Site visit: British newspaper library

Bound volumes of newspapers  at British Library Photograph: Martin Argles

Photograph: Martin Argles

It’s traditional to send our trainee on a visit to the British newspaper library in Colindale, and I’d not been since I was one many moons ago, so I tagged along with Nina and our archivist when they visited last week.

The newspaper library is in the process of moving to Boston Spa, the British Library’s base in Yorkshire, and the transition is evident. Gone are the impressive cameras I remember, used for photographing newspaper pages for microfilm. Fragments of binding and aging newsprint litter the floor in the stacks (every bound volume has to be weighed and measured prior to the move north, and if they sweep up the dust, airborne particles could cause damage).

It was really interesting to hear about the move – as well as the northern base there’ll be a dedicated reading room at the British Library on Euston Road (although bound volumes will have to be ordered from Boston Spa). Fascinating, too, to see inside “the pen” where some of the more precious volumes are held, including (to my other half’s delight) volumes of Marvel comics from the 1970s and British counterparts from their heigh-day in the ’40s.

The newspaper library fulfills my romantic ideal of an archive – the musty smell of weathered paper, cracked spines of long-forgotten tomes like John Bull and The Cherokee Phoenix (an attempt at a reservation paper from the 1830s). I could happily get lost in the stacks.

Times have changed, space is short and there’s a pressing need to preserve old volumes (an ongoing programme of digitisation will ensure safer access to millions of pages of print, though 40m pages is only a small proportion of the overall collection). The move is clearly important to the continuing success of the newspaper archive. But I hope that some of the magic of Colindale will remain at the new facility at Boston Spa.

Site visits: GMTV

Last week Pete Fox, the archive manager at GMTV, was kind enough to take an hour out to give us a tour of the GMTV archives. Although the subject matter often differs (more weighted towards celebs, less hard news) and the content is in a different format (film and images, not printed text) the methods used to research and the process of archiving material is very similiar. We don’t get the fun of sharing a lift with Jenni Falconer though (or signed photos from the columnists!).

Reflections on visit:

  • Little impetus or funding for digitising collection of tapes – digitised as they get asked for, as part of archiving the daily programmes; old tapes that expire are just thrown away
  • Rolling out services to users doesn’t mean they will do the work themselves

Site visits: History of Advertising Trust

At the Ghostsigns launch in March I met Chloe Veale, archivist/curator at the History of Advertising Trust, who was kind enough to arrange a tour for a team of Guardian librarians, in the interests of career development and an exchange of ideas. Although the roles of archivist and librarian don’t always converge, there is common ground. Many of the basic tools and skills are the same; and HAT deals mainly in print advertising – the ad industry was sparked by the development of newspapers – so the connection is even more obvious here.

  • HAT makes acquisitions when approached by a client – either a full collection or single items
  • Each acquisition is detailed in a list, giving some background and itemising the contents (each with an acquisition number)
  • A catalogue is then created in spreadsheet when there is time (one for each collection, plus the HAT collections made up of items donated individually)
  • Can currently search each database, and search for a brand across all databases
  • In the process of moving all databases to Calm, to enable better searching and uniformity
  • Archive consists of print advertising – tear sheets, guard books from agencies and brands – jingles on disk, and 25,000 TV ads on VHS/older format, plus lithos (Jacobs biscuits)
  • Have to keep old machinery to run pre-VHS cassettes, no money/time to transition everything to digital but are doing it piecemeal as queries come up
  • No systematic process of digitisation – do it piecemeal when answering queries or when a client requests and pays for it; too expensive to do it across the board
  • Get about 1,500 queries a year, lots of interest from students – will answer individual queries, or allow visits if the query is broad and will be worthwhile
  • 8-10 paid staff, plus occasional interns and 12 volunteers
  • Have a 2-year grant to set up Moodle, an education online learning platform for teachers/students of creative media
  • Want to launch their gallery and encourage journos to use it as a paid resource –  funding comes from donors, looking to develop new revenue streams

Recommended sites:

Reflections on visit to HAT:

  • Digitisation is desirable but realistically too expensive and time-consuming for many organisations
  • Despite the difference in size between HAT and the Guardian, problems are similar – funding and support for our industry, finding new revenue streams, more work with fewer staff