It’s time to take stock as the old year draws to a close. It’s been a full one. We said goodbye to old colleagues and welcomed new ones. Centenaries kept us busy. The reading room got a new look. Our online catalogue was unavailable for nearly a week because of a provider problem, but thanks to our membership of Copac we were able to provide alternative access. We supported the work of Friends House departments, and local Quakers. We welcomed readers and visiting groups, and we went out to visit Quaker meetings and other events to talk about the Library and its collections. New connections continued to be made through our Facebook page and Twitter account.
Here is a small selection of the highlights of 2018.
New manuscript accessions
Each year we receive new accessions into our collections as gifts from donors, including personal papers of Quaker individuals and families, archives of independent Quaker organisations, and also artworks and museum objects.
One of our favorite accessions this year was the Armfield family collection which has already featured on the blog. We were also presented with an original land deed for William Penn for land in Pennsylvania, showing there are still 17th century treasures held in private hands waiting to emerge. We received personal papers from some familiar names relating to Quaker witness in the 20th century: Bernard and Naomi Lawson, ‘Jack’ and Ruth Catchpool, and Alison Kelly. These personal papers always add an intimate insight into the lives and work of Quakers whose names appear frequently in the central Quaker archives either as committee members or workers. We can’t feature every gift we receive, but keep an eye out on the catalogue for new collections being added. We are grateful to donors who are willing to part with wonderful family collections to enrich the Library’s research collections.
New publications on Quakerism and Quaker history
2018 was a bumper year for new books and articles written by Library users. To highlight just a few – William Penn: a life, a long wished for new biography by Andrew Murphy; Rosemary Moore and Richard Allen’s The Quakers 1656-1723: the evolution of an alternative community; and New critical studies on early Quaker women 1650-1800, by Michele Tarter and Catie Gill. Thanks to these scholars and to the many others who have donated copies of their published research to the Library.
Work with Friends
A large part of the Library’s work is not often featured on this blog – work to support Quakers around the country. Besides providing support to local Quaker meeting librarians, we also offer advice to meetings on how to manage their records, which eventually become archives. This encompasses published guidance and bespoke advice on cataloguing and depositing with local archives, but also issues like data protection and digital record-keeping – something that has kept us quite busy this year, with the introduction of GDPR. We ran a special interest session on data protection at Yearly Meeting in May, and later in the year visited one regional Quaker meeting to talk about digital challenges and opportunities, and explore ways local Quaker meetings can get their heritage online.
Library displays and loans for exhibition
Library users will be aware of the limitations of our modest reading room display cabinet. We do what we can: the final display of 2018 featured prison bars and even a World War II prisoner of war camp bedstead – in miniature! The reading room itself got a new look early in the year with some large scale facsimile posters of a variety of collection items. Table-top displays were prepared for visiting groups, including Friends from Cambridgeshire Area Meeting, a group of young Norwegian Quakers, and a party of sixth form religious education students from Hampshire. During Yearly Meeting we had two displays, one on the book of discipline and one on World War II relief work, both well received.
We’re also glad to be able to reach a wider audience by loaning items for display elsewhere in the country. You may have read about Chichester University’s Otter Gallery exhibition Conflicting Views: Pacifist Artists, which included 11 items on loan from our collections, including paintings, drawings, pamphlets and sculpture.
Thanks to donors to our BeFriend A Book scheme, we continued work to preserve collections in the Library’s care. A further 18 “tract volumes” (composite volumes where several items are bound together), dating from the 17th to the early 19th century, received conservation treatment this year. You can read about some of that delicate work in an article posted in January.
Our much appreciated Arts Society conservation volunteers worked on steadfastly removing staples from 20th century pamphlets. This herculean task is expected to finish at the end of 2020, at which point we plan to move on to de-stapling newsletters and other periodical publications. Other volunteers help with a range of tasks, including checking accessions and carrying out small paper repairs. More difficult repairs have to be done professionally: as in previous years, we benefited from the work of a student conservator, who also wrote a blogpost on her work.
Happy new year!
To all our volunteers and BeFriend A Book donors, to our readers, friends/Friends and well-wishers, we say thank you, and good wishes for the new year ahead!