Friday, 24 June 2016

Progress of the Norman Dott Project.

     Time has flown since my first day as a cataloguing archivist for our project ‘Cataloguing Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960)’, and it has now been five months since I started cataloguing the case notes. As of today Friday 24th of June, I have catalogued 3,584 case notes using the XML editor Oxygen, which represents an average of 36 per day. If we take into account the case notes catalogued by other archivists, interns and volunteers, we reach an impressive total number of 26,840 records! We are not out of the woods just yet though: I still have around 19 boxes of case notes to catalogue. As the deadline for the project is rapidly approaching, the cataloguing pace has to increase, however we are ready to rise to the challenge.

Print of X-ray with graphite detail mounted on board (PR1.48)

     Working with the Norman Dott collection has been a very enriching experience. I have come across a wide array of material: fascinating photographs and X-ray of medical conditions, graphic yet beautiful clinical drawings, touching postcards from patients warmly thanking Norman Dott for his care… Moreover, the fact that the collection spans four decades of the 20th century – from the early 20s to the early 60s – means that while cataloguing the case notes I have been able to indirectly ‘witness’ the evolution of medicine, with increasingly precise diagnoses thanks to new techniques and increasingly efficient treatments. The records are also full of fascinating human adventures: uplifting miracle recoveries, incredible war stories, impressive medical prowess, as well as tragic accidents (especially traffic accident from the 50s on) and obsolete procedures now viewed as mistakes.

Clinical drawings of an acoustic neuroma operation (PR2.21345) (all personal details have been redacted)
     It is now time to start thinking about the next step: the delivery of the online catalogue that will enable the public to actually see and use the collection. However, the case notes contain a lot of confidential and sensitive data, and we have to be careful in our approach. There will be two catalogues: a redacted version where all the information that could possibly identify a patient has been redacted, and an unredacted version for users who obtained the authorisation to view this information. Ideally, the redacted version would be a public catalogue that everyone would be able to see on ArchivesSpace, with a webpage specifically dedicated to the project – see the Towards Dolly project, also based at the Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections and funded by the Wellcome Trust's Research Resources scheme. The delivery of the unredacted catalogue will be somewhat more complicated as access will be severely restricted. One solution would be to only let users search it at the CRC under LHSA archivists’ supervision, on an access-restricted laptop from which it would be impossible to export any data. 

     The online delivery of the catalogue and its publicizing represent another aspect of the project and will bring different challenges that promise to be equally interesting. 

Aline brodin, Project Cataloguing Archivist for the Norman Dott project. 

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