Category Archives: Using Special Collections

Summer projects 2019

Another busy summer has gone by. The weather may not have been perfect, but we’ve certainly made a lot of progress with Special Collections projects which will improve the experience for our users!

Improving accessibility in our reading room

As well as, earlier in the year, installing new windows in the reading room, we’ve also now had the whole reading room area re-lamped. This has improved lighting, making it easier to use our collections for research and improving our accessibility.

Improving access to our collections

Much work has taken place over the summer to make our collections more accessible to a wider range of users.

A new collection, the Carpenter collection of maritime history, was catalogued and is now fully available. You can find out more on the collection’s webpage, search the library catalogue to discover the books and contact us to make an appointment to view any of those items.

Collection descriptions for the Clinker (railway history) and Mowat (railway photographs) collections were added to ArchivesHub, making them discoverable by a much wider audience. We are already seeing an increased number of enquiries as a result of this.

Crystal working on repackaging some of our railway history pamphlets

Railway pamphlets volunteer project

Our summer project volunteer, Crystal, worked on a repackaging project for our extensive collection of railway pamphlets. This involved identifying pamphlets, checking to make sure they had been catalogued, updating locations, repackaging them in melinex sleeves and putting them away in boxes. This represents a big improvement in their storage, as they are now protected from damage caused by poor handling, as well as ensuring they can be more easily found and available to our users. We’ll be recruiting more student volunteers to work on similar projects for the 2019/20 academic year. Do contact us if you are interested in this opportunity.

Website improvements

Our Special Collections webpages have been improved, making it easier to find information about, for instance, requesting copies of material or information about a particular collection.

Events and displays

We’ve also planned a full range of Special Collections events for this academic year. Some old favourites will be returning, such as Colour Our Collections and Elf on a Library Shelf, but there will be some new ones, including Heritage Open Days (September), a new Burnett Archive display (mid-September onwards) and an event to showcase the work our volunteers do (16 October). Find out more about events on our website or join our mailing list to stay in touch.

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News from Special Collections

We have recently start publishing a termly newsletter detailing news and events from Special Collections. Our most recent issue may be found here:

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Using Special Collections for your dissertation

You’ve chosen your dissertation topic because it’s something you’re really interested in – now it’s time to delve into the sources held within Brunel’s special collections to take your research to the next level!

Recent topics that students have researched using our Special Collections include:

  • Politics under Churchill and Attlee
  • London during the First World War
  • Communists during the 1920s and 1930s
  • Clothing of the poor
  • Literary cultures of Victorian railway workers
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Motherhood and bereavement in the First World War
  • Feminism under Thatcher
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Colonial and post-colonial writers at the BBC

Find out about our collections

Special Collections is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by consulting our:

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept in closed access so you will need to make an appointment in order to come and see them. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before we have a guide on our blog.

Dissertation drop ins

You can drop into these sessions at any time to find out more about using Special Collections in your dissertation. These sessions will be held in BANN 328 (access via main stairs/lift).

Monday 21 January 2 -5 pm

Tuesday 22 January 2 -5pm

Wednesday 23 January 2 -5 pm

Preserving our collections

A major part of our work in Special Collections is to ensure that our materials will still be available to future generations of scholars and visitors. Many of the objects we hold are made of sturdy stuff, our rare 18th century books will probably outlast us all, but other items such as our photographic collections are more fragile, and even stable materials can become vulnerable over decades. To this end we spend a lot of time making sure materials are stored in optimal conditions to extend their life and usefulness. This week we are participating in the ALA Preservation Week by celebrating all things preservation and giving you an insight into the activities we undertake. You might even pick up a few tips on how to preserve your own special items!

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Blue blinds and ultraviolet filters

Where and how you store different materials can have a big impact on their lifespan. We try to store collections in a space that has a consistent temperature and humidity all year round. This is because extremes of temperature and the presence of moisture in the air can induce a harmful reaction in different materials. For instance, paper can be vulnerable to mould in hot and wet conditions or older colour photographs can decay in high temperatures.

This year we have installed some rather snazzy blue blinds to prevent sunlight artificially warming our facility, with the addition of ultraviolet filters to prevent yellowing of paper and fading of inks. We also monitor the temperature and humidity of our collections with some basic digital indicators to give us a warning of problems.

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Digital temperature and humidity monitors

Additionally, we keep our eyes peeled for any pests such as silverfish that might take a fancy to our materials for food or accommodation. We use pest traps to monitor any nuisance visitors, and if we find any try to modify the environment to discourage their visits.

Other environmental factors should also be considered. This might include dust, or pollution if you live in a built up area. One way to mitigate these is to store

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Pest trap

materials in an enclosure like a box that will prevent light and particles from accessing the item. This is a simple way to preserve heirlooms or keepsakes, although you do have to check on them occasionally to make sure there is nothing happening inside the box itself.

Interestingly, a common way materials become damaged is just through poor handling. To try and minimise handling and stress we use book supports to cradle our printed materials when they are being viewed. We also add a protective layer of Melinex to items like photographs or paper to prevent them from being damaged by constant use. At home, something as simple as washing your hands before handling rare materials can limit environmental pollutants.

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Book rests to support texts

With these safeguards in place we hope our collections will be available for years to come.If you would like more information about Preservation week visit the ALA webpages for advice and insights.

Using Special Collections for your dissertation

Why use Special Collections?

You’ve chosen your dissertation topic because it’s something you’re really interested in discovering in more detail. Delving into the sources in Special Collections can take your dissertation to the next level by making it more original, as well as helping you to develop your research skills.

Recent topics that people have researched using Special Collections include:

  • Politics under Churchill and Attlee
  • London during the First World War
  • Communists in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Clothing of the poor
  • Literary cultures of Victorian railway workers
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Motherhood and bereavement during the First World War
  • Feminism under Thatcher
  • Colonial and post-colonial writers at the BBC
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Feminism in the US in the 1950s

and the Burnett Archive of working class autobiographies has been featured in Radio 4 programmes about the history of friendship and the lives of working people during the industrial revolution.

Find out about our collections:

Special Collections is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by using our A-Z list of collections, or consulting our Special Collections guide, where we’ve highlighted collections of particular interest to English or History students.

You can search our collections by subject or keywords – use the library catalogue for printed material and the archive catalogue for manuscript.

Browse the Special Collections blog, you can use the tags to find posts on particular themes, such as the First World War or trains.

Contact the Special Collections Librarian, or your Academic Liaison Librarian for help.

If you are looking for collections beyond Brunel you will find a list of resources on our webpage.

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept in closed access, so you will need to make an appointment to come and see them. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before there is a guide on our blog.

Dissertation drop ins

You can drop in to these sessions to find out more about using Special Collections material in your dissertation:

Tuesday 23 January 2018 10.30 – 12 noon and 2 -5 pm

Wednesday 24 January 2018 10 – 11am and 2 – 5pm

History Day 2017

Join us and a host of other libraries, archives and research organisations for History Day 2017 at Senate House Library in London on Tuesday 31 October 2017. Admission is free, but you will need to register on their website to attend.

History Day is a great opportunity to find out about the vast array of collections available to research in the London area and beyond, and ask the people who look after them to tell you more. There are panel sessions on public history, digital history and discovery in libraries and archives.

The programme and a full list of participating organisations is available on the History Day website, where you can also read blog posts on this year’s theme of magic and the supernatural

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Thames Tunnel Diorama: looking inside

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Ordinary people – exceptional lives

Hillingdon Literary Festival takes place on Friday 6 – Sunday 8 October 2017, with a theme of Ordinary people – exceptional lives. There’s a whole weekend of activities planned, and Special Collections will be playing a part on Saturday 7 October with a workshop on life writing and Special Collections.

We’ll be exploring life writing using autobiographies from the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. You can explore other creative writing ideas using Special Collections in other posts on this blog.

You can book your place here on any of this weekend’s workshops.

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