Friday, 15 July 2016

Downton Abbey and fortune telling fish...

Around this time last year, Ruth helped deliver a training day on collection care basics. It was held in London and the teaching was shared with a Preventive Conservator colleague from the British Library, where the course was held. Earlier this month Ruth was back at the British Library to provide this ‘Essential Preservation’ training day to a fresh group of attendees….but how were one of the nation’s favourite TV shows and a Christmas cracker toy involved?

Last year’s ‘Essential Preservation’ training session had been a great success – library and archive professionals who were interested in learning more about the steps they might take to care for their collections spent the day looking at a range of issues from best practice handling to writing preservation policies. The feedback was good but I felt that some improvements could be made to make it even better!

The day was split up into six sessions: an introduction setting out terminology and referencing the relevant standards and then lectures on handling, storage, writing a preservation policy, risk management and disaster response, and finally communicating the conservation message and where collaborations and sources of help can be found. I was responsible for three of the sessions – handling, storage and policy writing.

There’s so much important information to pass on that it was difficult of think of any other way to convey it other than in a lecture format. But the first time I ran the sessions I felt that the PowerPoints I had produced were a bit text heavy and would benefit from some more pictures to illustrate my points, and that there needed to be a bit more participation from those attending to make it more engaging for them.

The handling session already had a strong practical element in the shape of demonstrations and the opportunity for delegates to have a go at applying best practice techniques themselves; and in the policy session I had a short practical exercise to start everyone thinking about what their own preservation policy might contain. So I concentrated on how to improve the storage session...

In this part of the ‘Essential Preservation’ day I was looking at the various different factors that can impact on the condition of collections while they’re in storage, from the structure of the building itself through to the environment in the stores and the shelving and boxing used. I also looked at the kind of maintenance programmes needed to keep high quality storage spaces, including putting a robust housekeeping regime of cleaning and monitoring in place. And this is where Downton Abbey came in – who better to illustrate the need for cleanliness than the redoubtable Mrs Hughes, the housekeeper in Downton Abbey, who now adorns one of my PowerPoint slides along with Mrs Doyle and Kim and Aggie!

I also wanted to introduce an exercise for the delegates so they had a chance to put the principles I covered into practice. With the help of a colleague who used to work for the National Trust for Scotland, we created graphs showing temperature and relative humidity over the course of one day for three fictional spaces – a conservation studio, a store built to the sector standard, PD5454:2012, and a room in a historic house. The delegates had to work out which graph related to which space and then discuss the conditions shown in the graph – were they suitable for collections, and were there any measures they would introduce to improve conditions? The exercise seemed to work really well, it certainly got everyone talking about collection care issues, and I think we could have expanded on this a bit more if it hadn’t then been lunchtime!

I promised fortune telling fish… well, everyone got one when I was describing the potential issues around relative humidity as an example of how warmth and moisture in the air (or in this case from your hand) can impact on materials in your collection. 

According to the fish, I’m fickle!

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