, rather than what you think it should say, so as to avoid personal interpretation.  This was often harder than it sounds especially when the handwriting was difficult to read.  I think the key to ensuring this level of accuracy was to remind ourselves that each entry within the Register captures certain aspects of a person’s life and, therefore, each person deserves the same amount of attention to detail and accuracy.    These issues were also important for the researchers to be aware of in order to increase usability of the resource.  Therefore a separate set of guidelines was produced for the researchers and I also had the pleasure of explaining these guidelines to the research group when I met them at the NRS.     

I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this project and the exciting prospect of helping to make such a rich resource more accessible.  Hopefully once the research stage is complete many other different types of researchers as well as the general public will be able to learn about another interesting part in our society’s history.

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.