Monday, 5 August 2013

Class 8: British Museum Archives (12/07/2013)

The British Museum 

Skeletons, Mummies and Bones... Oh My!! This morning was all about the British Museum and exploring our way around the various exhibits going on. Personally, I’ve always had an interest in ancient Egypt so the third floor was right up my alley. From jewelry, sarcophagi, hieroglyphics  on clay tablets and mummies (yes, that’s right, actual mummies) I spent most of my morning browsing this floor. However, seeing these awesome artifacts wasn’t the only reason for our class coming to the British Museum on this gorgeous day. In fact, we were here to meet with Stephanie Adler, the one and only archivist who works in the British Museum Archives ( 

Minutes kept during meetings
in the 1800s. 
What Ms. Adler took us through today was what it’s like to work where she works. From looking at old ledgers of minutes that were kept during library hours to complaints made by patrons centuries ago to staff records and requests made, the history of this building is all in this room. In addition to all of these volumes which have survived over the years, there is something like 12,000 photographs which have to be catalogued and stored. These photographs include floor plans and set designs for exhibitions that have been in the library and swatches of color that have been used for wall paint and carpeting. In 1850, the museum employed its first photographer, so that gives just a slight idea as to how old some of these photos may be. 

Storage space for various pieces
of the collection
On this behind the scenes look, Ms. Adler also gave us a look at where items are stored, showed us the massive cabinets where plans and bigger pictures are stored and let us look at the Records of Round Reading Room, a ledger book full of names of patrons that used the library. Among the signatures were Beatrix Potter, and one of my personal favorites, Thomas Stoker, aka Bram Stoker. She even had part of a bomb that landed in the museum during WWII. 
Ms. Adler showing us a book
used in the Round Reading Room.
Bram Stoker was one of the signatures!! 

Up until 2000, all the records kept in these archives were physical copies. Slowly, the collection is becoming more digitized. As of right now, documents are scanned as they are needed and not real effort is being made to speed up the process. It was only in May of this year that the archives even got a catalogue which can be accessed. And while this may prove frustrating to some people, I think there is a lot that can be said for this. There’s so much history and so much connections which can be made by seeing and touching these things in person. It’s special and keeping the collection like that makes it stand out. That’s what left the most impression on me after this tour was finished and we went about our day. 

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