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.

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.