On 19 June we ran a webinar on user research and user behaviour. We had three speakers – David Marshall, a UX Researcher from the University of Cambridge, Kelly Arnstein, a UX Specialist from the University of Glasgow, and Deborah Wilson, a Subject Librarian from Queens University Belfast.
(main talks 1hr + 25 minute discussion). Slides are also provided as links (below).
The talks were excellent, and followed by a lively discussion. They should prove to be useful to anyone looking at designing a website for archive catalogues, and working with students using primary sources. Overall, there was a lot of consensus about user behaviour, which is useful in terms of sharing findings – because it is likely to be relevant to all archives. The emphasis for this session was on students and academic researchers, but we did discuss some of the challenges of meeting the needs of a diverse audience.
A few summary points that came out of one or more of the talks:
People may use an archive catalogue for research and also for teaching, scoping a project, marketing and other reasons.
They want an idea of the physicality of the collection and the overall size
People want context and hierarchy, and like the idea of ‘leafing through’ material to see relationships.
There are those who want to get quickly to what they need and those who value browse and serendipity. This seems like a possible tension, and certainly a challenge, in terms of interface design. It may be that at different times the same researcher wants a quick route through and other times they want to take time and discover.
Cambridge research found that some users wanted to limit their search by date initially, but there was a strong feeling that a wide search and then filtering was generally a good option.
Finding everything of value was seen as key – many researchers were prepared to spend time to discover materials related to their research and worried about missing important materials.
The physical object remains key to many researchers
Saving searches and other forms of personalisation were seen as a good thing
Quite often researchers, especially if they are more experienced, understand that research skills are important and archive catalogues are complex; this may contrast with library databases, where they are more inclined to want to get to things quickly.
Undergraduates often don’t understand the different approach needed to engage with primary sources
Undergrads often engage with archives at the point of an assignment, where they are being marked on their use of primary sources; they initially try to find sources in the same way as they would search for anything else.
It is really valuable to educate students on the importance of context, the broad search and filter approach, understanding citations, evaluating databases, etc. They often don’t really know what primary sources are and can find them off-putting.
Researchers can make assumptions about what a repository holds, and then be surprised to find that there is material that is relevant for them.
A bad catalogue can put a researcher off, and they may choose to go further afield if the catalogue offers a better experience.
People often ignore tooltips. It is a challenge to provide help that people use.
June’s Archives Hub feature is the result of animated discussions between members of Academic Libraries North (formerly Northern Collaboration) Special Interest Group for Special Collections and Archives. We chose Global Change as an overarching idea and asked group members to pick a collection that spoke to this theme. Far from being a random assortment of disparate collections with no common ground, the resulting list revealed linked collections with great research potential for those interested in political history, social history, activism, immigration and emigration, technological and design innovation – and even railway engineering.
University of Bradford – Peace Pamphlet Collection
This collection comprises thousands of peace pamphlets gathered by Commonweal Library from their rich network of connections in protest campaigns worldwide. They present an incredible resource for researchers and illustrate the ideas and activities of British peace movements from the First World War to the present day. Significant publishers include the Peace Pledge Union, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They also offer a fascinating visual record, with many well-known artists contributing designs.
Durham University – Malcolm MacDonald Papers
Son of Ramsay MacDonald, Malcolm MacDonald was elected Labour MP for Bassetlaw 1929. He held the seat until 1935, and was National Labour MP for Ross and Cromarty 1936-1945. He held ministerial office in the Dominions & Colonial Office 1931-1940, and was British High Commissioner to Canada, 1941-1946. He was Governor General of Malaya, his responsibilities subsequently extended to cover all S.E. Asia. In 1955 he became High Commissioner for the U.K. in India and in 1960 was appointed co-chairman of the international conference on Laos. The final part of his administrative and diplomatic career was spent in Africa as Governor and Commander in Chief and later High Commissioner for Kenya 1963-4.
Lancaster University – Socialist Pamphlets
A significant item in this collection is ABC of votes for Women by Marion Holmes (nee Miller) 1867-1943, printed in 1913. Marion was a suffragette, a freelance journalist and writer. She was on the committee for the Society of Women Journalists and established Margate Pioneer Society. In Croydon she was the President of the local Women’s Social and Political Union and a member of the Women’s Freedom League and the first female election agent in Keighley. This work covers the importance of women having the ability to vote.
The Leeds Russian Archive, established in 1982, comprises around 650 collections of manuscripts, photographs and other archival material related to Anglo-Russian contacts in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Archive contains papers of members of the British community in Russia, as well as travellers and diplomats, governesses and soldiers, including the papers of writers such as Leonid Andreev (1871-1919); Nobel prizewinner Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), as well as the papers of the Russian railway engineer Yuri Lomonossoff (1876-1952).
Monsignor James Nugent, better known as Father Nugent, was a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. He was a passionate social reformer, appalled by the state of the homeless living in the squalor of Victorian England, he dedicated his life to the education and rescue of destitute children. Father Nugent was also an early pioneer of children’s emigration. In 1870 he took the first group of 24 children to Canada on 18 August 1870 on the SS Austrian; this was probably the first organised emigration of its kind.
Liverpool John Moores University – Stafford Beer Archive
Professor Stafford Beer (1926-2002) was an inspirational thinker, teacher and writer in the field of management cybernetics. A polymath and credited as the founder of Management Cybernetics, he was appointed Honorary Professor of Organisational Transformation at LJMU in 1989. He is probably best known internationally for his work on Project Cybersyn, a Chilean attempt to develop a cybernetic approach to the organisation and control of the economy in the 1971-1973 under the socialist government of President Allende.
Richard Badnall (d 1842) and his collaborator Richard Gill patented the design of an “Undulating Railway”, an eccentric invention which caught the interest of many prominent people, including George and Robert Stephenson and the Directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The collection, comprising mainly of correspondence, has been fully digitised.
Sheffield Hallam University – Festival of Britain Collection
The 1951 Festival of Britain was a showcase of British contributions to art, design and industry and a chance to celebrate and raise the nation’s spirits after the austerity of the war years. In the 1970s Sheffield Hallam University acquired a box of Festival items including press releases, letters and some official guides, but this has been enhanced through acquisition of a wider range of Festival literature and commemorative ephemera – such as postcards, teapots, toys, glassware and medals.
Dennis Brutus (b. 1924) is best known for founding the South African Sports Association (SASA) whose essential aim was the elimination of racialism in South African sport. The South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC), with Brutus as its president, had considerable success: not only with the exclusion of South Africa from the Olympic Games in 1968, but also with the withdrawal of many African competitors from the 1976 Olympics. Forced into exile in 1966, Brutus left South Africa for England, where he worked for the International Defence Aid Fund. In 1971 he moved to the United States and died on 26 December 2009.
Browse more collection descriptions for these institutions on the Archives Hub:
The LAVC is a unique, nationally important collection that holds all the materials from the internationally renowned Survey of English Dialects (SED) as well as the archives of the University’s former Leeds Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS).
It is currently the subject of a 3-year project “Dialect and Heritage” (2022). Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project aims to open up the LAVC to public audiences, mapping its rich archives with 5 partner museums’ complementary collections and putting the LAVC back into the communities from which it was originally collected.
Since January 2020 Special Collections staff have been involved in the first phase, focusing on digitisation and enhancing the catalogue to support both long term access via its own catalogue as well as a dedicated project website due to launch in July 2021.
Already extensively catalogued as part of AHRB project in 2002, it has remained inaccessible to most non-academic audiences. Its rich narrative descriptions, pre-dated digital developments and metadata standardisation that can now optimise discovery. Current catalogue enhancements have therefore focused on adding new access points to facilitate improved search/browse.
About the LAVC: Dialect and Folklife
The SED was the first comprehensive, nationwide dialect survey in England, devised and coordinated by Professor Harold Orton at the University of Leeds during the 1950s-1960s. Originating at the end of World War 2, the Survey aimed to record and preserve the nation’s dialects before they were changed forever by modern development and migration. Fieldworkers would travel the length of the country to survey and interview informants in 313 rural locations with over 1000 questions on rural and home life. These were supplemented by a series of over 300 audio recordings for many of these locations, which were captured during or after the survey. To capture the natural richness of these local dialects, fieldworkers would engage informants by getting them to speak about absolutely any aspect of their lives.
The former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS) was part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983. Under the initial directorship of Stewart F. Sanderson, the IDFLS expanded its focus from dialect and fostered teaching and research in the field of folk life studies. This included the Folk Life Survey and establishment of its own reference library which included undergraduate and postgraduate student research papers on dialect and folk life/folklore and research materials including manuscripts, printed and audio-visual items.
Highlights in the collection include:
The Survey of English Dialects questionnaire and response books: Detailed responses to over 1000 questions in 313 rural locations, written mainly in linguistic shorthand (IPA). They also contain more accessible glimpses into life in these communities with notes written in plain English and illustrations capturing ‘incidental material’ about the locations, informants and their traditions. All 313 books are being digitised with many online already.
Audio recordings: There are over 300 SED recordings and nearly 900 unpublished recordings relating to studies and research within IDFLS. They are being digitised as part of the British Library’s “Unlocking Our Sound Heritage” (UOSH) project.
Over 2000 photographs which have now been digitised as part of the project. Over half were taken by Werner Kissling, employed between 1962 and 1966 as a photographic fieldworker in Yorkshire as part of the Institute’s Folk Life Survey. They also include photographs relating to SED locations and informants and student theses.
The Collection gives exceptional insights into language, culture and everyday life from the late 19th-20th centuries. It is particularly rich in capturing a variety of subjects including traditional methods of food production, rural work, crafts, hobbies, buildings, calendar and local customs, folklore and music.
To improve access and discoverability the catalogue has been enhanced to include place, person and subject as structured data and access points.
This has included mapping 4000+ bespoke subject terms into 12 high level themes and 100 sub-categories based on Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). This will enable researchers to browse the collections by theme and discover related materials more easily.
We have also extracted location information relating to all photographs, audio recordings and SED response books to create several thousand geo-referenced location records. This means that these items can be plotted onto a map and are now available to discover on a new map-based search.
We have also created authority records for over 1000 informants of the SED, Folk Life Survey and Student Research Papers so that now it is possible to search by creators or informants.
Finally, we have created a dedicated search page (currently in beta version) to bring together all these new ways of exploring the Collection with an A-Z for subject and people that can be browsed as well as the interactive map. Much of the cataloguing work is now complete and will be visible on the online catalogue over the next month. Work by the British Library to digitise and catalogue the SED audio recordings was delayed due to the COVID pandemic but is resuming. Work will continue to publish the wealth of digitised material over the coming year so that researchers can explore the collection remotely. The LAVC collection is available for research (https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/7436).
Caroline Bolton, Archivist University of Leeds Special Collections
Browse all University of Leeds Special Collections descriptions on the Archives Hub
This May is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen (1771-1858). Known to many as the Father of Co-operation, Owen left an extensive legacy which is shown in the collection held by the Co-operative Heritage Trust.
Born in Newtown, Wales Owen moved to London in 1784 aged just 13, then to Manchester a year later. In 1785 Manchester was the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution, and also a hotbed of intellectual and philanthropic discourse. Owen was often present at the meetings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society where he was able to expand his knowledge on a number of subjects. When he first arrived in Manchester, Owen was employed at Satterfield’s Drapery on St Ann’s Square, where a blue plaque marks the site of the building. He then became manager of the Piccadilly Mill and went on to establish the Chorlton Twist Mill.
Owen then went on to manage mills at New Lanark in Scotland which also marked his first venture into setting up a model community with an emphasis on education, particularly of young people as well as being involved in campaigns for a shorter working day. He remained there for many years. Today, New Lanark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After leaving New Lanark, Owen traveled to New Harmony, Indiana intending to set up another model community there. After the failure of this venture, Owen returned to England where he found his ideas were growing in popularity. In 1835 he founded the Association of All Classes of All Nations and presided over a series of Congresses in Manchester & Birmingham. Among Owen’s followers were some of the founding members of the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Co-operative Society.
Owen continued to promote his ideas by traveling around the country giving lectures but in the last years of his life settled in Sevenoaks, Kent. It was around this time that Owen decided he wanted to write a three-volume autobiography (of which only one volume was completed before his death). To do this, he wanted to gather together as much of his correspondence as he possibly could. This was not an easy task as he corresponded with many individuals from all over the world.
Once the collection was gathered together Owen was assisted with the arranging of the material by his close friend James Rigby, who, at the same time, wrote the correspondents name and date of postage on the reverse of many of the letters, which was very helpful when the collection came to be catalogued! In 1853 Owen wrote of his intentions to appoint William Pare, Robert Dale Owen, and Dr. Henry Travis as Trustees for his letters, as he wanted to ensure their safe-keeping following his death.
After Owen died in 1858, his letters were unaccounted for for many years due to being passed around the various executors. It was not until the early 1900s that George Jacob Holyoake a journalist, secularist, co-operator and follower of Owen, made efforts to trace their whereabouts. Holyoake eventually located the letters at a barristers’ chambers in London where they were stored in a metal trunk. This became known as the ‘hair trunk’ as in addition to the letters, the trunk contained a lock of Owen’s hair.
In 1903, Holyoake gave the collection, which comprised over 3000 letters, to the Co-operative Union. This was the first collection of what is now the Co-operative Heritage Trust Archive. In 2010 the Collection was awarded a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and in 2016 the Collection was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register as a collection of significance.
The Co-operative Heritage Trust Archive is located in central Manchester. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the reading room is currently closed to the public. Information about re-opening will be on our website.
The Co-operative Heritage Trust looks after the Archive and the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.
To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, here is a selection of archives featuring women who have excelled and been highly influential in many different fields.
Daphne Oram (1925-2003), composer and musician
The Daphne Oram Archive, held at Goldsmiths, University of London, comprises papers, personal research, correspondence and photographs documenting the life and work of a pioneering British composer and electronic musician.
Throughout her career she lectured on electronic music and studio techniques. In 1971 she wrote An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics which investigated philosophical aspects of electronic music. Besides being a musical innovator her other significant achievements include being the first woman to direct an electronic music studio, the first woman to set up a personal studio and the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument.
Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), musician and composer
The University of Manchester holds the Papers of Delia Derbyshire, composer. After being rejected by Decca Records, who said that they did not employ women in the recording studio, in 1962 Derbyshire became a trainee studio manager at the BBC. She was soon seconded to work at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, which had been set up to provide theme and incidental music and sound for BBC radio and television programmes. The following year, she produced her electronic ‘realisation’ of Ron Grainer’s theme tune for the hugely popular BBC series Doctor Who – which is still one of the most famous and instantly recognisable television themes. In the late 1990s there was renewed interest in her work and many younger musicians making electronic dance and ambient music (such as Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers) cited Derbyshire as an important influence.
The Anita White Foundation International Women and Sport Archive
Dr Anita White and Professor Celia Brackenridge were both associated with the University of Chichester, and they were both centrally involved in the leadership and development of the international women and sport movement since 1990. The International Women and Sport Archive is comprised primarily of papers brought together by them and other leaders in the movement, accumulated in the course of their research, study and work in the fields of the sociology of sport and sport science, and their involvement as activists and leaders in the global women and sport movement.
The International Women and Sport Movement is said to have been born out of a decade in which increasing globalisation brought together women from across the world in the practice of sport. It does not refer to any one organisation, body or country, but it is generally agreed that a landmark event and major catalyst in the movement was the first international conference on women and sport which took place on 5-8 May 1994.
Kaye Webb ( 1914-1996), editor and publisher
The Papers of Kaye Webb, covering her career as journalist, magazine editor, editor at Puffin and later literary agent, are held at the Seven Stories Archive. The collection provides a comprehensive record of Webb’s career, reflecting the wide variety of work undertaken by her, and documented through notes, correspondence, press cuttings, audio-visual material, memorabilia and ephemera. Webb was editor of Puffin Books between 1961 and 1979, and in 1967 founded the Puffin Club, which she ran until 1981. As a journalist she worked on publications including Picture Post, Lilliput and the News Chronicle.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), physician and suffragist
The Letters of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson are part of the Women’s Library Archives. An English physician and suffragist, she was was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in Britain. The letters cover Anderson’s struggle to secure an entry into the medical profession.
Barbara Castle (1910-2002), politician and campaigner
The Barbara Castle Cabinet Diaries at the University of Bradford cover 1965-1971 and 1974-1976. In the 1945 General Election Barbara Castle was elected M.P. for Blackburn, a seat that she retained for 34 years. Following the Labour victory in 1964, Prime Minister Harold Wilson put Castle in charge of the newly-created Ministry of Overseas Development. “I decided on 26 January that I ought to start keeping a regular record of what was happening”, she said. Castle maintained this political diary throughout her periods in office. In 1974 Castle was made Secretary of State for Social Services, and in this post she introduced payment of child benefit to mothers and worked on the State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme. In 1979 she became a Member of the European Parliament and in 1990 she entered the House of Lords as Baroness Castle of Blackburn.
Alison Settle (1891-1980), fashion journalist and editor
In a career spanning from the early 1920s to the early 1970s, Alison Settle worked as a fashion journalist, and Brighton Design Archive hold the Alison Settle Archive which includes professional papers dating from the mid-1930s. She was a tireless champion of the interests of women, as well as campaigning for good quality, affordable design through her relationships with designers and manufacturers. Settle sought to improve design standards in all areas of manufacture and production, and contributed to the work of both the Council for Art & Industry and the Council of Industrial Design. She remained one of the best known fashion journalists in the country.
Elise Edith Bowerman (1889-1973), lawyer and suffragette
Diaries, photographs and correspondence of Elsie Edith Bowerman are held at the Women’s Library. Bowerman followed her mother into the suffrage movement. They were both active members of the militant Women’s Social & Political Union. They were on the maiden voyage of the Titanic – both survived. She worked for Scottish Women’s Hospitals during the First World War, and she also worked for Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst during their campaign for ‘industrial peace’ in support of the war effort. In 1924 or 1925 she went on to set up the Women’s Guild of Empire with Flora Drummond, with the aim of promoting co-operation between employers and workers. She was admitted to the Bar in the early twenties and practised until 1938, when she joined the Women’s Voluntary Services. In 1947 Bowerman went to the United States to help set up the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Tessa Boffin (1960-1993), writer, photographer and performance artist
The Tessa Boffin Archive at the University for the Creative Arts includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and other photography projects, including portrayal of AIDS, cross dressing and safe sex, as well as notes on television and radio productions of the 1980s portrayal on feminism and AIDS. Boffin was one of the leading lesbian artists in Great Britain during the AIDS Crisis, but her risqué performances were controversial, and frequently drew criticism, including from inside the LGBTQ community.
Gladys Aylward (1902-1970), missionary
Gladys May Aylward was an evangelical Christian missionary to China. She travelled to China in 1932 and in 1936 she became a Chinese citizen. In 1940, against the background of civil war between Nationalist government troops and the Communists, Japanese invasion, and the threat of bandits, she led a group of orphans on a perilous journey to Sian. Her story was told in the book The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess published in 1957, and made into the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman, in 1958. The Papers of Gladys Aylward, held at SOAS, provide a vivid portrait of Aylward, including her life in China, and the impact of World War Two.
Have you ever wondered what LGBTQ+ archives might be held at North East Wales Archives (NEWA)?
Today, we would like to shine the spotlight on some of the initiatives which are helping Wales to uncover the LGBTQ+ heritage held within our archives. It can be quite a challenge to find records of this type of history since, because of its historically subversive nature, it was often hidden, destroyed or even put into code to avoid discovery. Searching for records of LGBTQ+ history can prove difficult, because the terms that were used historically are different to those used in today’s language. Glamorgan Archives have put together an extremely helpful guide (PDF) called ‘Queering Glamorgan’, which also has an essential glossary of words and terms to help researchers find articles and stories in historic newspapers.
Societies like #Draig Enfys or #Rainbow Dragon are working tirelessly to find and share the stories and lives of people in Wales throughout the ages and to help us to explore the archives for ourselves. Draig Enfys is a research group set up by Norena Shopland, who specialises in researching, recording and promoting LGBT+, women’s and Welsh histories; Mark Etheridge, National Museum Wales; and Susan Edwards, Glamorgan Archives. They wanted to create a forum for researchers to network, help each other out and prevent people working on duplicate subjects. They saw the benefit of people joining forces and collaborating together in this often lonely field of research.
There is also a hive of creative activity in this field, with original research being undertaken in Wales. Projects like Living Histories Cymru, run by Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler, bring historic Welsh LGBTQ+ individuals to life through lively, costumed talks and plays. Other researchers and groups of young people are currently working with National Museum Wales to host various exhibitions and publish books on LGBTQ+ history.
At the Denbighshire branch of NEWA, we hold Minutes of the weekly medical officers meetings which contain details of patient cases, including discussions on the benefits and problems associated with ECT treatment, and brief details on the treatment of a homosexual patient in March 1968. We also hold records relating to the celebrated ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, ‘romantic friends’ in the 18th century, who ran away together to escape the constraints of patriarchal society to live together in isolation. Newspapers and court records at both branches are also rich sources of LGBTQ+ stories and pathways to further research.
If you are interested in LGBTQ+ history, why not try using the terms in Glamorgan Archives’ glossary to search for stories in online newspapers? You can also visit our website to uncover more sources of historical stories from your local area!
Teresa Davies Archive Assistant North East Wales Archives/NEWA (Hawarden)
In the last Names post I wrote about the 4-step process that covers ‘matching and meaning’. Step 2 was ‘Structuring data’, which means implementing a process to structure the elements that form part of a name string.
Many names are not structured. But if we can process the data to create better structure, we have a much better chance of matching it to other entries.
Here is a table showing some name entries around ‘J Watson’ (my examples are taken from real data, but sometimes tweaked a bit in order to cover different types of patterns – all the patterns will be found within the data).
The elements have been put into columns, and this is the idea with our structuring process. Some names are still strings – we cannot always know which part is a surname and which part a forename; and some names do not have that kind of structure anyway. We hope to identify floruit dates, and categorise them as distinct from life dates. We don’t want to match ‘1888-1938’ with ‘fl 1888-1938’ (although we might want to see this as a potential match). We will aim do something similar with birth and death dates. We want to gather all the information that is not a name or a date as ‘supporting information’.
Once we have the structure, it is far more likely we can match the name, and also control our level of confidence about matching. Here is a shorter table based on some of the entries from above:
You can see that two of the names are simply name strings. We may not be able to identify a surname and forename in ‘James Watson’ or ‘Watson James’. With the structure that we have imposed, it is possible to write a name matching process that provides a match between the first and second entries in the above table, because we can say with some confidence that a name that includes ‘James Watson’ and that has the birth date of ‘1834’ and the additional information ‘stockbroker’ refers to the same person. We might say this is a ‘definite’ match, or a ‘probable’ match. The third entry could be a ‘possible’ match, as it includes ‘Watson’ and ‘J’ with the same birth date of 1834. If the fourth entry had ‘stockbroker’, for example, then we might consider a possible match, but as things stand, it would not be a match.
It is very important that the interface we develop indicates to end users that we are matching name strings. There is a distinction between matching name strings and simply stating that X and Y are the same person. This will help us with introducing the idea of likely, probable and possible matches.
This structuring work is absolutely at the heart of creating a name interface, and enabling researchers to look up ‘James Watson’ and then potentially go in many different directions through the connections, finding ways that archives may be related. But it is really challenging. We will not ‘get it right’. Even if we had really substantial resources and time, we could not make it perfect. Archivists, as information professionals, are keen on ‘getting it right’, which is usually a good thing; but pulling together information using names created over decades, by thousands of cataloguers, in different systems, without a clear standard to work to….it ain’t ever going to be perfect. The key question is, whether this will substantially enhance the researcher experience and allow new connections to be made. And whether it will enable us to create connections outside of the archives domain. We have to have a change of mindset to accept that it is not perfect, but it is still hugely beneficial to research.
Just to emphasise the variation in data that we have, here are some EAD names, given as they are structured. They are all fine displayed within a description, suitable for a human reader, but they create challenges in terms of name matching. When you look at these, you have to think of the structure and semantics – essentially, how can we write an algorithm that allows us to truly identify the person (or that they are not a person!):
<persname>Barron, Lilias Mary Watson (b1912 : science graduate : University of Glasgow, Scotland)</persname>
<origination label=”Creator: “><persname role=”author”>Name of Author: various </persname></origination>
The last one was actually taken directly from VIAF and imported into the Archives Hub, which is, in principle, a really good way to create a structured name. Unfortunately, the process of pulling it into the Hub using the VIAF APE did not go quite according to plan. VIAF has just the same challenges as we do – there will be structural mistakes. However, it has the VIAF ID, so funnily enough, it is easier to match than many other names.
Many of the above examples are names added as archival creator names (‘origination’). Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for cataloguers to add creator names in a very unstructured way. The old Archives Hub Editor used to encourage this, and most archival systems have a free text field for name of creator. (Now, our Editor structures the creator name and adds it as an index term – so they are both identical).
We are currently looking at the challenge of matching origination name with the index term within the same description. That may sound like an easy task, but very often they are really quite different. For example, for the name of creator you may get:
<origination>Name of Authors: various but include Reverend<persname role=”author”>Thomas Frognall Dibdin</persname>,<persname role=”author”>Richard Bentley</persname>,<persname role=”author”>Philip Bliss </persname>and<persname role=”author”>Frederick James Furnivall</persname></origination>
This is nicely structured, so that it is easy to see that they are separate names, although the lack of life dates makes unique identification more difficult. If these individual names are also added as index terms, then we want to create just one entry for e.g. ‘Thomas Frognall Dibdin’ – we don’t want two entries for the one name (taken from the ‘origination’ and the ‘controlaccess’ index area) that both represent the same archive collection.
A common pattern is something like:
<origination label=”name of creator:”>Frances Dennis</origination>
‘Frances Dennis’ as a name string is very likely to be a match with ‘Frances Mary Dennis b1847 missionary’ when it is within the same collection. If these two entries were in different descriptions, we would not match them.
Our pre-match structuring will go a long way to increasing the number of matches, and hence the intellectual bringing together of knowledge through names. Matching creator name and index term name will reduce the amount of duplication. The framework will be tweakable, so that we can constantly review and improve.
Over the past few years at the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, we have been working towards digitising parts of our collections in order to provide open access to them online. Our digitisation has been focussed on small, self-contained series of nineteenth-century periodicals and pamphlets from The Salvation Army’s early history. We envisaged these digital collections not only as ways of allowing more people to use and enjoy the material, but also as places where we could put the historical material in context and provide other helpful tools like indices and research guides. As they represent only tiny fraction of our holdings, these digital collections were never intended to be a substitute for accessing our collections in person. However, when in March 2020 we had to close to the public and limit our own access to the archives due to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they unexpectedly became one of the few ways we had of keeping ourselves and others connected with our collections.
Three of the digital collections that we have created so far have now been added to Archives Hub as Online Resources. They are all still works in progress that will continue to grow as we are able to add to them, but this feature provides an introductory overview.
The Darkest England Gazette
In October 1890 — just over 130 years ago — The Salvation Army’s founder William Booth published what is probably his best-known and most influential book, In Darkest England and the Way Out. Planned and researched in under a year while his wife Catherine was terminally ill and released just weeks after her death, the book was penned with substantial assistance from the journalist WT Stead, a family friend and supporter of The Salvation Army’s work. Taking inspiration from the title of Henry Morton Stanley’s In Darkest Africa, published earlier the same year, In Darkest England described the social landscape of the United Kingdom as it had come to be seen by Booth over the course of 25 years of directing The Salvation Army’s evangelistic and social work among people living in poverty.
Booth estimated that a tenth of the country’s population experienced conditions of such extreme misery and destitution that it had become impossible for them to improve their lives without assistance. He called these people ‘the submerged tenth’ and the striking and colourful frontispiece of the book (the work of an unknown artist) shows them struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent sea as waves of hardship (unemployment, starvation, drunkenness, want and sin) crash over their heads. The book set out Booth’s grand plan for rescuing them, which would form the basis for The Salvation Army’s social work going forward. The overarching idea was to reverse the urbanisation that Booth saw as being at the root of so many contemporary social problems by creating a system of ‘colonies’ which would provide shelter, work and support. He intended that people progress through these in a landward direction, starting off in the ‘City Colony’ before moving to the ‘Farm Colony’ and then ultimately to the ‘Colony across the Sea’ where, in the dominant imperial view of the time, open land was considered plentiful and available for the taking.
In Darkest England sold exceptionally well—its first print run sold out on the day of publication and two more editions were printed by the end of the year. Although the reception from readers was mixed, it succeeded in providing the finance and impetus for the rapid expansion of Salvation Army social work and the establishment of many of the institutions Booth had envisaged. The Darkest England Scheme, as The Salvation Army’s organised social work became known, had far-reaching and lasting effects on both The Salvation Army and wider society that have recently been explored in a new anniversary publication, In Darkest England 130 Years On (London: Shield Books, 2020). At the time, however, the Scheme’s objectives and achievements were reported in a weekly newspaper called The Darkest England Gazette which is the subject of one of our digital collections.
The Darkest England Gazette ran from 1 July 1893 to 16 June 1894, after which it continued under the new name The Social Gazette. The Social Gazette soon adopted a smaller, cheaper 4-page format, and it continued to be published in this form until 1917. All 51 issues of The Darkest England Gazette have now been digitised and a growing selection is available online. The digital collection also includes a series of research guides that offer brief introductions to prominent themes from the Gazette which include some quite surprising subjects from animal welfare, vivisection and vegetarianism to poetry and popular fiction.
The Christian Mission
The Salvation Army counts its age from July 1865, but its current name was not adopted until 1878. For most of the first 13 years of its existence it was known as The Christian Mission. The Mission grew out of the East London Special Services Committee, a group of Christian businessmen who did evangelistic work in the east end of London. William Booth, a former Methodist turned independent evangelist, first had contact with this committee in June 1865, when he preached at a meeting organised by them at the Quaker Burial Ground in Whitechapel. Within a short time, he had been asked to give permanent leadership to their ministry and over subsequent decades, grew it into an international movement.
From October 1868, the Mission began publicising its work by means of its own monthly magazine, which ran until it was superseded by the well-known War Cry in December 1879. This magazine is one of the most important surviving sources of information about the early development of The Salvation Army and its expansion from the east end of London throughout the UK. We have now put many issues online alongside a selection of other documents produced by the Mission.
As our other digital collections show, since its earliest days as the Christian Mission (and even before), The Salvation Army’s leaders and members have been prolific publishers, not only of periodicals and books, but also of various forms of pamphlet. One of the earliest in our collection is an 1870 edition of Catherine Booth’s treatise Female Ministry, or Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel, which is a revised version of her 1859 pamphlet Female Teaching. No known copies of the first edition survive but a second edition of her original text dating from 1861 survives in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University. Catherine’s views shaped The Salvation Army’s position on women preachers, whose equal status with their male counterparts has been written into the organisation’s constitution since 1870.
This pamphlet and more than seventy others are now accessible online in our Rare Pamphlets Collection, covering a wide variety of subjects from slum ministry and social work, to international missionary work, to biographies and songs.
Ruth Macdonald Archivist & Deputy Director The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre
High up on a sheltered, well lit corner of a wall in an outbuilding at Cotesbach Hall can be deciphered a faint scribbling entitled ‘TOTAL TATERS 1920’ .
The unmistakeable hand of Rowley Marriott (1899-1992) can be discerned listing the weight of potatoes yielded from each of three areas in the walled garden, to a total imperial equivalent of 1,238 kg, nearly three times what we considered to be an exceptional yield this year, 420kg. Struggling out of the war years, the family having lost two sons on the bloody fields of Flanders and then Father who died of grief in 1918, this harvest would have been no mean feat, and their circumstances many times more challenging than ours. What may seem a trivial detail holds spine tingling resonance for us, a most tangible, personal connection to the people who lived here before us. It was a remarkable harvest a century ago, otherwise the result would never have been written on the wall.
We are very fortunate that the Cotesbach Archive preserves a mine of documents which enable us to piece these stories together connecting people to place, and to wider context. Rowley was one of seven brothers whose boyhood was filled with occupations such as collecting birds eggs  and following the hunt, through which they learned to know and love the countryside around, the names and characteristics of each field and spinney.
They stepped up to the challenge of vegetable production when the war came along with a spirit of novelty and competition which shows through in Rowley’s letters from his brother Michael, who nicknames him ‘My dear old Parsnip’, signed ‘Your blasted Broccoli’, describing to some extent what and how they were growing. Yet the yield from an initial search on ‘harvest’ in the archive catalogue is sparse: Mother (Mary Emily nee Peach 1862-1934) writing to their elder brother James ca 1914, along with reporting on the tenant farmer’s arable harvest mentions that: ‘Potatoes are being taken up, so there is plenty to do in the garden’ [3, understatement!]. So often, the commonplace is un-remark-able.
Engrossed in cultivation as we have been this year, we are curious for more knowledge of traditional cultivation methods, management, storage, diet. Did they only eat potatoes, and game? Detective work into estate maps, periodic reports, receipts and correspondence will gradually reveal more, but the very absence of everyday detail is an indication of social change. Families of landowners who had previously relied on farm labourers were undergoing hardship themselves and stepped into vegetable production when it was needed most. There were mouths to feed at Cotesbach Hall, 11 residents recorded in the 1911 census, 19 a generation earlier in 1861 out of a village community of 186 (108 in 1911). Harvest time is backbreaking work, dependent on the weather, sadness at the end of summer mingled with celebration of work well done.
It was a way of life, the annual round, which for a scarcely educated farmer would involve attending Sunday church, with its diet of interminable sermons. One such work of Rev. James Powell Marriott delivered for Harvest Thanksgiving on 6th October 1864 warns repeatedly of God’s ultimate harvest of souls and His Almighty Hand which could wreak revenge just as blessing to the crops, implying the villager’s conduct would make a difference, whilst rays of light pouring into the nave would have only reminded him of work to be done, and his disappointment that the Wake or Harvest Festival had been cancelled due to villagers’ overindulgence in previous years. We empathise with that, yet also wonder at the change in values and ideologies, in these days of locked down pews, witnesses as we are of a Faustian reality where humans have induced climate change wreaking havoc with weather patterns, and the need to build and rebuild skills, knowledge and science of the environment which is greater than ever before.
When we agreed to do a slot for the Archives Hub this time last year, the world was a very different place, with our plans to take on four MA students from Leicester University for their summer placements getting under way, the results of which would have provided displays for Heritage Open Days and content for this article. Everything changed with lockdown, yet in all four areas we have made progress, enabling us to be even better placed for next year’s students. Additional HLF funding has brought forward the task of solving the question of migration of our Item level records to the Hub, which involves adopting CALM software, instead of MODES. Back in 2008, the latter seemed the most suitable match for our holistic approach to heritage, our overall aim being to preserve not only the archive but the material culture and books belonging to past generations which retain associations and have already frequently been used as educational resources and display material for the CET. Each object, especially combined with document and imagination, is a doorway into history, into time travel, into discovery.
Our catalogue records need to be as versatile as any of these possibilities, not locked into proprietary arrangements, ensuring it stays relevant and dynamic for new generations. When harvest time comes for our crop of catalogue records it is hoped that the yield will be plentiful, its quality sound, that it will reflect diversity over monoculture, the commonplace and the extraordinary – that there will be much to celebrate and fertile ground for new seed to be sown – starting with new placement proposals for summer 2021.
This year has made us more attuned to the unexpected, more likely to see things with fresh eyes. And so, returning to the most wonderful subject of potatoes, this Smith’s Crisps tin suddenly came into the spotlight, from a dark corner containing bits and pieces roughly where it has sat since the 1930s . My retro-hope is that after all the loss and drudgery, Mother experienced the pleasure of a ‘dainty and appetising’ potato crisp before her day of reckoning.
Sophy Newton Heritage Manager (Hon) Cotesbach Educational Trust
Records of the Marriott Family of Cotesbach, 1661-1946 on the Archives Hub
Firstly, an apology to those who commented. I was on a temporary machine for a while and didn’t get the notifications to approve the comments. I really appreciate feedback! And we need to think about this whole topic as an archive community.
Secondly, I wanted to pick up on some comments:
“If cataloguing archivists have access to a central pot of name authorities we are more likely to spot and re-use existing authority entries. So if one archivist identified Elizabeth Roberts 1790-1865 (artist) with a little potted biography which placed her in Penge, then a later archivist finding material from Lizzie Roberts in Penge in 1850s is much more likely to put 2 and 2 together manually”
In fact, one of the potential developments from the work we are doing is an interface specifically for cataloguers. The whole issue of ‘match’, ‘probable’ and ‘possible’ is tricky to present to end users, but relatively easy to present to cataloguers to help with creating names that will successfully be connected. So, we are bearing that in mind as a future development.
“When I looked at the list of names used in this article I thought ‘someone just doesn’t know what to include to properly describe a name”
Yes…I think that sometimes, when I am thinking about how to reconcile the massive variations and how to work with the lack of structure. But then I remember what it was like (when I was a proper archivist) to catalogue within time constraints. And I also remember that I am someone who spends half my life thinking about data! In addition, the point is that with archives it is perfectly valid to enter a name such as ‘Julia (fl 1976)’ because that is what you get from the item you are cataloguing, and nothing more. Maybe you could undertake research to find out who that it, but that would extend the time it takes to catalogue by days, if not weeks and months. For a researcher, this might jog something in the mind and lead to a connection being made. Something is better than nothing. For me, the entries that are rather more frustrating are names such as ‘various’ or ‘Author: various’, or ‘James MacAllister and various’ because these just aren’t names. However, many of these entries were probably created in a time when semantically structured data was not so important.
“The other way of dealing with this is to leave the final decision up to the end-user.”
Yes, this is a fair point. In our current thinking, the idea is that we have levels of confidence that we present to the user, and that allows them to make the decision. But we still need to think carefully about how to do this in a way that most clearly conveys meaning. The most difficult thing is to convey that even though you have linked several collection descriptions to one name, other name strings may also be a match. But at the end of the day, there is always the issue that decisions you make around the navigation and options provided to end users means they are likely to exclude some relevant results. A subject search will exclude any archives not indexed with that subject. Do you therefore dispense with a subject search? (More in this in future posts, as machine learning may present us with new tools to create subject entries).
Since my last post we actually hit the point of ‘blimey, this is just too difficult’. We really weren’t sure we were going to make this work, given the tremendous variations and, in particular, the lack of structure.
However, we have hacked our way through the undergrowth to create a path that I think will fulfil many of our aims. There is so much I could say, if I got into the detail of this, but I will spare you too much discussion around EAD and JSON structure!
A good part of the last few weeks from my point of view has been clarifying the thinking around what is required when processing names. I came up with the idea of the ‘4 pillars of names’.
This refers to comparing and grouping names.
Matching does not require us to know if it is a person or an organisation or to know anything about meaning at all. It is simply a process to group names. So, ‘D J MacDonald’ could be a company or a person. The question is, does that match ‘David John MacDonald’ or ‘D J MacDonald, manufacturers, Carlisle’?
Matching is therefore also about levels of confidence. It is about saying ‘D J MacDonald b.1932’ is the same as ‘D MacDonald b.1932’….or not.
Matching may also mean matching a creator name and an index term within a record. For more on this, see below.
Name meaning is about whether it is a personal, corporate or family name. Many creator names are just ‘creator’. There is no tagging to distinguish the type. Index terms have to have a type, but matching them up to creator name is not always easy. See more on that below.
3. Search behaviour
What happens when the user clicks on the name? Previous posts have presented our ideas for this. Whilst we are not yet ready to develop an end user interface, the options that are available to us for display are necessarily constrained by how we process the data. So we do need to think about this now.
How we display a name record, or a name page. Again, not something we are focussing on now, other than to think about the sorts of features that we want to include.
* * *
Our discussions have been characterised by ‘one step forwards two steps backwards’, which can feel a little dispiriting. But we believe we have now sorted out the approach we need to take. I have spent a lot of time working collaboratively with Rob Tice from Knowledge Integration, unpicking the (many and varied) challenges in the data and as a result we’ve agreed an approach that we believe will produce the data that we want.
So, this again consists of 4 parts – a 4-step process that covers matching and meaning.
Matching within a collection description
We need to try to match the creator name to the index term, if we have both. This is the first step in the workflow. To do this, the processing needs to identify names within one collection (each name needs to be attached to a collection via a reference).
Taking the description of the Caledonian Railway Company as an example (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb248-ugd008/7andugd8/38). The name appears as:
We want to create one entry for these names that we take forwards into the de-duplication process. In this case, the names are all marked up as corporate names. But in many cases the creator is not marked up in this way. We need a process to match these entities to say that they are the same. This is about applying matching at the level of one collection, rather than across collections. When you apply it to one collection, you can decide to make more assumptions. For example,
Creator: Dorothy Johnson Index term: Johnson, Dorothy, 1909-1966, Researcher into theatre history
This creator is not marked up as a personal name. If we worked with these entries in our general de-duplication, so that they were not associated with one particular collection, we could not say they are the same person. Indeed, we could not identify ‘Dorothy Johnson’ as a person, only as a creator. The relationship of these two entries would get lost. But within one collection description, we can make the assumption that they represent the same thing.
If we make this the first step we can remove many of the creator-as-string names from the processing – they will already be matched to a structured index term.
2. Structuring data
This is a process of following rules to structure data. Many names are not structured. PIDs (persistent identifiers) can by-pass this need for consistency, but at present the archive community barely uses recognised identifiers. I have posted previously on name authorities and structure. So, anyway, to introduce a bit of EAD, you might have:
<persname><emph altrender=”surname”>Nightingale</emph><emph altrender=”forename”>Florence</emph><emph altrender=”dates”>1820-1910</emph><emph altrender=”epithet”>Reformer of Hospital Nursing</emph></persname>
If we can process the first entry to give the kind of structure you see in the second entry that enables us to carry out de-duplication, and we have a much better chance of matching it to other entries. This is decidedly non-trivial, and we won’t be able to do this for all names.
This is the process outlined in the blog post on de-duplication at scale . Once the other processes are in place, we are in a position to run the de-duplication process, and start to try out different levels of confidence with matching.
A working example: George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (gb97-photographs) matches: Shaw, George Bernard, 1856-1950, author and playwright (gb97-photographs)
apply rule: if it includes YYYY-YYYY and the preceding words include a comma then the first entry is a surname and the second entry is a forename apply rule: YYYY-YYYY is a date apply rule: words after YYYY-YYYY are additional information
Creates: Surname: Shaw Forename: George Bernard Dates: 1856-1950 Additional information: author and playwright
The structured entry matches a name from another description:
So, we are now in the process of implementing this workflow. The current phase of this project will not allow us to complete this work, but it will lay the foundations. Of course, we’ll find other challenges and issues. We still don’t know how successful we will be. There will definitely be names we can’t match and we can’t identify as personal or corporate. But then it is down to how we present the information to the end user.
I called this post ‘A 4 year old in red wellington boots’ because in her comment on the previous blog post Teresa used that as a metaphor for how we can think about data. We need to explore, to play with data, to search and discover, to not mind getting dirty. It is easy to get stressed about not getting everything right; but we need to jump into the puddles and just see what happens!