As part of Explore Your Archive week, today we’re looking at a Day in the Life of Special Collections here at Brunel University.
- Answering enquiries
Most days start with checking for any new enquiries about our collections, answering them, making appointments for readers to visit and checking that reader-related admin is up-to-date. We keep statistics on the number of readers who have come to use the collections, and how many items they have looked at. Most enquiries come in via email, by phone or in person, but we still get an occasional letter in the post. All of our enquiries are logged in LibAnswers, which makes it easy to keep track of statistics, and which also provides a FAQ function for users, to help answer questions we are asked regularly.
Once a week we check our environmental monitoring equipment.
The thermo-hygrograph continuously charts the temperature and relative humidity in our storage area. We have to change the chart paper on this once a week, and, at the same time, we check if there have been any fluctuations in storage conditions over the previous week. We keep the charts to provide us with a record of storage conditions throughout the years.
We use sticky traps to detect insects that might be loitering in Special Collections, as these can indicate further problems that would damage our collections, such as infestations or damp conditions. Fortunately, all we’ve caught so far is one very small spider!
You can find further information about environmental monitoring and pest management on the British Library’s Collection Care webpages.
A pest monitoring trap
We welcome two of our volunteers in, who are cataloguing part of our Transport History Collection. They have specialist railway knowledge, and their help is vital, as this is a really big collection.
When we have readers in to use our collection we register them and check their ID, get out the items they want to look at, and, if necessary, show them how to handle items correctly. We also invigilate all our readers to ensure that our collections remain secure. In the picture below there is one reader looking at items from our Transport History Collection, as well as our two volunteers. You can find out more about what to expect when you visit Special Collections as a reader on our How to use Special Collections blog post.
Readers and volunteers using the collections
We hold workshops for particular subjects for groups from within Brunel and also outside. You can find out more about them on this blog.
Our collection include both printed books and archival material, both of which need cataloguing, so that users can find the items that they are interested in seeing. You can find items by searching our library catalogue for our printed collections, whilst the archive collections appear on Archives Hub. We fit cataloguing in around everything else that we do and have some help from other library staff members too. Our most recently catalogued collection is the Bill Griffiths Archive, which you can find out more about on this blog post.
Apart from monitoring the environment, other preservation steps we take, and which, again, are fitted in around other activities, are housing the collections appropriately. For books, this means measures such as having similarly sized books on the same shelf so they are properly supported, and training staff and users in how to shelf them correctly. For archival material we repackage items in Melinex (inert polyester) sleeves and store them in acid-free boxes. We also remove staples, paperclips etc, and replace them with brass paperclips, which won’t rust.
Blount Archive packaged in Melinex sleeves, and in an acid-free box
And, once any readers have finished for the day, we reshelve the items they have looked at. Readers are asked to complete a feedback form, and any issues (good or bad!) arising from this are noted so that action can be taken. Two months after a visit, readers who have given permission are contacted with an online survey to complete about whether they have published or will publish work based on their research in Special Collections.
Throughout the day we keep an eye on the Special Collections’ social media accounts, this blog, Flickr and Twitter (@BrunelSpecColl), promoting the collections. We design posters to publicise events in Special Collections, and put on displays for these too.
If you’ve got any questions about #DayInTheLife please leave a comment on the blog and we will get back to you as soon as possible.