Friday, 13 December 2013

Linking the collection and the researcher

George De Boer (Ref U DDB/3/1) taught 
at the University between 1947-1985 
I find it hard not to get involved with the collections I catalogue. I want to grab people and tell them all about what I’ve ‘found’. I realise this can be annoying colleagues in the Cataloguing room so I try to control myself! I’ve worked with multiple collections and not met one yet that hasn't had something special about it. Sometimes it may take a little searching out and may not be what you thought it would be, but it’s there and that’s why we preserve it.

There was no need to look very hard in a recent collection, George de Boer. A Hull-born lecturer in geomorphology at University of Hull, he also wrote numerous papers and books and was Chairman of Spurn Management Committee. It’s proved a challenge creating a structure that not only makes it accessible to researchers, but also reflects the importance of the collection. It’s been possible to see how well liked and respected he was and I’ve had to take a step back and not allow my personal opinions influence how I tackle the material. 

I’m now working on another collection (which will remain nameless!) that has provoked the opposite reaction. I started off liking them, but the more I learn the less sympathetic I feel and it concerns me that this will influence the type of descriptions I provide, possibly misrepresenting a collection because of my own feelings. This is a problem commonly faced by archivists.

Young grey seal, Donna Nook reserve
(Ref U DDB/2/1/3)
It’s difficult to tread the path between being informative without being sensationalist. How do we promote the material in our care to as many people as possible without restricting our audience by the choices we make? We need to encourage users to think outside of the expected, search out those gems of information hidden in surprising corners of collections. This could be as simple as being aware of the language we use, ensuring we don’t exclude, bamboozle or mislead. Lydia’s previous blog about caged seals came to mind when cataloguing George de Boer’s slides. I think mine is cuter!

As archivists we are the link between the collection and the researcher. We have to tell people what we hold and signpost how it could be utilised. At Hull History Centre we have produced source guides, especially for newly catalogued material, to give a flavour of the wider uses of a collection (see the George de Boer source guide).

As a project archivist I am aware that I will be moving on to the next job and no-one may ever have the same understanding of the collection that I do, so feel it’s important to capture that in the entries I write. I’ll admit I’m more a throw everything in kind of cataloguer in an attempt to appeal to as many researchers as possible and spark the same excitement I feel when I make my ‘discoveries’. 

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