In May 2109, members of local interest groups received expert advice on an Archives Ambassadors course run by staff from the Hampshire Record Office. Participants included village historians from both Ropley and Broughton, who all face the task of sorting and presenting large collections of photographs and other material accumulated over the years. Also in attendance were staff from Andrews’ Endowed Primary School and Treloar School, College and Trust, both in Holybourne, near Alton, but separate institutions.
Headmistress Maria Lloyd is in the process of celebrating the 300th anniversary of her school, which was endowed (in 1719) by local benefactor Thomas Andrews, who left money in his will for the education of local children. Archives have revealed that as well as money he also the school with a London pub. Treloar’s, too, has strong links with the City, tracing its origins to 1907, when Sir William Purdie Treloar, Lord Mayor of London, started a “Cripples’ Fund” to endow a school in the country for young people with non-pulmonary tuberculosis.
The leader of a group of four local historians from the Broughton Community , Chris Lloyd, explained that the village had been donated a large photographic archive by one of its residents, who had also funded the provision of a specialist archive store and research room in the village memorial hall. The village is hoping to use this bequest as the opportunity to revive villagers’ interest in local history.
Another group of four, led by Carole Oldham, came from the Ropley Local History Group, which has been set up to research and archive information on the history of the village and its locality, with a view to making it accessible to all on a digital platform. The initial intention, depending on funding, is to create an online archive and catalogue to digitise and store at least some of the existing informal village archive.
Conservator Tim Edwards explained that the standard photo album is often disastrous for its contents, as the prints stick to most plastic film. The answer is to use polyester sleeves, available from specialist suppliers, and at all cost to avoid materials that are not acid-free. He told stories of “nightmare solicitors’ offices”, where precious documents were stored in chaotic conditions, and call-outs to skips with archivists donning safety equipment to recover valuable records. He also deplored the use of Sellotape in repairing documents, but said that with heat treatment and the careful use of solvents it is often possible to rescue the situation.
Few conservators are now employed in public service and he therefore recommended self-employed specialists that can be found from the Institute of Conservation website: www.conservationregister.com.
Some specialists have defined archives as the “unselfconscious products of daily lives”, though the record office follows a policy of collecting material on any activity that has contributed to the life of Hampshire, according to archivist Adrienne Allen. She outlined the tricky process of cataloguing a collection and emphasised that making sensible, clear decisions at the outset was important.
Acknowledging that archives had to be selective, she said that the policy of the record office ollection, of which the bishops pipe rolls are UNESCO designated, is to keep “anything that has contributed to the life of the county”. Illustrating the reference system used, she explained that all material from, for example, the Stubbington and Hill Head History Society was prefixed with “125A06” because its material had first been collected in 2006 and was the 125th collection in that year. Subsets had then been created, somewhat arbitrarily, for the minutes of the AGM (125A06/A1, A2 etc) and accounts (125A06/B1, B2 etc), correspondence (125A06/C1, C2 etc) etc.
Archivist David Rymill covered oral history, which involves interviewing all sorts of people to make sound recordings that capture accounts of their everyday lives. Based on his personal experience of making many such recordings, he said that the business was “full of surprises”. On one occasion he went to record a man’s work with the Scouts, only to be given a detailed and fascinating account of his 30 years working in a bank. And on another a headmaster was full of very interesting stories, but could never remember names. It was fortunate that his wife was present and could fill in the gaps.
The course was organised by Principal Archivist Heather Needham, who advised participants how to digitise their collections. She said that it is important at the beginning to gain a good working knowledge of the scope of the material and then to digitise it in batches, perhaps by subject. Flat-bed scanners can be used for many papers, but books needs to be digitised “from above”, either with sophisticated costly machines, or with DIY kits involving a standard digital camera on a stand.
She emphasised the need to keep back-ups of digitised products, even back-ups of back-ups – and to try to avoid making “copies of copies”. Even solid-state hard drives may need replacing every 5 years. Cloud storage may be suitable, though it is worth exploring the various kinds, namely, public private, hybrid and community. A useful guide to the use of cloud storage by Charles Beagrie Ltd can be found on the website of The National Archives.
She explained the difference between TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) and JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files in terms of resolution expressed as dpi (dots per inch) and showed how masters kept as TIFF files can be transformed into smaller files as JPEGs or Web JPEGs. In an age when so much information is in a digital format, she recommended registering websites with the UK Web Archive (www.webarchive.org.uk), which is a partnership of the six legal deposit libraries and records nominated websites twice a year. Some participants said they already “saved everything” in their community, thereby providing a resource for future local historians.