THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

19 March 2019

“The Barbados Mercury”: Thoughts from the digitisation team

In December 2018, we completed the digitisation of The Barbados Mercury Gazette, funded through EAP1086. We have previously written about different stages of the project, such as the start and the digitisation training. In addition, on February 1, 2019, the Barbados Archives held an event to celebrate the launch of the digitised newspaper online. You can see information and images about this event here.

In this post, two members of the digitisation team, Brian Inniss and Lenora Williams, discuss their thoughts about and experience during the digitisation process.

Conserving the Mercury Newspaper at the Barbados Archives

My name is Brian Inniss and I am the Senior Archive Technical Assistant at the Barbados Department of Archives. I am attached to the Conservation Unit which is comprised of myself and two other individuals who handle the care, conservation and preservation of the collections at the archives and the buildings that house them.  Our part in the Mercury digitisation project was to prepare the volumes for digitisation. The following are some details on our process.

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Brian Inniss, Senior Archives Technical Assistant, preparing the Mercury for digitisation.

An important part of any digitisation project is preparation. The preparation for digitisation meant dis-bounding the bound volumes and doing all that was necessary to stabilise them, making it easier for the digitisation team to handle them. Volumes were carefully collected from storage and transferred to the lab for assessment and disassembly. Disassembling the bound newspaper was a first for the team. Working with these volumes in this way gave us more experience with techniques from the 1800s. It was truly exciting to see original loop and stab stitch that were used for many of these volumes.

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The Barbados Mercury Gazette being disbound at the Conservation Department

The project was not without some challenges. All the material in this collection was well over 150 years old, some exceeding 200 years old, and over time, even with the best care at the archives, had become very brittle. Some newspaper issues were made brittle by various derogating factors such as acid-catalysed hydrolysis, oxidation, and insects (bookworms) and humidity. It was this deterioration that first inspired the project. Safely removing the pages, while minimising the damage which could lead to loss of vital information, was labour-intensive and required further research and ingenuity, but we were successful in the end.

After preparation by the conservation unit, these unbound volumes were secured between sheets of blotting paper so they could be transported safely to the digitisation unit to be digitised. After digitisation, these volumes will be bound and safely housed back in the repository for preservation.

This was truly an experience to behold and assisted in the further enhancing of our skills in dealing with paper of different grades and texture. Hopefully the Archives will have more opportunities like this and we will enthusiastically participate as we look toward the future.

Digitising the Mercury newspaper

Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant

Working with The Barbados Mercury Gazette as the Project Assistant was a capacity building experience. Of the many experiences, working with photography equipment for digitisation was the most exciting. Having previous experience in photography and a love for landscape photography, it was a chance to focus on another subject – paper.

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 Jennifer Breedy, Archives Assistant, and Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant, working to digitise a fragile page

The day to day requirements of the project required concentration and timing. It also demanded a high level of attention to detail and forethought to see a product that researchers can utilise. The set up was partially comprised of a copy stand and a Nikon D810 DSRL Camera. These technical aspects included creating even lighting, understanding just how subtle changes can impact on the image quality and understanding how the positioning of the subject can be as important in the end of product. This was one of our most challenging parts of the process, but a vital part in meeting the guidelines set out in the grant. Most of what I know about lighting a subject now comes from the intricacies of the FADGI standards.

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Lenora Williams, Project Assistant

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Timothy Sealy, Archives Technical Assistant, assisting the digitisation team

Over the first few months the daily process became familiar and even welcome. It was then that the team would meet one of our most memorable challenges yet. As an archives user, I know the disappointment of being told a book or pamphlet is closed, but never fully appreciated what that actually means until I handled issues from the 1812 and 1813 of this collection. Careful consideration was placed into transferring the material from the conservation department to the room where the digitisation process was being carried out and the special training and instruction given to the team on handling these delicate issues. Even with careful handling, these pages crumbled. They seemed to dissolve right by merely existing and it was then that the real importance of this project made its impact to all involved.

 The more you interact with the material the more one can gain an appreciation of 1700-1800 Barbados. The Mercury Newspaper opens up 18th and 19th century Barbados though the eyes of a select, literate few. The newspaper as a resource sheds light on the way they saw themselves and the ideals they held for country, their businesses and themselves. I began seeing their words and exploring the similarities and differences of Barbados then and now. One great example is the newspaper itself. At present, several media houses publish a daily newspaper that has some 10 pages or more with cleverly merged articles. The Mercury newspaper as evidenced by this collection, was published twice per week usually around 3 or 4 pm.

It was striking to find that Barbadians then were no less materialistic. For example, one feature of the Mercury is the considerable number of advertisements each issue contains; sometimes taking up a large percentage of any given page. Many subscribers through the years give detailed lists of items for sale.

The newspaper will surely be most noted for its information on enslaved persons. Subheadings of “Absconded” or “A reward” preceded such notices which often give an avid description including occupation, location and family connections of enslaved person. Related information includes regular updates of the list of enslaved persons in the cage and owners. Uploading this resource into an open platform with free access to the full content will encourage users to engage with the content at their convenience.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work in this Endangered Archives Programme grant, and I look forward to being involved in other such projects in the future.

To see more images from the conservation and digitisation of the Mercury, please see here.

Written by Lenora Williams, Brian Inniss and Amalia S. Levi

Photos credit: Lenora Williams and Brian Innis.

15 February 2019

Introducing Sam van Schaik, the new head of the Endangered Archives Programme

With EAP entering its second phase last year, a new role was created for a head of the Programme. I began in this exciting new role earlier this month, and I thought it was about time to introduce myself here on the EAP website!

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I have moved to the Endangered Archives Programme from a different, but not entirely dissimilar project at the British Library: the International Dunhuang Project (IDP). I started here in 1999, when I was in the final year of my doctorate on Tibetan Buddhism, working on a cataloguing and digitising over two thousand Tibetan wooden slips from the Silk Road at the same time as finishing my dissertation. A couple of years later, with that done and the dissertation finally finished, I embarked on a series of research projects, on Tibetan tantric Buddhism, the palaeography of Tibetan manuscripts, and the lost tradition of Tibetan Zen. Most recently before I moved to EAP, I was a principal investigator on a major synergy project funded by the European Research Council, 'Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State', tracing the impacts of Indic culture on Southeast Asia, Central Asia and China in the first millennium CE.

In IDP we worked towards digitally reuniting the Silk Road collections of the British Library with those in other museums and libraries across the world. The challenge was for institutions in Europe, Russia, China and Japan to work together, harmonising their digitisation and cataloguing work so that these dispersed collections could be accessed from a single website. And thanks to dedicated curators, researchers and technicians in all of these places, it worked. The website (idp.bl.uk) gives access to manuscripts, paintings and other artefacts from across the world. This global partnership, one of the most successful and long running international digital collaborations, continues today.

These projects have given me fantastic opportunities to work with the manuscript collections at the British Library as a curator and researcher, to travel to other museums and libraries in Europe, Asia and Russia, and to write and publish on Buddhism, the history of the Silk Road and the study of manuscripts. Being able to work with these incredible collections and their dedicated curators has always been a privilege. In recent years I've also written some books for a wider audience, including Tibet: A History (2012) and The Spirit of Tibetan Buddhism (2016).

Moving to the Endangered Archives Programme, some things are familiar, most of all the commitment to preserving and making available global sources of culture and learning. Both Arcadia and the British Library are committed to open access and the widest possible dissemination of the results of EAP projects. This means making everything not only available, but easily discoverable in a variety of ways, for different kinds of of people with different needs and interests. With over 350 projects in 90 countries, EAP is a vast network, which is complemented by the work of other Arcadia-funded programmes, including the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (SOAS), the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (British Museum), and Documenting Global Voices (UCLA).

Over the years I've heard from recipients of EAP grants about how valuable the support of EAP had been, and how pleasant they found working with the Programme. Now, as the detailed applications for round 15 of EAP are arriving, I am seeing the process from the other side, and I am even more impressed by the EAP team at the British Library and looking forward to working with them as the adventure continues.

Blog written by Sam van Schaik

08 February 2019

Let's rescue and disseminate the Chilean public education archives

The School Archives Programme at the Institute of History of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is convinced of the value of historical documents created by Chilean public educational institutions. 

Founded during the nineteenth century as key institutions throughout the country, these secondary schools contain valuable and unpublished information concerning the local communities of the former Chilean provinces. Enrolment Records, Director's Correspondence, Subjects Taught, Teacher Council Minutes, Exam Proceedings, Punishment Books, Inventories, and other records will be digitised during 2019. Eight lycées of national importance in five regions have agreed to take part in EAP1065. The educational institutions - known as 'liceos' that are taking part are: Gabriela Mistral (La Serena), Alejandro Álvarez (Ovalle), Technological Alfredo Nazar Feres (Valparaíso), Óscar Castro (Rancagua), Luis Urbina F. (Rengo), Neandro Schilling (SanFernando), Abate Molina (Talca) and Enrique Molina G. (Concepción).

Meanwhile, we hope to encourage other institutions to get on board. Archives are often forgotten and neglected, sometimes at risk because of fire, earthquakes or floods. When these documents are valued, they take on new life and meaning thanks to rescue initiatives, organisation and dissemination activities proposed by the school communities themselves. These communities have taken into account the potential that these documents are fundamental resources for education, memory, identity and citizenship.

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In this way, and together with the School Archives Programme, numerous workshops, seminars, training courses and various projects that bring together university academics, school teachers and students with professionals from various disciplines working collaboratively have taken place between 2010 and 2018.

This material is not just for the study of the history of education, we also appreciate the importance they have for understanding of cultural and social history of the localities that keep them. Likewise, they are a source of great interest for diverse and innovative didactic applications that contribute to forming methodological competences among students.

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The goal is to develop and constitute a national network to which institutions and initiatives can be added in the three lines of work proposed by the School Archives Programme:
1. Archives and Heritage; 2. Pedagogical mediation; 3. Impact assessment on literacy and historical awareness.

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Blog written by Rodrigo Sandoval grant holder for EAP1065