Friday, 14 August 2015

LHSA's Wellcome Trust funded collections

This week’s blog about our Wellcome Trust funded projects comes from Project Cataloguing Archivist, Clair.
As we welcome our new Project Cataloguing Archivist, Rebecca, to LHSA to start on our next Wellcome Trust (WT) funded project, in this week’s blog I wanted to reflect on all of LHSA’s collections that have benefited from the Wellcome Trust Research Resources awards thus far.  The Wellcome Trust offer support through these grants to repositories that hold significant primary source collections within the interdisciplinary field of medical humanities and social sciences. Naturally the rich variety of medical related records that we hold at LHSA can greatly benefit from these awards, which have enabled us to catalogue and preserve collections that hold huge research potential to the scholarly community and beyond.

Whilst working as Project Cataloguing Archivist I have been lucky enough to work on two of LHSA’s WT funded projects, including cataloguing Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes and cataloguing our UNESCO-awarded HIV/AIDS collections. Just last week I also got a taster for the project that Rebecca will be working on to catalogue LHSA’s TB and diseases of the chest cases notes and registers.

But before much of the cataloguing work could begin on projects such as these, conservation work was needed. Therefore, since 2002 LHSA has also utilised WT grants to conserve many of the collections that would previously have been inaccessible for major research due to their poor condition. Between 2002 and 2009, LHSA received five separate WT awards to preserve twentieth-century folder-based clinical case notes, including:

·       Case notes of University of Edinburgh clinical professors: Edwin Bramwell and Norman Dott.

·       Case notes of University of Edinburgh clinical professors: James Learmonth and Derrick Dunlop.

·       Case notes of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

·       Edinburgh's reproductive and sexual health case notes.

·      Edinburgh's case notes relating to tuberculosis and World War Two injuries.

From a cataloguing perspective it has not only been a luxury working with collections that have already gone through conservation treatment, but it is also integral to the output of cataloguing large collections. For example, case notes that have already been surface-cleaned and had staples and paper clips removed, as well as being re-housed in custom-made acid-free folders, means that the process of cataloguing at item level can be done at a faster rate – the quicker the output the quicker the collections can be used by our researchers.

Preserving these twentieth-century folder-based clinical case notes has enabled LHSA to open up scarce resources with unique insights into many medical specialisms and historically important medical pioneers. This project-based funding has also facilitated the development of methodologies and built on experience that has contributed towards quality catalogues and conservation techniques that can be shared widely. Over my time with LHSA, and within the University’s Centre for Research Collections, I have been struck by the transparency between various different projects and skill sets. There is a willingness to share information on best practice and adaptable methodologies, with advice being disseminated though publications and presentations.

Since 2011 LHSA has had three successful WT Research Resources applications - one complete and two on-going which will take us into 2017, including:

·        Policies, Postcards and Prophylactics: a project to catalogue and conserve LHSA’s UNESCO-awarded HIV/AIDS collections(1983-2010). Attached to this project WT funding also supported a one-day symposium entitled "Conserving Condoms: Modern Materials in Medical Archives" and a public engagement project with the creation of our online educational resource (link).

I am really enjoying contributing to the completion of our own projects. Working across such varied collections has been an exciting challenge but is also very rewarding. The training that I have received has particularly improved my cataloguing skills, which I will take forward in  future projects. I now have a deeper understanding of how an archivist can deal with voluminous, complex and sensitive materials in order to provide an intellectual way into the records, for the potential user base. Further opportunities and events have also been enabled me to connect with other WT funded projects across the UK. It is great to see how WT grants for medical humanities can be utilised through many different types of archive and library institutions. Some of my personal highlights have included:

·         Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics, based at the University of Edinburgh (UoE). Attached to this project an exciting exhibition has opened at the UoE Main Library 'Towards Dolly: a century of animal genetics in Edinburgh' with a chance to see Dolly the sheep on display!

·       Care Not Confinement: cataloguing and preserving the Archives of the Crichton Royal Hospital, based at Dumfries and Galloway Archive Centre.

·        A Catalogue of Rare Syphilis Books, based at the University of Glasgow.

·        Cataloguing and Preservation of the HIV/AIDS Collections of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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