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Scrapbooks the Pinterest of the twentieth Century

Or even the fifteenth century if you count the commonplace book which emerged as a way to compile information such as sketches, poems, documents, recipes, etc. sound familiar?

Pinterest is a web and mobile app, founded in 2009, to enable people to find and collect ideas on various topics. Royal Voluntary Service has its own boards including preserve and bread making and you can find and pin many posts about WVS or WRVS on the site. However this blog isn’t about our history or records on Pinterest; it’s once again time to think what did we do before the internet. How did we collect memories, images and news stories to inspire others and create a record of our own interests? We created scrapbooks of course. 

Scrapbooking is a method for preserving, presenting and arranging personal and family history in the form of a book. Typical memorabilia includes photographs, printed media, and artwork. In the twentieth century WVS/WRVS centres and services made scrapbooks to record their work in a more personal and less official way than the Narrative Report they produced monthly. Of course some of these have made their way to the Archive shelves included in local office collections or as personal donations to the collection. Like any other traditional archive item they need to be preserved but also made accessible here are some of the issues faced by archivists when caring for scrapbooks.

One of the major issues we face is how to preserve scrapbooks which have usually been created using the enemies of the archivists; glue, sellotape and paper full of acid I could go on but there isn’t enough time.  The major issue when preserving a scrapbook is its condition. When it has just arrived in your collection you look inside and some things have come loose. You have to think about how you put it back/mark where it originally belonged; perhaps some corn starch glue of a paper clip but it must be reversible. The book itself may also be fragile and you should handle it carefully proper storage can help with this acid free paper, folders and boxes can be a good start. The condition of scrapbooks may also deteriorate where it contains materials which can cause damage in the future, there are conservation treatments available however in terms of preservation we must constantly monitor the condition of our archives. We do a very good job here at Royal Voluntary Service the memories of service users and volunteers carefully preserved. Today being an archivist appears to be like standing in the middle of a seesaw and trying to balance it perfectly on one side sits preservation, on the other access.

Scrapbooks are a unique way for showing current and future generations the ideas and activities of people in the past while Pinterest boards and digital scrapbooks are easily accessible (for the moment) archived physical scrapbooks often sit on shelves and access means visiting the archive. You may ask why don’t we just catalogue and digitise these collections however there is a major issue here, copyright.

Scrapbooks are often compiled using many different sources of course the creator but then they may have used newspaper articles, publications and other documents whose copyright belongs to someone else so before they can be made publically accessible in a digital format we’d need to gain permission from several different people. Here many of our scrapbooks contents will still be in copyright because are collection is a very modern one (in terms of history). This isn’t the only barrier there is also the question of how this would be hosted and maintained as some digital formats become obsolete but of course were archivists I’m sure we could find a solution. Perhaps a national project called save our scrapbooks (inspired by save our sounds of course) a campaign to preserve these unique insights into history and make them more accessible.

Obviously all traditional archives have similar issues which we have to apply expertise to. As archivists we preserve scrapbooks in our collection and find ways to allow the public access to them. However In the twenty-first century we must also ask how we do this and do we need to start focusing digital equivalents such as Pinterest or even people’s own artwork on their home computers? But this is a blog for another day.

Posted by jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 05 February 2018.

Labels: Scrapbook, Pinterest, WVS, WRVS, Preservation, Access