Centre for Research Collections

I can’t resist visiting other libraries so I signed up right away when I spotted a tour of the Centre for Research Collections in Edinburgh University Library in the Edinburgh International Science Festival programme. So Saturday morning, bright and early I dragged a rather reluctant boyfriend along to the library for the tour.

We were rather a small group and I gather there was some concern that the tour had been too hidden away in the Science Festival programme. The tour was excellent so it is definitely worth having a very good look at the Science Festival programme to see what gems are hidden away in it, this year they also offered a tour of the library at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The tour started right at the top of the library building in the refurbished reception and public reading room area. I didn’t think to take any photos so you’ll need to take my word for it that it’s a nice bright welcoming space with a lovely view over a roof terrace towards the Pentland Hills.  There are rather a lot of CCTV cameras in the reading room, don’t bother trying to do anything bad to the collections, you will be seen!!  While on this floor we had a very short moment to look at the exhibition cases in passing, these contain material to give a taster of the collections.

We moved downstairs to the behind the scenes part of the tour after this, starting with the conservation room where we met a conservator working on an archive of material relating to HIV in Edinburgh. Although this is recent material it still requires conservation because of the mixed media in the collection. For example it contains education packs for schools, condoms and badges, these have required special boxes to avoid damage to the paper archive from the gases from deteriorating plastics and the awkward shapes of the plastic material.

In the hi-tec digital imaging room we heard about some of the problems of getting good images when the room is near the lift causing vibrations to the camera and looked online at the projects where the Centre has added images, these include flickr and europeana.

We also looked at an archive of older photographic materiel from Prof Sir Godfrey Thomson Papers which are an investigation into human intelligence to improve education. There was a sample of children taken the year my dad was born, I wonder if I looked through the archive if I would find material on my own family ….

In the next room we had short talks from two archivists, the first on the development of the science of genetics at Edinburgh University through the papers of the Conrad Hal Waddington and James Cossar Ewart, and animal genetics through the papers of the Institute of Animal Genetics, the Roslin Institute and associated scientists. I really liked the informal photos of the scientists, showing that even in old archive material on a scientific subject there are fun items. There are also more recent items such as magazines with items on the Dolly, the sheep cloned at the Roslin Institute.  We also looked at the Professor Norman Dott papers which give an insight into the development of neurosurgery in Edinburgh, these include the post mortem result on Professor’s Dott’s dog!

We ended the tour in one of the store rooms for the Lothian Health Services Archive and heard a little about cataloguing the patient case notes in the archive to make the information more accessible while still complying with data protection laws. This looks like it will be a really useful resource for medical researchers, social scientists and family historians.

Before the visit I had no idea that the University Library holds such a rich collection of archive material and that this is available to the general public to consult; I will certainly be looking further at their flickr page to see more of the collections.

And the reluctant boyfriend? He really enjoyed the visit and even left his contact details to get more information about something he spotted in the archive!