Revisiting our collections without visiting them

At present, working from home means I can’t access the collections, so this rather puts paid to new cataloguing.  However, what I can do is use the information in our electronic files to enhance our collection descriptions and write ones for archives which we haven’t yet catalogued. In other words, I am getting to know my collections better…but without actually looking at them!  Obviously, there is a lot which I simply can’t do without the physical items in front of me, or where the answers to my questions are held in hardcopy paperwork – I have a raft of “check this’s” and “do thats” for when I am next in proximity to my collections.  But it is a great opportunity for me to review what we already know about our collections and ensure this information is available via our online catalogue, and it also means I get to think about the collections from a different angle.

So, here are a few of the things I have (re)discovered:

  • Everyone exercising together in their own living rooms has a longer history than the internet!  In the Ann Nugent collection we have books by Lizzie Webb who in the 1980s encouraged viewers to exercise alongside her on Good Morning Britain.  By way of context, in the history of keep fit and exercising at home, she was after Jane Fonda, before Mr Motivator and roughly contemporary with the Green Goddess!  I am imagining that the books contain detailed photographs showing the different stages of each exercise and am fascinated to discover how 1980s exercise routines compare with those of our current internet gurus.
  • The actual process of writing your masters dissertation or PhD thesis in one of the sciences was quite challenging before the advent of the home computer and sophisticated word processing programmes (yes, even allowing for the apparently random changes in formatting, the tussles with footnotes and the wilfulness of tables – or maybe that is just me and IT!).  I have been editing the draft catalogue records for the postgraduate dissertations produced by Battersea Polytechnic students and have noticed a number of references to physical photographs and charts being included in the volume.  And then there are the practicalities of presenting scientific formulae… 
  • Keeping pace with our volunteers is a challenge!  I have a collection of spreadsheets and word documents which have been carefully compiled by our volunteers and which have been awaiting my attention.  Working from home is the ideal time for me to work my way through these, proof-reading, editing and turning them into catalogue records ready for release on the online catalogue.  So thanks to our volunteers for the Battersea press cutting indexing, all the work on the Battersea dissertations and for sorting and referencing the University publications. These will appear on the online catalogue soon! Lockdown has also given me the opportunity to do some planning and so there will be lots of interesting projects for when it is safe to resume our volunteer programme.

And finally, I have discovered I miss being able to handle my physical collections!