Opening up the manuscript collections: an update on our online cataloguing project

What do silhouettes, the  South Sea journals of Daniel Wheeler, press-cuttings on the General Strike, and a 100 year-old phial of anti-tetanus serum have in common? They’re all to be found in the Library’s main manuscript series, which currently comprises over 1,000 separate and extremely diverse archive collections. And until recently, only a quarter of them were on the online catalogue.

Extracts from the South Sea Journals of Daniel Wheeler (Library reference Temp MSS 366 vols. 3/1-3)

Extracts from Daniel Wheeler’s South Sea Journals for 1834-5 (Library reference Temp MSS 366 vols. 3/1-3)

Anti-tetanus serum phial from Alan F. Ardley papers (Library reference: Temp MSS 452/1/11)

Anti-tetanus serum phial from Alan F. Ardley papers (Library reference Temp MSS 452/1/11)

Since the launch of the new catalogue, a little over a year ago, we’ve been busy increasing the number of archive and manuscript collections users could find there. Once the project to catalogue the remarkable records of Friends Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee was complete, attention turned to the rich and varied main manuscript series.

We embarked on a 15 month project, to run from January 2015, with the aim of cataloguing the bulk of the remaining manuscripts to collection level, making them searchable by name, and overall description. As the project cataloguer would have to examine each collection individually, this was also a great opportunity to repackage the contents in archival standard storage materials – so we can happily say goodbye to collapsing file boxes and overstuffed folders! The collections span 205 metres of shelving and currently fill 1,366 boxes; an estimated 1,000 new archival boxes and 5,000 acid free folders would be needed for repackaging.

A delivery of new archive boxes in the Library

A delivery of new archive boxes in the Library

Now we’re six months through the project, here’s where we’ve got to so far.

We’ve already added nearly 300 new entries to the online catalogue, with brief lists to help researchers retrieve relevant material. 380 archival boxes have been used to replace old brittle and unstable file boxes, and 28 outsized items – rolls, maps, etc. – have been repacked. Visual items that had been removed have been re-united with the collections they came from (for example family photographs of Mary Millior Braithwaite and R. Osmond Catford’s photograph albums of relief work in Poland and Russia 1920-1923).

The collections range in size from single documents (such as the Journal of Anna Louise Evens, relating to mission work in India 1886-1934), or a few folders (such as Theodore Burtt’s papers on Friends Industrial Mission, Pemba 1896-1930), to extensive and complex collections (such as J. J. Green’s copious collection of genealogical research papers, deeds, maps, letters and other documents; or the 22 boxes of Herbert Hodgkin papers – letters, notes, photographs and watercolours, spanning the period 1847-1962, mainly relating to foreign mission work, especially China).

Rachel Howard letter from Temp MSS 373

Cross-written letter from Rachel Hodgkin among the large family archive of A. Ruth Fry (Letters from Rachel Howard to Elizabeth Hodgkin and John Hodgkin, 1829-1836. Library reference Temp MSS 373 B1/1)

Reflecting the varied lives and interests of their original owners, the collections include material on Quakers and Quaker work around the world (in Ireland, Norway, France, India, Pemba and Poland, among other places), family archives spanning centuries, and the working papers, correspondence, research notes, and diaries of individual Friends (such as Isaac Sharp, Ann Mary Burgess, Thomas C. Foley, or Stephen Shipley Wilson).

Highlights include the A. Ruth Fry papers, among whose various treasures from branches of the Howard, Hodgkin, Eliot and Fry families are to be found one of the French revolutionary cockades that appeared in our last blogpost, as well as the two smallest books in our collections.

One of two

One of two “bijou almanacs” among A. Ruth Fry papers (Library reference Temp MSS 373 M4/6)

Another is box 2 of the Elizabeth Lee papers, whose contents include a volume of celebrity autographs (a form of collecting that took off in the 19th century even among some Friends), among them Robert Browning and Oscar Wilde.

Autograph of Ellen Terry (Autograph volume, Elizabeth Lee papers. Library reference Temp MSS 302/2/2)

Autograph of Ellen Terry (Autograph volume, Elizabeth Lee papers. Library reference Temp MSS 302/2/2)

Before the arrival of our combined Library and Archive online catalogue, users who wanted to search the Library’s unique holdings of official Quaker records and unpublished papers of Quakers dating back to the 17th century had to rely on the card catalogue and paper finding aids in the reading room. As more and more archive and manuscript collections are added, through projects like this, the online catalogue opens up the collections to users, wherever they may be, and makes them searchable in new and exciting ways.

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2 Responses to Opening up the manuscript collections: an update on our online cataloguing project

  1. Jim McNeill says:

    Great news and good luck with the archiving!

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