So I’ve been in my job, as Librarian / Library Manager at a sixth form college for a month now. It’s had its challenges, but one of the definite upsides of being able to call the shots is the chance to be creative. To mark National Libraries Day, we put together a display of recommended reads for teens in the library:
…with a supporting display in the library entrance:
The book display combined reviews…
…and ‘Read Me Because’ tags to add some context and humour to the novels on display:
Confession time: I’ve completely failed in my mission to keep a diary of my placement module at Chatham Historic Dockyard Library and archives. It was a nice idea, but the reality of having a 6 month old baby at home, a dissertation to write and precious little free time is that blogging, along with a lot of other fun stuff, has rather gone out of the window.
It would be a shame not to mark the end of the placement though. It was a challenging and illuminating experience, and one that was fun, frustrating, interesting and inspirational by turns. Broken down to the brass tacks, what I was doing was fairly mundane: going through boxes of documents and logging them on a spreadsheet.
But the material I was working with was fascinating, documenting the interweaving narratives of the military career and shipwreck of the 18th century battleship HMS Invincible, the discovery of its wreck, and the archaeological excavations that followed. The patterns within and relationships between the items in the Invincible archive were intriguing, as were the very niche interests they reflected (French ship design of the 1700s, 18th century shoe styles, military antique collecting, marine archaeology etc.).
The Dockyard itself was a great place to work. Part living museum, part preserved Royal Dockyard, there was plenty to discover, on lunchtime visits to the exhibitions or in the books in the Library and Archives. The local, social history of Chatham docks was of particular interest; in the week that Margaret Thatcher died, working on a site that was shut down in a swathe of Thatcherite cuts in the 1980s seemed especially resonant.
The sheer complexity of wooden shipbuilding caught my interest, and was reflected in the specialist architecture of the Dockyard’s late-18th century buildings: the Ropery, the Sail Loft, the saw mills, the mast ponds and the slips. Then there were the signs and markings of very real peril on the site: the Blitz-era Bofors AA guns, the casualty lists from Luftwaffe bombings, the searchlights used for picking out Doodlebugs.
Alongside the grand historical narratives played out at the Dockyard, smaller, stranger details jumped out; from the cannons used as bollards, to the ship’s timbers used to frame the warehouses, to the broken-down hull of HMS Naumur, laid out under a workshop floor, ships weren’t just what the dockyard made, they were also weaved into the fabric of the place.
My personal favourite part of the dockyard was the graffiti left on the walls of its buildings by shipwrights and sailors. Spanning three hundred odd-years, the lives of the people that had passed through the Historic Dockyard were etched into its very walls, in names, dates, pictures and messages, all lovingly carved into the brickwork of the warehouses, workshops and roperies. You can see some examples here.
And the placement? Well I logged 2,300 items, which was a very respectable amount, and left a working spreadsheet and procedures behind for someone else to carry on my work. I also learnt a lot about the museums and archives sector of library work: that it’s engaging, enriching, occasionally arduous and that there ain’t a lot of money in it. But most of all I enjoyed being amongst the history, the stories and the ghosts of Chatham Dockyard.
Monday 4 March 2013
Placement day #4
Warmer and brighter today. Helen was back in so went down with her to the library as usual.
Finishing the 1982-1986 folder took up an hour of the morning, then it was on to the 1979-1981 folder, at which point it struck me that I could have been working through the folders in chronological order. In my defence, the Invincible archive is huge, and non-sequential, so sorting it prior to recording could easily have taken as long as the recording itself. Also, until you open a folder it’s not immediately obvious what its contents are, or when they are from, as what’s marked on the folder doesn’t alaways directly realte to what’s inside it.
The most important thing is to get the documents logged, so I carried on with that. The 1979-1981 folder is an interesting one to work with, as it documents the original discovery on the wreck of the Invincible, when it was as yet unidentified, through initial explorations and research, up to the point when it was formally identified as being the HMS Invincible lost in 1758.
Previous candidates for the wreck were the HMS Impregnable (1799) and HMS ?, a Cromwell-era battle ship. The piece of evidence that confirmed the wreck as being the Invincible was a piece of rigging equipment marked Invincible – Flying Jig 26×26 No.6 that was brought up on 30 May 1981.
The document confirming that was marked ‘Important find’! Although the dive logs are very professionally filled out, little bits of personality, off the cuff remarks and odd nautical terms slip through the net every now and then. My favourite examples so far are ‘Futtocks’, ‘Pirate Divers’, ‘Iron Knee’, ‘Bad Luck List’, ‘Mystery Cannon’ and a detailed monologue about the combined effects of seasickness and a bad batch of stew on one of the dive boats.
I don’t know if this counts as observation about the nature or archival work, but it seems like what starts out as the story of one series of events – in this case the excavation of Invincible – turns out to be a mesh of separate, interlocking stories, from the day to day lives and observations of the divers, to the stories of the men who served on the Invincible, to those of the French engineers who built it in the first place. It’s not quite Shooting the Past, but working on the archive definitely throws up some interesting questions about the material within it.
I gave myself the target of finishing the 1979-1981 folder before the end of the day; it was the last of the dive record folders, and getting those out of the way would represent a major chunk of work completed. It wasn’t looking good, but then I came across a set of about twenty dive logs that could be recorded together, and then a set of fifteen, which put me ahead of time. I recorded the last document for ’79-’81 before finishing time at 4:30pm, so next week it’s onto the third box from the Invincible archive, which contains written correspondence from its excavation period.
Reflections on day four
An interesting day, and a productive one. The Excel database is paying dividends in terms of the time saved by using it, and one of the major tasks is out of the way now the dive and excavation records have been logged. The story of Invincible’s shipwreck, discovery and excavation is really starting to take shape as I go through the archive, with more hopefully to come.
I also had time to visit the Chatham Historic Dockyard Volunteer Society museum today – more on that below.
The Chatham Historic Dockyard Volunteer Society Museum
The museum is located directly below the library in one of the old Ropery buildings. It has been re-designed t incorporate environmental materials in the displays, incorporating timbers and metalwork found in the dockyard, which give it great character and lend the displays a pathos they wouldn’t have if they were locked in more traditional cabinets.
The museum uses key pieces and events to tell the story of the Dockyard as a working, living space, detailing the major conflicts and upheavals that shaped it. There were a lot of surprises, including finding out that HMS Vindictive, which carried a raiding party on a daring raid of the German-held port of Zeebrugge in 1918, was fitted out at Chatham ,and returned there after the raid, riddled with blood and bullet holes.
What came across most strongly, was how the Dockyard shaped the identity of Medway, and the professional pride it gave to the dockers and shipwrights who worked there. I’ll hopefully have time to deal with the Dockyard’s closure in more detail later on, but in the meantime, the BBC tells its version of the story here.
Monday 25 February 2013
Placement day #3
I met with Alex Patton, Head of Collections, at the Dockyard this morning as Helen was away. Alex was also showing a student from the University of Kent Faculty of Art around the library (the Faculty of Art is based in buildings on the Dockyard site and its students form another user group for the library and archive).
I had entered the previous two weeks’ records to a spreadsheet over the weekend, so I was able to crack on with entering new records to Excel using one of the library’s computers. These aren’t networked so I’ll have to save locally and back-up to a flash drive as I go.
The library was brutally cold today, but Phil was kind enough to lend me his office heater. Judging by the occasional grumbles from Dockyard Historical Society volunteers, heating, and the availability of heaters, in the library is an issue.
I worked through the last of the previous week’s folder of Invincible diving records, and started on the contents of the 1982-1986 folder. In amongst the dive and excavation record sheets I’ve encountered a lot of rough pencil drawings of artefacts and features at seabed level. Logging these is an issue, as they often fall in the middle of a sequence of records from the same day.
The drawings usually relate to an artefact or feature listed in a dive record, but being a separate type of document I feel it’s important to record them in their own right. This should make the spreadsheet more searchable for users when it’s finished. Logging the drawings will allow users to pull out drawings as a category when searching, rather than hiding the drawings by listing them as part of a print record.
Recording the drawings separately will break the sequence of dive records from a single day, so as a pragmatic solution I’m marking the print records after a drawing as (Previous record number – cont’d) to indicate that they are attached to the documents before the drawing.
Reflections on day 3
More of the same, but that’s the nature of the work. I’m here to get the Invincible archive recorded prior to accessioning, so if it’s a case of getting my head down and getting the damn thing done for the next ten weeks, then so be it. The archive itself is interesting to work with, and being on the Dockyard site and in contact with the volunteers and staff running it is a new and enriching experience, if not a bloody cold one at times.
I think I’ve come up with a workable solution to the dive records/drawings issue, but I should review this with Helen at some point soon.
Friday 15 February 2013
As part of my Library Master’s course I’m undertaking a professional placement module in the library and archives at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham. The professional placement is more usually taken by full-time students who have little or no experience of library work, so I’m something of an anomaly, being a part-time student with more than six years of library work under my belt.
I decided on doing a placement for two reasons: partly because my course was severely under-subscribed (by ‘severely’ I mean there are three people on it this year) so there was no guarantee any of the optional modules would run, and partly because I wanted to get some experience in the archives and museums sector of library work.
I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to work on documents relating to the excavation of HMS Invincible at Chatham Historic Dockyard’s library and archives, as part of their accessioning process. Accessioning is the process by which museums decide if objects or groups of objects should be added to their collections.
The documents that I’m working on are a collection of records, maps, drawings and correspondence produced by the marine archaeologists who investigated the wreck of HMS Invincible, an 18th century Royal Navy flagship, lost off the Hampshire coast in 1758. Many of the documents are also directly related to physical items from the wreck purchased by the Dockyard, including timbers, ammunition and an inexplicably large number of shoes.
The work itself is important, but labourious. I’m responsible for logging a record of every document, picture, map and book in the Invincible print collection. The records I produce will be used in the accessioning process, and then used as the basis for entering details of the accessioned documents and artefacts into the Dockyard’s artefact database (they use the Vernon CMS).
The logging process is out of the old school – no laptops or SharePoint here, just a sheaf of paper forms and a HB pencil. Although it’s not what I’m used to, the paper-based way of working makes sense in a situation where money and technology are in short supply. My biggest concern about taking records down on paper was inflicting my spider-on-crack handwriting on the poor soul who has to add the information from them to the artefacts database.
My work is being directed by Helen Crowe, Collections and Documentation Assistant for the Dockyard Trust, who has responsibility for its library and archives. The library is staffed by volunteers, and has no in-situ librarian, and is open to the public by appointment only. The principle aim of my placement is to document all the items from the Invincible collection, which will hopefully speed the process up and allow the volunteers to concentrate on their current duties and projects.
I dived straight into the work on my first day – the most important thing at this stage being to establish a methodology for logging the invincible documents. After consulting with Helen, I decided on a simple Description/Date/Title/Media system of classification, with additional facets for scale, artefact type and date of dive/excavation to be used where appropriate.
The documents I worked on on day one mainly consisted of drawings of the wreck site, artefact drawings and diving logs. It looks like the folders of dive and excavation records will be the most time-intensive material to work on, given the density of the records. I also found some time for some contextual reading on HMS Invincible’s history and excavation – I’ve added some brief notes on the ship at the bottom of this post.
Reflections on day 1
Having thought that I might progress to cataloguing the Invincible records on the Dockyard’s CMS, it looks likely that the pre-accessioning logging process will take up most, if not all of the time allocated to my placement. The process itself is necessarily meticulous, and attempting to rush through the documents will most likely create more work for Helen and the volunteers later on if I make any unnecessary mistakes. I’ll have more of an idea of how long the logging process will take once I’ve finished taking records of the folders of diving and excavation logs.
Monday 18 February 2013
More of the same today, starting with the diving logs in the second box of Invincible documents. I was grateful for the fans and heaters in the Dockyard library – it’s based in an old ropery building, basically a huge, unheated, stone-built 19th century warehouse, and mod-cons are few and far between. The library space itself is handsome but careworn, with wooden panelling and shelving lining all four walls, and a hole in the floor that used to accomodate the masts from a scale model of HMS Victory on the lower floor.
I got through a good amount of the dive logs, but there are so many of them that I asked Helen about collating them rather than logging them individually. She suggested grouping logs by the date a particular dive took place, so this is what I’ll do from now on. I’m also increasingly concerned about the legibility of the paper records I’m producing, as well as the time it takes to produce them.
My tutor, Sue Batley, visited in the afternoon, to discuss the details and assessment of my placement. I agreed with Helen and Sue that the main output of the placement would be the pre-accessioning records that I’m producing. I suggested switching to a spreadsheet-based system of taking down records, based on my concerns about the paper records I’d made so far, and also with an eye on avoiding handing in armfuls of paper for assessment at the end of the placement. Helen and Sue were happy with this, so from next Monday (25 February) I’ll be working in Excel.
Reflections on day 2
It was good to arrange the move over to computer-based record taking. This should speed up the pre-accessioning process, as well as increasing the records’ legibility, longevity and reducing the physical space they’ll take up in the library. I’m becoming increasingly aware of my placement as a learning process, as well as the improvements that can be made to my methodology by drawing on the knowledge of Helen and Sue, and my own professional skills and experience.
(Notes taken from John M.Bingeman’s ‘The First HMS Invincible’)
HMS Invincible started out as L’Invincible, a French ship-of-the-line of the revolutionary 74 gun design. These ships were narrow and fast in the water, with a reduced but more effective battery, compared to their English counterparts. of high and mid-calibre guns.
Invincible was captured off Cape Finisterre after being outnumbered fourteen to one by English battleships. Her quality was recognised by Admiral Anson, who had L’Invincible re-fitted as an English third-rate ship-of-the-line. It was also Anson who instigated the building of English ships based on Invincible, revolutionising the design of the Royal Navy’s frontline battleships. As late as 1805, at Trafalgar, third-rate ships based om Invincible’s design formed the backbone of Nelson’s fleet.
HMS Invincible herself was lost off the Hampshire coast in 1758, en-route to besiege the French colony of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia. She foundered on the Horsetail sandbar, and was eventually abandoned, with no loss of life, before breaking up. Her guns and masts were salvaged by ships operating out of Portsmouth. Invincible’s captain and crew were later cleared of any wrongdoing in her loss at a Royal Naval inquest.
The wreck was re-discovered in 1980 by fisherman Arthur Mack. Initial investigations of the wreck began that year, producing the artefacts and records that were eventually purchased by Chatham Historic Dockyard.
|Career (Great Britain)|
|Acquired:||3 May 1747|
|Tons burthen:||1793 tons|
|Length:||171 ft 3 in (52.20 m) (gun deck length)|
|Beam:||49 ft 3 in (15.01 m)|
|Depth of hold:||21 ft 3 in (6.48 m)|
|Armament:||74 guns of various weights of shot|
(Source – Wikipedia)
I’m posting all the photographs I take of the Dockyard on my placement to this Flickr set – there’s also a slideshow below:
I was lucky enough to take over the @voiceslibrary Twitter account for National Libraries Day 2013 last weekend (@voiceslibrary is a project by Voices for the Library to promote the work of librarians and information professionals by tweeting about their working lives). It was an amazing day, with a huge outpouring of enthusiasm and affection for the work done by libraries and librarians, coupled with some righteous ire at the threats being presented to public libraries in the UK.
I had a great time, bigging up libraries, chatting with other Twitter users and generally highjacking the #NLD13 hashtag to inflict my stream of consciousness on libraries, owls and heavy metal on the Twitterverse. In an outrageous act of personal vanity, I’ve Storified my Tweets from the day below. Alternatively, you can read library Superhero Phil Bradley’s round-up of #NLD13 here.
P.S The Lib Voices account shows up as Mobeena because the awesome Mobeena Khan (@greebstreebling) is taking over for this week