Friday, 2 October 2015

Tan! Teine! (Fire! Fire!)

In this week’s blog, Ruth reflects on a recent training event held by the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA) all about fire in the archive: preventing fire, and responding to it. 

The training wasn’t delivered in Welsh and Gaelic, as the blog title might suggest, but there were excellent speakers from Aberystwyth and Glasgow who talked about their experience of fire and how it impacted on their buildings, archive collections and services. They were joined by a representative from the local Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and the day brought together a wealth of experience that those attending could draw and on and take back to their own organisations.
The day of lectures and question and answer sessions began with an introduction from Linda Ramsay, National Records of Scotland, who highlighted the role of the SCA in relation to the preservation and conservation of the nation’s archives. (If you’d like to find out more about SCA, see their website on, and for their group dedicated to preservation,
The first speaker was Iwan Bryn James from the National Library of Wales, who talked about their 2013 fire. The presentations will be made available online – so look out on the SCA website if you want to find out more - but the main thing that I took from Iwan’s talk was the need to be fully prepared: have an up-to-date plan that sets out what you would do if your building and/or collection was affected by fire, and make sure you have all the materials and kit (especially protective equipment for staff) ready to go just in case. Because they were so well-prepared, staff at the Library were able to start co-ordinating their response while the fire service was still putting out the fire – not a moment was lost, which meant that they were able to save the vast majority of the collections that were affected by the fire.
We have a robust and detailed disaster plan in place, and boxes of materials that we could use if we were ever faced with a similar situation, but Iwan’s talk gave me lots of food for thought and has resulted in a list of tweaks and minor additions that I’d like to make to our plan to make it better still!
Susannah Waters then talked about the more recent fire at Glasgow School of Art. Like Iwan, Susannah described how the fire started, what damage had been done and what their response had been (and continues to be). Also like Iwan, preparation was key to their response, but Susannah also highlighted the need to think about how you would co-ordinate offers of volunteer help and how you utilise, and react to, social media. So a few more things for me to add to my list of disaster plan tweaks!
The day finished off with Gavin Gray, an experienced firefighter, talking us through the legislation that governs fire safety and our responsibilities within it. It was extremely useful to hear from someone with a different perspective on the topic and his talk drove home the necessity for high quality, up-to-date information, that you can give the fire service on arrival, about your building’s layout and your priority collection items for salvage.
I had thought that listening to others talk about threat and damage to their wonderful collections would make for a depressing day at best and cause me a sleepless night at worst – but that was far from the case! The willingness of fellow sector professionals to share their experiences so we could all learn from them was really inspiring, and much of what they talked about was all the positives that can come from these difficult situations – a surprisingly large percentage of collections affected by fire can be repaired, community spirit can be fostered, current and new audiences can be engaged and, ultimately, resilience and value can built in to the response in order to come out as a stronger archive service.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Conservation of Tracing Paper

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a collection of architectural plans on tracing paper. These are often in fairly bad condition due to the inherent fragility of the paper. Papers from the 19th and early 20th century were made transparent by either impregnating the paper with oils (such as linseed or poppy), treating them with a strong acid, or by over beating the fibres. These manufacturing processes result in a weak paper sheet that is at high risk of tearing and creasing.
Architectural plan on tracing paper, before treatment. Shows extensive tearing and creasing.
The treatment of tracing paper is complex. Most tracing papers are very sensitive to moisture, which means that traditional paper repair techniques such as using wheat starch paste and strips of Japanese paper are not suitable, as the repair is too damp. Also, due to the transparent nature of the tracing paper, these kind of repairs can be highly visible and distracting.

There are a range of alternative repair techniques available to stabilise tracing paper such as using a heat set tissue with a synthetic adhesive or preparing remoistenable tissues with adhesives such as Klucel G (which uses a solvent to reactivate the adhesive) and isinglass and Japanese paper. I decided against these methods as the heat set tissue tends to not create a strong bond and may fail. I was also cautious of using Klucel G and solvents, due to the effect it may have on the oils in the paper. Isinglass is slightly trickier to handle as it must be kept warm whilst in use, but must not exceed a temperature of 60°C, otherwise its adhesive properties are reduced.

Architectural plan on tracing paper, before treatment.

I wanted a repair technique that I could prepare relatively quickly and would stabilise the tracing paper, without being visible from the recto. I decided to use a bridge repair method that involves taking individual fibres from Japanese tissue and adhering each end across the tear with wheat starch paste. To do this I ripped up a small piece of Japanese paper and soaked it in water. I then drew out individual strands using tweezers and dried them on a glass weight, before cutting them to size with a scalpel. I then adhered these fibres across the tear with a dot of wheat starch paste at each end. I then pressed these locally under Bondina™, blotter and weights and left them to dry.  
Architectural plan on tracing paper, after treatment.
Architectural plan on tracing paper, after treatment. Detail of verso showing bridge repair.
This repair creates a surprisingly strong bond, which quick and easy to carry out while being sympathetic to the material. The plans are now much easy to access and view.

Architectural plan on tracing paper, after treatment. Rehoused in a polyester sleeve.


Friday, 18 September 2015

Almost time to…Call the Midwife

Project Cataloguing Archivist, Clair, shares a her final blog with us before she goes on maternity leave.

This is my last blog for a while, as well as my last day before I go off on maternity leave! But before I go I thought I would take one last chance to explore some the unique collections that we hold at LHSA, as I will definitely miss being surrounded by all things old when my bundle of all things new arrives!
I could not resist taking a look at the midwifery records that we hold and reading more about the history of the development of maternity provision over the last 200 years in Edinburgh. From the LHSA website and past blogs you can also read further about the establishment of maternity hospitals in the city, as well as their related records that LHSA hold, here.

Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital drawing

Mothers and babies on the ward
Briefly, the first planned maternity hospital, Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital and Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, opened in 1879 which was the fist purpose-build maternity hospital, where women could have their babies under medical supervision in hospital. Care was also provided from hospital staff for at home deliveries. The Hospital was staffed by physicians as well as midwives and medical students, since the 1886 Amendment to the Medical Act made midwifery a compulsory course in the medical curriculum. By 1910 the Hospital was dealing annually with 616 indoor and 1227 district cases. As the twentieth century progressed efforts were continuing to be made to combat maternal deaths, pregnancy illness such as eclampsia and infant mortality. On 1st March 1939 the old Simpson closed and the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, which was incorporated into the RIE, assumed responsibility for maternity services. In the new Pavilion the principle of isolation as a means of containing infection was fully implemented and by 1979 the number of beds had increased to 225 while the hazards of childbirth and perinatal mortality had been drastically reduced.

Nursery in the Elsie Ingles Memorial Maternity Hospital, c1930s (LHB8A/9).

Another famous Edinburgh hospital that became responsible for maternity care throughout the twentieth century was the Elsie Ingles Memorial Maternity Hospital. This hospital was set up to commemoration Dr Elise Inglis and her pioneering work for women's medical care as well as her work in setting up the Scottish Women's Hospital units. They provided medical assistance in countries such as France and Serbia during World War One.
The establishment of such hospitals enabled maternity care to improve and develop within Edinburgh but what of those that actually worked in maternity provision and took on the role of midwife? Amongst the gift and deposit collections that we hold at LHSA, we are lucky enough to also have personal collections of those that served in Edinburgh's maternity hospitals. They provide a fascinating insight into midwifery training and education. The following photographs come from GD1/131, the papers of Midwife, Pearl Stacy. She was a student of midwifery at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion from 1July 1944 to 1July 1945. She went on to have a career in midwifery and health visiting in the London Borough of Richmond until her retirement in 1977.

 This was the Central Midwives Board for Scotland Case Book which Stacy used to record details of patient and child, as well as provide her own review of the case. 1945 (GD1/131/2).
Above is Stacy's workbook which includes beautifully illustrated handwritten lecture notes. These were divided into different parts of her midwifery education, including anatomy, pregnancy, labour, peurperium, baby and mechanisms. 1944-1945 (GD1/131/1).

This is the Central Midwives Board for Scotland Examination Paper. c.1944-1945 (GD1/131/4). The questions examine the student on both medical and ethical decision-making.

Finally, here is Stacy's State Certified Midwife medal engraved with PEW Stacy on reverse.

Over the last year with LHSA, I have had the privilege of exploring and working with different historical collections from many areas of  medicine and health provision. From our HIV/AIDS collections, to Norman Dott's Neurosurgical case notes and to catching a glimpse into personal collections such as the above, I will miss them as much as my lovely colleagues whist on maternity leave!   




Friday, 11 September 2015

Tuberculosis and the Edinburgh Scheme

This week, Project Cataloguing Archivist Rebecca provides some further background to the ‘RVH v TB’ cataloguing project…
In my previous post I introduced this project, which will catalogue the case notes from the Royal Victoria Hospital. In this post I’m going to look at the history of tuberculosis and the development of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which will explain a bit about the context of the case notes.
Graph showing the decline in mortality death rates from pulmonary (lung) and non-pulmonary tuberculosis. (LHSA Slide Collection)
In 1881, prior to the opening of the Royal Victoria Hospital, tuberculosis was responsible for 306 in every 100,000 deaths in Scotland. By 1919 this had fallen to 130 deaths per 100,000, and by 1958 only 13 in every 100,000 deaths in Scotland were caused by tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is spread by the sneezes, coughs or spit of an infected person. The bacteria can remain in the body for years without causing illness, a condition which is known as latent tuberculosis. The majority of active tuberculosis cases occur in the lung, which is why the common perception of tuberculosis is as a lung disease. However, once infected the bacteria can spread throughout the body causing tuberculosis of basically any organ you can think of. Case notes here include many cases of tuberculosis of the spine, abdomen, and lymph nodes, to name only a few.
The bacteria which causes tuberculosis was discovered in 1882, though this did not lead to the immediate discovery of a cure. Developments in tuberculosis treatment throughout the nineteenth century were mostly based on trying the effectiveness of different climates, from the heat of Madeira to the Alpine air of Switzerland. Within Britain, specialist hospitals for tuberculosis sufferers were established, and by the turn of the century a move towards the sanatorium model saw patients treated with total bed rest followed by a progressive increase in activity in large, airy buildings with plenty of light. Surgical treatment to collapse the infected lung rose in popularity between the wars, along with other methods of treatment with doubtful efficiency, such as injections with an extract from the tuberculosis bacteria (tuberculin). These methods were used up until the discovery of streptomycin and other antibiotics in the 1940-1950s, which led to a rapid decline in the mortality of tuberculosis.
In Edinburgh in the late 1880s celebrated physician Sir Robert Philip pioneered a scheme, known as the Edinburgh Scheme, which took a three-strand approach to tackling tuberculosis through prevention, detection, and treatment. In 1887 he opened the Royal Victoria Dispensary in Bank Street, the first of its kind in the world. The dispensary became the cornerstone of the Edinburgh Scheme. Sufferers would report there for examination of their symptoms, when full details of their case history would be taken and patients would be instructed in how to avoid spreading the disease. The patient’s contacts would be identified and examined in order to catch the disease in its earlier, more treatable stages. Health visitors and medical officers would visit the patient’s home and check on living conditions, providing information on disinfection of the home.
A nurse from the Royal Victoria Dispensary visiting "an infected house". (LHSA Slide Collection)
Several other institutions provided treatment as part of the Edinburgh Scheme. Philip opened the Royal Victoria Hospital in Craigleith in the 1890s, with 76 beds. Patients could be sent there from the Dispensary for x-rays and treatment at the direction of the tuberculosis officer for Edinburgh. The Royal Victoria Hospital Trust also managed a voluntary institution at Southfield Sanatorium in Liberton, founded in 1914, which admitted patients with all forms of tuberculosis to its 96 beds. Scottish local authorities from outwith Edinburgh could send patients there for a standard fee if they lacked treatment facilities. Patients could also be admitted on the agreement that they were responsible for their own fees, which they were charged according to their means. Polton Farm Colony provided work for recovering or cured patients in an environment which was suitable for their health. Together, these institutions could provide treatment for tuberculosis sufferers at all stages of the disease.
The success of the scheme, reflected in the declining mortality rates highlighted at the beginning of this piece, inspired the legislative drive towards the notification of tuberculosis throughout the UK. Local authorities were ‘notified’ of infectious persons in their area, in order that a Medical Officer could examine the patient and check that they were receiving the treatment to which they were legally entitled. In this way, Sir Robert Philip and the Royal Victoria Hospital can be seen to have influenced tuberculosis treatment throughout the UK in the early twentieth century.
The case notes which form the bulk of this project come from the Dispensary and Southfield Sanatorium. Not only do they show us the background, symptoms and treatment of patients, but they also provide an insight into how this influential scheme worked in practice.
Bhopal, R. & Last., J, ed., Public Health: Past, Present and Future (2004)
Jenkinson, J., Scotland’s Health, 1919-1950 (2002)
Dept of Health for Scotland, Scottish Hospital Survey: Report on the south-eastern region (1946)

Friday, 4 September 2015

Hurrah for ARA!

In this week’s blog we hear from Ruth, who was at the Archives and Records Association (ARA) annual conference in Dublin last week.

I may not have seen much of Dublin, having barely left the conference venue, but the packed programme certainly made up for it! Speakers from all over the world contributed to the overall theme of the conference, that of the moral and legal obligations of the archivist - an area of particular relevance to us at LHSA as custodians of health-related collections that are so often confidential. I was very interested to hear about the research use of mental health records in Ireland and see how the legislation and atmosphere there differs from that here in Scotland. There was also a couple of papers that really opened my eyes to the issues and complexities around large-scale digitisation projects – not just what could or should be put online, but also the extensive work that’s required to prepare the physical collections for the digitisation process itself.
I was also presenting at the conference as I had a paper accepted on our internship programme for newly-qualified archivists and conservators. I described what we offer and why, and discussed some of the pros and cons of the programme. My aim was to focus on practicalities as much as possible so that if anyone attending was thinking about doing something similar they could see exactly how we manage the programme and how it might work in their own organisation.
And I was in good company, Head of Special Collections, Joe, was also at the conference as was Paul, our Skills for the Future trainee (who blogged about his time with LHSA last week). Paul was there with his fellow trainees and promoted both the Centre for Research Collections and LHSA in the information marketplace, in particular highlighting our case note cataloguing projects and discussing our recent cataloguing and conservation work for our HIV/AIDS collections.
Paul in the information marketplace
All in all, a successful conference – well organised, informative and with plenty of opportunities to make useful contacts, as well as offering us the chance to highlight our work to colleagues across our sector. If you’d like more info about the conference, there are abstracts of a number of talks and lots of photos on the ARA website at:

Friday, 28 August 2015

From student to aspiring archivist: part 2

In my first blog for LHSA I talked about the journey from my time there as a student to my current role as a trainee. In this follow-up piece I will cover some of the exciting opportunities and valuable experience which my time here has provided me with.

Firstly, I would like to thank the LHSA team for having made me feel so welcome during the time which I have spent here so far. From allowing me to take part in the weekly team meetings to involving me in the renewal accreditation process (of which I will speak a little more of later in this blog) I truly have felt like an equal member of the team from the outset. Something which I feel that the CRC as a whole excels at and I know that everyone I have spoken to who has worked there, both past and present, feels the same.

Secondly, I would like to apologise in advance if this blog seems a little dryer than the last. The reason for my literate paranoia is that one of my duties as a Skills for the Future trainee is to keep a monthly learning log listing what I have been doing, experience gained and how I will put this into practice. It sometimes feels like I am making a hand-list of my own activities, which indeed I am, I guess, for future reference an ease of access. However, I promise to try my hardest not to fall into log mode and put you into sleep mode!

One of my main duties at LHSA has been working on the Norman Dott project cataloguing his case notes. I won’t go into great detail here about his ground breaking neurological work in Scotland and other elements of his distinguished career as this has been covered in other blogs. For me, however, it has given me the opportunity to work with LHSA’s unique methodology of cataloguing case notes using Encoded Archival Description (EAD), made me more experienced in writing XML and helped me to understand of the issues and precautions which must be considered when cataloguing more sensitive archives. Another benefit of this has been the massive boost to my medical knowledge and vocabulary as well as discovering some rather unusual conditions such as clawfoot and Paget’s disease (the former I had the pleasure of googling just before lunch). Some of the human stories to be found within the collection are fascinating and at times deeply moving: even when trying to remain objective and professional it would take a heart of stone not to be touched by them. There have also been some rather “out-there” cases, such as the travelling businessman who suffered from sore feet the moment he arrived back in Edinburgh yet was effected by this in no other place which he visited – one wonders if there was another reason behind this, of which I will say no more! Overall, I feel highly privileged to have played a small role in this project and I feel that it will make a great addition to my CV.

Patient with an Edinburgh allergy! (LHB1 CC/22/PR4.40)

I have also had the good fortune to receive conservation training for half a day each week with the very talented Emily Hick, whose work on LHSA's HIV/AIDS collections has been a real eye-opener for me in terms of developing new ways of housing and preserving non-traditional archival materials - from condoms to watches. My duties have been a bit less creative, but have introduced me to the fundamentals of surface cleaning and rehousing materials in preparation for long term preservation within the archive. I have also removed more staples in the last two months than I have in my entire life – and the strange thing is that I find this very therapeutic!
The CRC conservation studio
Lastly, as mentioned above, I have been trusted enough to be involved in LHSA’s accreditation renewal process for which I feel truly honoured. Not only has this introduced me to the Archive Service Accreditation Standard and its benefits, it has also allowed me to develop my knowledge of how an archive is managed from the top to the bottom, from the store to the search-room and everything in-between. I have enjoyed being a part of this so much that I have asked to continue working on it even after my time at LHSA comes to an end. So to wrap up I would like to thank Ruth, who had the idea to include me after I showed an interest in the accreditation process, and Louise for all her help and advice.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Frozen Storage for X-rays

In my last blog, I wrote about the deterioration of X-rays in the LHSA collections. This week, I will talk about how we intend to store them to slow down the rate of degradation.

The best way to store X-rays, and most photographic material, is to freeze them. Chemical reactions increase as the temperature rises, and colder conditions slow them down. So, by placing the X-rays in to temperatures lower than 0°C, the rate of deterioration will decrease.
A conventional freezer can be used to freeze small collections, but the items need to be properly packaged first to avoid any moisture coming into contact with film. We have decided to use a method recommended by the National Park Service, which uses two barrier layers to protect the photographic material. First the X-rays, which are already packed into inert plastic packages and labelled according to their reference number, will be placed into an archival box. Any empty space in the box will be filled with layers of conservation grade mount board and acid free tissue paper to help absorb any moisture inside the package.

X-rays sealed in inert plastic packages
The box will then be inserted into a tube of Marvelseal® (an aluminised polyethylene and nylon barrier film which resists the transmission of water vapour and other atmospheric gases), and sealed with a strong tape. A humidity indicator will be attached to the outside of this package, so that any moisture ingress can be easily spotted.

This package will then be inserted into a polythene bag which is again sealed with a strong tape. The box is then clearly labelled with its contents and placed into the freezer. A map of the contents in the freezer will also be made, so that the X-rays will be easy to find when needed.

If the X-rays need to be consulted at any point they can be removed from freezer, but will need to be slowly acclimatised to the warmer temperature, to avoid the formation of condensation on the film. To do this the X-rays can be placed into a study box and left in a stable environment overnight to gradually adjust to the new temperature.

This new storage method will increase the lifetime of the X-rays significantly. I hope you think of them next time you open the freezer door!

Have a look at the Media Storage Guide by the Image Permanence Institute for more information on the storage of photographic materials.