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One of WVS’s main wartime activities was
salvage; many of the WVS Centre Organisers kept fairly extensive notes on
their salvage activities. Their activties were usually described within the monthly Narrative Reports. Occasionally however, some of the
original reports written by WVS Salvage Officers which influenced those reports were retained and sent to Headquarters.
The Salvage Officer for Melton Mowbray (in Leicestershire) is just one example as many of her monthly accounts have been kept
in the Archive & Heritage Collection alongside the monthly Narrative
Reports they accompany. These reports provide a detailed account of the salvage
activities Melton Mowbray during the Second World War. Lets take a closer look at some of those reports.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, January 1942 (Page 4)
It is clear from this report that Melton Mowbray had improved its salvage activity compared to the previous year. This was largely due to the fact that the town engaged in creating salvage awareness. Equally impressive, was the collation of information regarding local businesses and their methods of paper disposal. This would have allowed the WVS to have access to a greater amount of paper that could be salvaged and consequently re-pulped. The efficiency of Salvage Organiser is not to be underestimated.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, April 1942 (page 10)
This report illustrates how the WVS in Melton Mowbray contributed to persuading the nation of the importance of salvage. For example, members of the WVS visited Nottingham University to listen to a well-attended lecture on salvage activities. After listening to the speech, they set up their own series of lectures within local schools. This was to help facilitate the Cog Scheme, which encouraged children to participate in salvage collection. These talks proved to be highly successful, as salvage collections in every borough began to increase significantly. After these early accomplishments, the WVS introduced rewards to continue to encourage children to help with the collections. For example, badges representing a cog-wheel was an excellent way of rewarding the most enthusiastic children. Melton Mowbray’s Salvage Organiser was also highly keen on winning the regional waste paper competition.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire October 1942 (page 24)
Despite having a population of only 12,000 citizens, Melton Mowbray had managed to collect 14cwts of bones in the month of September In today’s terms, this works out as 711kg. This figure was considered to be a considerable achievement by the WVS in Melton, because bone collection had always been the most difficult of all the salvageable materials to obtain. This was partly due to the fact that people did not enjoy the smell and general unpleasantness surrounded by food waste. To counteract this problem, the WVS responded accordingly by introducing bins for bones that would contain the odour issue.
Overall these reports illustrate the importance of salvage to Melton Mowbray and the effort WVS went to during the Second World War to boost moral and reach targets for collecting salvage. The stories told from the point of view of the salvage office have been retained and survived for over 70 years. They have been digitised and published online, you can go to Archive Online and search for them or use our handy Guide to Archive Online page. Hopefully you will discover many more stories about salvage.
(or an archivist by any other name would still be an
Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what
an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage
and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages
hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and
new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even
since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?
The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through
the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to
adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and
photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists
should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience
to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be
whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They
should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills
every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.
08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be
bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had
none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant
also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more
Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.
09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a
photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion
about this and other jobs which can be done today.
10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my
labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out
update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more
volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the
reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.
11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local
office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue
with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.
12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer
any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any
images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War
II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form.
Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify
what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.
1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and
Strictly Come Dancing
2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.
Learning to structure a catalogue for an accession at the Royal Voluntary Service
In my last blog
I wrote about my first experience of the accession process, for the
Royal Voluntary Service Archives & Heritage Collection, as I unpacked the
extensive records of the Ebley Silver Threads over 60s Club, that had been collated
by Mary Curtis the leader of the Gloucestershire Club from 1966 to 2008. In
this month’s blog however I turn my attention to my first encounter of structuring
and cataloguing, which began after the receipt of a signed gift agreement from
the collection custodian to transfer the documents to the archive.
The first step
was to design a suitable structure, so that the collection could be
incorporated into the searchable archive, based on the initial review of the
contents. It would have been a daunting task were it not for the helpful
beginners guide to hierarchical archive structures, included in volume 6 of the WRVS Heritage Bulletin, and the comprehensively mapped out catalogue
structure helpfully pinned to the archive storeroom wall. In the course of
reviewing the documents it had become apparent that despite the inclusion of
the personal records of Mary Curtis, detailing her association with the WRVS over
46 years, it should be classified as the records of a local office as it
covered the activities of the Stroud and Gloucestershire group over an
This meant that
the collection Fonds (WRVS) and Sub Fonds (LO) levels of the catalogue structure
were quickly in place, and the Series based on the location of the activity
could be determined. As Ebley is situated in the Stroud region of
Gloucestershire the question was therefore only whether the village was in the
rural or urban area. Surprisingly however, this was not a straightforward
answer as it appeared to be referenced both ways, but ultimately it was decided
that it was most often classified as being in the Stroud Urban District and so
the Series abbreviation was settled upon (STD UD). An abbreviation of Ebley
Silver Threads over 60s Club could then be slotted easily into the Sub Series
catalogue structure only needed to be developed into Files, Sub Files and if
appropriate Items. To aid this construction process a large sheet of paper was
found and an outline of what the collection should look like was mapped out
from the notes taken during the preliminary review.
As the bulk of
the collection was made up of the photographic records of the week long Club
holidays around the United Kingdom, which many members of the Club participated
in between 1970 and 2007, this became the first File (HOL) with the individual
locations as Sub-Files. This meant that the Sub File abbreviations could adopt
an existing structure used elsewhere in the archive. Other Files were also
incorporated for the Club Activities (ACTV) which were not associated with the
holidays, such as Easter Bonnet making or the more frequent activities such as
Christmas parties and day trips. For Member linked activity (MEMB) such as
gatherings for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and departures another File
As a WRVS Local
Office there were also circular notices (CN) and regional publications (PUB) to
include (which would have a wider relevance within the archive) as well as the
Club records such as meeting minutes (MIN), general administration (ADMIN),
finance (FIN), publicity (PBY). All of these were references which had been
created previously in other catalogued projects and consequently the
utilisation of them for this collection helped maintain consistency across the
also needed to be space to incorporate the personal records of Mary Curtis
(CURM). This File included Sub-Files for all the letters and correspondence
(CORR), newspaper cuttings (NEWS), ideas and reminders (NOTES) she accumulated
in her role as Club Leader, as well as the recognition (AWARD) she received
over the course of her work with the older citizens of Ebley from 1962 to 2008,
as a dedicated member of the WRVS.
structure was complete the processing could begin with items carefully gathered
together and referenced in accordance with the entry into the archive catalogue
(CALM). Throughout this process the original order of the collection was
maintained in the physical files. Whilst the majority of the documents received
were incorporated into the catalogue, with only those not connected to the WRVS
Club or which were available in other archives excluded, only a selection of
the photographs from each of the holidays were included. No restrictions were
placed on how many photographs could be included in the final catalogued
collection but images were selected based on content or if annotations had been
added. Overall the selected photographs for cataloguing were those which it was
felt could visually record, describe and place the activities of the Club.
I have now
finished processing this accession (phew!) and the catalogue records will be
online next time we update the Archive Online pages. Until then I will be
applying my new skills to the Aylesbury Local Office Collection!
"The archivist is dead long live the archivist"
Last week I attended my first
Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conference in Manchester, where the main
theme appeared to be how we identify ourselves as Archivists and how the heritage
sector is changing. Ideas ranged from the definition of appraisal, search room experience,
community engagement and skills. However the main topic of discussion was the
role of the Archivist.
There appeared to be a move away
from the traditional archivist protector of records and preserver of history
with a set of core skills which stood them apart from the museum curator. In their
place stands the postmodern archivist who is all things to all men, a heritage professional,
throwing open the doors of the archive, engaging with the community and letting
go of their control. By this they mean allowing others use the archive how they
want and not be told how it should be used or how they can access it.
Looking into the theory is all
well and good but what about the practicalities of being an archivist, how are
these ideas applied.
Let’s put this into the context
of the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and a more practical
definition of an archivist. In my career I have worn a few different guises as
a cataloguing coordinator, project archivist and deputy archivist and have
moved from traditional to sort of post-modern to somewhere in-between. Most of
what was said at conference applied to local record offices who are becoming
destinations for tourists like museums and facing different situations to a
Here the role of an archivist is
to preserve the history of the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service and to
make sure it is accessible now and in the future through cataloguing,
digitisation, and a remote enquiry service and through working with colleagues
managing our services. The Archivists are also there to support the work of the
charity. It is not yet time for us to let go but we can still be innovative e.g.
Voices of Volunteering and Hidden history of a million wartime women. These
were projects which came from and where directed by the archives but upheld the
values of the postmodern archivist and did them well; including community
engagement (local, national, global) and providing access to records and
information about the charity. We also hold what might be deemed a museum
collection of objects and uniform but we care for them as archivists. We don’t
yet have exhibition space to display these items but make them accessible
through remote outreach such as our timeline. In this archive we are a mix of
the two perhaps we should be called revisionist archivists not quite in the
time of Jenkinson but pragmatic enough to change and develop when necessary. Essentially
we don’t prioritise preservation or access but try to balance them out.
As with many things there is no definite
definition of an archivist because it depends on many factors including where you
work and the collections you work with. The Archivist is whoever we or our
collections need us to be.