Friday, 31 January 2014

Exciting New Project at LHSA

Thanks to generous funding from the Wellcome Trust, a project is now underway to catalogue and conserve the LHSA’s fantastic HIV/AIDS collection. This week Emily Hick, the new Project Conservator, introduces herself and her new venture:

Three weeks ago, I began a 12 month position as a Project Conservator with the LHSA. I graduated last year from Northumbria University with an M.A. in Fine Art Conservation where I specialised in ‘Works of Art on Paper’ and prior to taking this position I had been working at the Alnwick Castle Archive as a Paper Conservator. Therefore, the type of material found in this collection is quite different from what I have worked with previously, but the conservation principles are the same and I am looking forward to the challenges of working with this modern collection in the coming months. Over the next year I will be blogging about the unique conservation issues that collections such as this pose and how I have treated various aspects of it.

The first suspected case of HIV/AIDS in Scotland was discovered in Edinburgh in 1983. The infection rate in the city steadily grew and by 1989 it was seven times higher than the national average, which led to Edinburgh being dubbed the “AIDS capital of Europe” in the national press. LHSA collected documentation regarding the medical and social response to the disease in Edinburgh and the Lothians and in 2011 the collection was inscribed to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register, highlighting its importance to national documentary heritage. It is an extremely valuable archive that records the changes in response to HIV/AIDS, from firstly focusing on homosexual transmission and infection through blood transfusions, then transmission between heterosexual partners and finally infection due to the sharing of needles and mother to child transmission. Policies formed at this time, in terms of awareness and prevention campaigns as well as care of patients, went on to inform national policy. Therefore, this is an archive of vital importance which comprehensively documents an important part of medical history.

The collection itself is made up of a variety of media, mostly loose paper documents, but also badges, stickers, photographs, 35 mm slides as well as rubber and latex items such as condoms and balloons. There is also a collection of digital media such as 3.5” floppy disks, VHS, audio cassette tapes and film reels which need to be transferred to modern storage facilities to avoid loss of this data due to deterioration of the object or the obsolescence of viewing equipment. The photograph below show the diversity of objects found in the collection, often stored together in unsuitable housing.
Varied collection of objects found in GD22, an accession which documents the "Take Care" awareness campaign.
Despite its importance, only basic preventative conservation methods have been carried out on some of the collection, such as the storing paper documents in archival boxes. So, over the next year I will be rehousing the entire collection and carry out conservation treatments such as surface cleaning, tear repair and flattening where necessary. Since starting three weeks ago I have been very busy; meeting all my colleagues at LHSA and CRC (Centre for Research Collections) and finding out what they do, inductions to the library and getting to know the conservation studio and the collection I will be working with. I have also carried out a detailed survey of the collection and put together a conservation proposal for GD22. This accession contains documents relating to the public awareness ‘Take Care’ Campaign and treatment of this is now well under way. It’s been a great start to the project and I am looking forward to working with this fascinating collection over the next year.

If you would like to find out more about the content of the HIV/AIDS collection, please visit our website:

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