We have suspended sessions, and plan to re-start in October, if we can; thanks to our partners and our funder City Bridge Trust, we feel confident that we will be able to complete the project.
Our Steering Group on Friday 13th March at SMART was timely, so we had plans in place ready for the wider shutdown on Monday 16th March.
So far we’ve held 5 sessions, so we are half way through the core programme – though we have post-project sessions for people to maintain contact with each other and London Metropolitan Archives. If we have to pause, this isn’t a bad time to do it.
Meanwhile we are getting on with looking at wellbeing research information. Daisy Rubinstein and Dr Linda Thomson are reviewing the data from questionnaires, feedback from staff at reflective practice sessions, and from a focus group with participants.
We are keeping communications going with regular tweets, and we are looking at ways to keep in touch with people online. More to come…..
This week’s session began early for Caroline De Stefani and myself as we spoke to our researcher Daisy Rubinstein about our experience of the project. During this discussion a key reflection for me was how the physical characteristics of the collection items – the smell of old leather, texture of parchment and sounds of different papers – seem to be especially engaging for participants.
Everyone arrived in two taxis from SMART and we began lunch by washing our hands following guidance from our Covid-19 Virus risk assessment.
Once the workshop started our first task was to fold and wrap the boxes we had measured last week around the books. We were joined by LMA’s Learning and Engagement Manager Aimee Taylor, and, as we grappled with getting the labels stuck down in the correct place and the right way up, she remarked, “Conservation is so detailed…….”
We then discussed the materials that glass plate negatives and silver gelatine photographs are made from.
I mentioned that the era of the physical photograph is over, and we talked about how completely different digital data and prints are. We looked at some of the different supports used in photography (glass, paper, plastic), and at the image and emulsion layer – commonly silver particles that form an image in a gelatine layer.
“Gelatine, is that bones?” asked Julia (not her real name).
“Yes,” I answered, “that’s what the rag and bone man used to collect.”
“Photographs are made from bones? Human bones?”
After establishing that the bones were animal, probably horse, the conversation moved on, to grave robbing and autopsy, before we returned to historic photographs. The handout we provided also included a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ such as wearing vinyl gloves, keeping prints and negatives on the table, etc.
Looking at the prints and deciding which size polyester sleeve to use
Following tea, we were joined by Tom and Nana (a volunteer working with SMART) after they had been interviewed by Daisy. We spent the rest of the session re-housing black & white photographs of hospitals and asylums into polyester sleeves. The photographs varied in size and the correct polyester sleeve had to be chosen. This activity was quite hectic as everyone took part with enthusiasm and we re-housed four boxes in record speed!
Looking at photographs of a hospital sitting room for live-in nurses
Next Friday the Project Steering Group is meeting on the same day as the SMART art group, and will take place at SMART. The Steering Group is made up of the partners, staff, researchers and participants, and it is the main vehicle for managing the project . There will also be a focus group meeting for participants with Daisy.
C4W team on the day
Caroline De Stefani – LMA Studio Manager and C4W conservation lead
Helen Lindsay – Collections Care Consultant and C4W project co-ordinator
Tom Exley – SMART Art & Design Tutor and C4W project co-ordinator
Aimée Taylor – LMA Learning and Engagement Officer
This week participants traveled from SMART to London Metropolitan Archives and back by taxi. This was easier than travelling by bus and everyone arrived in good spirits to have lunch with time to spare. Tom had made a huge number of sandwiches and after further biscuits and tea we moved into the Conservation Studio to start the workshop. As people headed towards the table around which we sit for the sessions it was clear that the studio is becoming a familiar space.
This session was called ‘Let Talk about Dirt’ and we did just that by discussing why dirt and dust is a problem and how it gets onto the registers.
Making trays out of archival paper
The most common way for dirt to get onto books and documents is by handling. When the asylum registers were consulted in the past by clinical and other staff, they will sometimes have turned the pages with greasy fingers, or left a book open so that dust fell onto it. Because of this we can look at a book now and see which pages were consulted most frequently – they are the ones with the most dirt or fingerprints on the corners of the page as it is turned.
Cutting and folding the paper for the trays
When stored on a book shelf, dust enters the volume from above, with dust falling deep within the book if the pages are loose. That is another reason why it’s good to put heritage volumes in a protective box.
And, in order to keep our work space clean, we made paper trays so that the dust and other particles that get moved by cleaning were contained and not spread over the table or floor.
Cleaning volumes using foam book wedges to support the bindings
People worked either in pairs or individually and, after a break and cup of tea, we started cleaning the registers using soft brushes and latex sponges. The covers, which are leather or parchment, were not cleaned, we just concentrated on the pages.
The books vary quite a lot, some are large while others are fairly small and slim but they all needed the support of a foam book wedge to ensure that the bindings were not squashed flat on the table. These wedges are particularly important during cleaning as pressure is put on the pages, but they would also be needed if the registers are consulted in the search room.
Some volumes needed quite a lot of cleaning
Once finished, each register was measured for a box. The boxes will be cut by Amy in the Boxing Room and by the next session they will be ready for folding and wrapping around their newly clean books.