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Insight: Making our archives more accessible

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You should already know that the National Science and Media Museum holds significant object collections relating to the development of photography, film, television and science and technology. However, did you also know that we hold paper-based archive collections that tell us new information about the development of these media-based technologies? We also hold a library of books and periodicals (some rare and unusual) relating to these subjects, which contains over 26,500 books! All of these resources have been historically underutilised by our researchers, and so we’ve begun work to encourage more use of these materials.

Since July we’ve been working on a project to make our paper-based archives more accessible to the general public. Our paper-based collections include materials by seminal pioneers of technology including Henry Fox Talbot, Charles Urban and William and Claude Friese-Greene, as well as the records of organisations including Ilford (the photographic manufacturers), Gandolfi (the camera-making family) and PYE TVT (telecommunications). We also have archives with a lot of local significance including records relating to the refurbishment of the Bradford Odeon/Gaumont and a collection of cinema posters produced by W.B. Berry Ltd, based in Bradford.

Examples of some of the types of material you might find in our archive and library collections include posters, photographs, personal papers, business correspondence and organisational records, architectural drawings and plans, animation cells, instruction manuals, ephemera and trade brochures and rare books.

Archives can help us to find evidence and histories of people, communities, localities and organisation. We can find out how and when decisions were made by people and organisations, and trace the decision-making process through different series’ of records. Archives can inform future decision-making and be used to influence and shape new technologies, art and design. They can help you find connections to your past, including histories of your family, area and community.

Since July we’ve established new ways to catalogue these collections, and you can find information about them on Collection Online. We are putting information about these collections online for the first time in museum history so that more people can make more use of our archives for research. We’re also reviewing the way we look after these collections, which means repackaging and surveying what we hold. We’re also aiming to get information about our library collection online.

Over the next 18 months we’ll be introducing you to some of the collections we’re cataloguing and sharing our project’s progress. We hope that some of you will be inspired by these posts and will come in to visit us and consult some of these materials in person.

Anyone can visit Insight to consult our collections—you don’t have to be doing academic research to visit us. If you are interested in coming in to Insight, get in touch with us via research@scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk to make an appointment. Make sure you check our archive catalogue and Collection Online in advance of getting in contact, and let us know if there are any particular subjects or themes you would like to explore.

Written by Kirsty Fife

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