The Covid pandemic has affected us all. Last year the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham put out a call to arms, asking for contributions to a new collection that we are building; ‘Living in Lockdown: A Creative Response to Challenging Times’. We had an amazing response! A big thank you to everyone who contacted the History Centre with material to include. It’s been exciting to look at the scope and variety of Wiltshire’s responses to the issues we face and continue to grapple with.
I’d like to share with you some of the material we have received to give an idea of not just the variety, but also to show how a collection is created, collated and preserved for the future here at the History Centre. This is something we do with all of our ‘creative collections’, which began with the 2014-2019 Collecting Cultures Creative Wiltshire project. We see our collections as the county’s treasures. The precious knowledge contained within them about you, our county’s residents and communities, and how we have faced the Covid challenge can now be discovered and studied by future generations thanks to your generosity and the facilities at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.
We began our collecting process by sending out details of the project Living in Lockdown (wshc.org.uk) via our website and social media channels, utilising the help of some of the other teams we work with, such as the communications team at Wiltshire Council. As soon as the material started to wing its way to us, we began entering it on a spreadsheet; basically an ‘accessions’ record to help us register all the material, document where it came from and where it is being stored at the History Centre. We soon built up hundreds of entries, with donations from History Centre staff and other teams within Wiltshire Council such as Wiltshire Libraries, plus local residents, groups, organisations and professional creative practitioners living and working in the county.
Many types of formats have been received (paper copies, digital images and documents, CDs) and types of material, from cards, booklets, local newsletters, official letters, drawings, newspaper articles, writing and poems – the list goes on…
The creativity that has come out of these dark times has been wonderful to see. From artworks to music, poetry, writing and photography – it shows how intrinsically intertwined creativity is within us as a positive response to challenge and change, and how valuable and essential culture is to us as human beings and communities. Here at the History Centre we feel honoured to play our part in this cultural experience.
The type of material will determine where it will sit within the collection. The History Centre is home to an archive and a local studies library. They have distinctive specialisms, for example on a basic level, the library deals with published material and the archive unpublished, but there are also some crossovers, for instance photographs could sit within the Local Studies Historic Photograph and Print collection but also within the archive collection too. We also have a new digital repository for born digital works. This is great for us, as it means the History Centre is well placed to welcome all sorts of material. The only items we can’t take are 3D items which are better placed in one of Wiltshire’s fantastic museums, many of whom are also collecting Lockdown related material.
The next stage in the collection’s journey will be for myself as the County Local Studies Librarian and one of my Archivist colleagues to assess the collection and formally decide where everything should be placed (this is called ‘appraisal’). This usually involves a lot of excitement and quite a bit of time, as I know I always find so much of interest, but I must take a proper look at it all – we have to spend time getting it right, don’t we!
The documents and creative items will go into the archives, with the books and pamphlets that have been published finding their home in the local studies library. We have yet to make a decision on the digital material, but it is safe to say it will be stored in the most appropriate location. Anything left over after this process will make a valuable addition to the Ephemera collection in Local Studies. We usually define it as a miscellaneous collection of materials that you might often throw out, but believe me, in the future, these items will prove to be a fantastic source of information…
Once we have decided where all the items are best placed, the next job is to get them catalogued so that they can be properly accessed by you, the public. We have a number of cataloguing systems that we use, specifically designed for libraries, archives and photographic material. Once a catalogue entry has been created, it is then accessible and ready to be found via a search on one of our electronic catalogues. Both can be found on our website.
The above image is a screen shot of a search for books under the keyword ‘Covid’ – choose Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre as the holding branch. You can view items for free at the History Centre, you just need to book in advance. You can also borrow some items via your local library.
Then the items are moved from their temporary storage positions in our strong rooms to their final homes, kept in acid free storge sleeves and boxes, placed on shelves in our temperature and humidity controlled strong rooms to keep them safe for the next few hundred years and more!
The journey doesn’t stop there. As History Centre staff, we are custodians of the records on behalf of the people of Wiltshire. We don’t just want them to sit on our shelves; we want them to be accessed, viewed and enjoyed by as many people as possible. Part of our job will be to promote the collection, as I am doing here. So, watch this space for further updates!
But this is still not the end of the story. We will continue collecting and adding to ‘Living in Lockdown’, further enhancing it for the future. It’s a vital part of our job as heritage professionals, our reason for being, to gather material and make it accessible whilst protecting it for the future, and to share the information as much as we can – to send out the message that Wiltshire’s heritage collections are for everyone, and they are a joy to behold!
If you would like to add to the Living in Lockdown collection, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
County Local Studies Librarian
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre