Wednesday, July 6, 2011

British Museum Archives

The British Museum Archives is a special, unique type of archives because it is solely associated with the museum. Stephanie Clarke is the archivist of the
museum and provided us with the tour. We began our tour on the main level and had to proceed to the lower levels to reach the archives. The archival materials are divided up into six different collections. These collections are Trustee, Staff, Financial, Exhibition, Building, and Reading Room records.

The Trustee records contain any information that was presented to the Trustees or written to or from them. Most of the collection contains minutes which are very detailed. An index is available and was handwritten once then handwritten again in better writing. Reports are included and are arranged by how they were presented in the Trustees. Letter books are associated with the reports and can fill in the gap between each report.

Staff records contain information related to the staff of the British Museum. Application forms are included and contain personal information about the applicant along with references. An interesting part in the collection concerns Aaron Hayes (check name). He had a low level job in the museum and he sketched various pictures of the objects in the museum. These records are only kept for 72 years after the birth of the individual or five years after the death of the individual whichever comes first.

Building records contain any kind of material associated with the British Museum building or the ground on which it is built. These materials can range from deeds architectural sketches. One of the deeds contained in this collection is a 1694 deed that is in good condition. Included in this collection are hand drawn sketches by the architect Robert Smirke who designed the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum. Some sketches are small, detailed birds-eye views of the interior of the building. Other sketches are of the overall outside of the building and they extraordinarily resemble what the building looks like today.

Exhibition records are books made once an exhibit is finished. In these books are photographs, information on the design of the exhibit, exhibit labels, paint or flooring swatches, and fabrics. The collection contains about 300 books between the 1960s and the late 1990s. Most of these books have been taken apart and place into acid free folders to prevent harm to the materials.

The reading room records are very interesting. The reading room of the British Museum was a very prestigious room to use and one had to apply to use the room. It was used as a reading room from 1790 to 1970. The collection contains the applications of individuals from 1890 to 1970 and also contains the sign in books. Some of the frequent users of the reading room include Karl Marx, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Beatrix Potter.

The archives do not contain all information concerning the museum. Each department houses and is responsible for a lot of their own material. The British Museum Archives is really interesting and reminded me of how much I like archival work.

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