Cataloguing Photographs at The British Postal Museum & Archive


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A presentation given at the Archives and Records Association, London Region meeting on Monday 11th July, 2011.

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  • Attempt to ring fence the heritage from any future development plans with Royal Mail – i.e. privatisation.Royal Mail is our chief funder with income being generated from other revenue streamsWith potential privatisation being sought by the coalition, we’re looking to get the Trust’s revenue considered in any future privatisation act.
  • Royal Mail Archive – historic records of Royal Mail (Group Ltd) back to the 1670s.General Post Office – government department with responsibility for the Royal MailArchive is Public Record and the Royal Mail Archive has Designated status from MLA
  • Museum collection - The BPMA museum collection is of national and international importance. It is as rich and varied as the history of the postal service that it represents.Origins lie in the former National Postal Museum which was closed in 1999. Its collections were gifted to BPMA in 2004.The collection includes objects of all sizes, from handstamps, labels and telephone headsets our Mobile Post Office Vehicles and Travelling Post Office railway coach. It also includes non-Public Record paper material - related to the postal service but not created by Royal Mail Group - such as song sheets and postcards. 
  • Films – GPO Film Unit – custody of the BFIMuseum collection has a small collection of film material currently under appraisalOral history programmeGPO Photograph Library – part of the Royal Mail Archive
  • POST 118/677 - A postman delivers mail to members of the public at Gorleston-on-Sea holiday camp, 1937 – Gt. Yarmouth
  • POST 118/421 – A postman delivers mail to Dover Castle, 1935.1969 – GPO changed from Govt. Dept. to a private, nationally-owned company and the telecommunications business separatedGPO Photo Unit transferred wholly to the Telecoms Division – separated from Postal DivisionA separate library established by Postal Division to maintain existing photographs and new postal photographic commissions Peter Howe and Ann Fitzgerald employed to maintain libraryLibrary maintained as a contracted service which billed departments for work carried outThe Photo Unit continued to carry out work as part of the Telecoms Division and, later, when it was established as BTPhotograph Library slowly drew together collections from different departments though not all departments participatedThe Photo Unit continued to carry out work as part of the Telecoms Division and, later, when it was established as BTPhotograph Library slowly drew together collections from different departments though not all departments participatedPeter Howe made redundant in late 1990s and the Library hastily closed – it had been based in 130 Old Street but collections were spread wide and far originally.Material at 130 Old Street was appraised and transferred to the archive in 2000.Not all material was transferred and the resulting collection was patchy and disorganised. There seems to have been a lot of confusion over the appraisal at the time and documentation is sparse.Photographs came to the archive in the storage they were kept in, typically large metal filing cabinet drawers, wooden lantern slide boxes, or records management boxes.
  • POST 118/169 & 172 - Mount Pleasant - official opening of new building, November 1934. Duke and Duchess of York – later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The buildings behind are still there too – the Fire station and neighbouring offices. You can still see the cobbled streets where the present-day tarmac has come away.
  • POST 118/70 -Messengers on motorcycles, 1934 – these were the first messenger boys on motorcycles – BSAs for those who’re interested. Oral histories of some motorcycle messenger boys in the collection – generally felt that to be paid for riding motorbikes was a dream come true, even if they were restricted to low-speeds.
  • Post 118/1360 & 1376 - Postwoman delivering mails in bomb damaged streets, 1942
  • POST 118/252 – postman on walk in Wapping, 1935 Down Wapping Way – contrary to the rural idylls seen in many PO Magazine articles – the journalist and photographer took readers on a far grittier tour of East London – looking at Wapping’s maritime history but also how the Post Office serves some of the poorest areas of the country.
  • Posting Air Mail letter outside King Edward Building First and Last Air Mail box. Short time span when these were available - about 2 years.
  • For a PO Magazine article titled “The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond” from 1935 – evoking Britain as a pastoral idyll – a comforting look at the charm of the British countryside and the Post Office’s place in the heart of British life.
  • The provenance on this image is really peculiar – It’s publicity department image that we think it was taken as part of the promotional push for Postbus services and it was taken in land owned by the Daleks’ creator Terry Nation down in Sittingbourne.
  • Approx 50,00 unique images but duplication pushes amount of material we actually have custody over to much higher.
  • Description always remains a problem – too little, too much?Context – our users? Can we interpret their needs? Analysis of catalogue search terms.Vehicles – interest in registration plates of vehicles in photographs – we’re going back through the catalogue to put them in where they are knownSpecial interests – varies – lots of special groups – specialist knowledge too. We don’t know as much about postal mechanisation as the Post Mech group so we have to tap into their knowledge to describe sorting office equipment and so on.
  • Engagement with communities via Flickr, blog and Friends events.Feedback – they contribute their own photographs to the groups we’ve set up.
  • Empire Mail Exhibition at Guildhall last summer – photographs were heavily used. Part of the Festival of Stamps.
  • Before I go any further, I’d better outline the parameters for the next part of my presentation. I’m going to describe the BPMA’s experience of describing its photographic collection. Please don’t take it as a guide or methodology to approach cataloguing photographic collections. Time constraints means that I’ll also be discussing our experience of cataloguing the original physical material – not digitised images or born digital images – the methods for cataloguing and the data elements in digital capture are fairly specific and comprehensive and we have no digital images in our collections.
  • The biggest difficulty here is choosing an appropriate name of creator (if you know the identity of the photographer) and the dates of creation.In describing photographs the greatest difficulties lie in: Identifying the subject Describing the subject Dating the subject Describing the creator Describing the medium Defining rights
  • Example from V&A catalogue – note use of materials and techniques field – also places and contextual elements are further qualified in brackets (date made), (photographer), etc.
  • Example from LSE Man and Cameraman project catalogue – note use of Photographic Type – needs knowledge of photographic processes and process identification in order to get it correct. I really like this catalogue.
  • An example from one of our earlier catalogue descriptions. You’ll see that we’ve concentrated on providing the more technical aspects in the description field. We provided details of the type of photograph and it’s orientation as the catalogue didn’t used to show the images – this is something that developed once I took over the cataloguing.
  • I think that, if you want to investigate further, there are 2 descriptive models that bearinvestigation:SEPIADES (Safeguarding European Photographic Images for Access) Data Element Set – EU funded project on preservation and digitisation.Multilevel description. Cataloguers determine the structure of the hierarchy and are free to create any number of levels and sublevels they require.Institute, collection, grouping and single item. The highest level in SEPIADES is the institute level. An institute holds one or more collections. A collection is a ‘group of objects that have been brought together by an individual or organization’. Every collection consists of one or more groupings. A grouping is an aggregate of physical images that could either be a subdivision of a collection or of another grouping. Every collection or grouping consists of one or more single items.Single item: visual and physical images. The scene visible on the photograph (‘visual image‘) is registered once and connected to all its various manifestations (‘physical images‘).Acquisition module. An acquisition register is integrated into the catalogue, to provide a direct link between the items and their acquisition so that the information can be easily checked.SEPIADES software tool. In close cooperation with the working group, the Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information Services (NIWI) developed a software tool to implement the model as formulated in the Sepiades report.VRA Core – Visual Resources Association:Not all data elements crosswalk to the common EAD metadata shema (i.e. the critical ones from a description of photographs point-of-view)
  • Sample record for a photograph described according to VRA Core – note the separation of description for the original image and the digital image that was taken of it.
  • Cataloguing Photographs at The British Postal Museum & Archive

    1. 1. Cataloguing Photographs at the British Postal Museum & Archive<br />
    2. 2. Introduction<br />What is BPMA?<br />The Photograph Collection<br />Origins<br />Content<br />What we’ve done with it<br />Cataloguing the Photographs<br />What we’ve achieved<br />Creating descriptions<br />
    3. 3. What is BPMA?<br /><ul><li>The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) is the public identity of the Postal Heritage Trust.
    4. 4. Charitable Trust established in 2004 to manage the public records of The Royal Mail Archive, and to develop access to the museum collections of the former National Postal Museum.</li></li></ul><li>The Royal Mail Archive<br />
    5. 5. Museum Collection<br />
    6. 6. Audio-visual holdings<br />
    7. 7. The Photograph Collection<br />
    8. 8. Origins<br />
    9. 9. Content<br />Main series of photographs brought under the library’s custody:<br />P-series – Publicity photographs taken for the Public Relations Department from 1934 onwards<br />Postal photographs went to the Library<br />Telecoms photographs went to the Telecoms Division (subsequently BT)<br />Other, smaller series from other departments<br />Material submitted from outside GPO - private donations<br />
    10. 10. Publicity<br />Photographs produced from 1934 for the Public Relations Department<br />Original photographers were from the Engineer-in Chief’s Department<br />Originally to provide visual material for newly published Post Office Magazine<br />
    11. 11. Publicity<br />
    12. 12. Publicity<br />
    13. 13. Publicity<br />
    14. 14. Publicity<br />
    15. 15. Publicity<br />
    16. 16. Publicity<br />
    17. 17. Other series<br />
    18. 18. What we’ve achieved<br />Approx. 2500 catalogue descriptions available<br />Approx. 2000 draft records in CALM waiting for release<br />4000 scanned (prints)<br />Approx. 4500 individual negatives and accompanying prints re-housed<br />Further discoveries at 130 Old Street premises<br />Parcelforce photographs accessioned in 2009<br />
    19. 19. Volunteers:<br />Kathryn, Anne & Julian have done the bulk of the cataloguing over the last 4-5 years<br />Kathryn and Anne have both gone on to complete postgraduate qualification and become archivists<br />Julian is currently working through large series of photographs from 1960s-1980s<br />What we’ve achieved<br />
    20. 20. What we’ve achieved<br />
    21. 21. What we’ve achieved<br />
    22. 22. What we’ve achieved<br />
    23. 23. What we’ve achieved<br />
    24. 24. What we’ve achieved<br />
    25. 25. Describing the photographs<br />Barriers to description:<br />Copyright<br />Paperwork no longer exists to ascertain copyright status<br />Photographers contracted to carry out work but agreements not kept nor contact details<br />Identification of photographer/copyright holder is even worse for the modern photographs<br />
    26. 26. Barriers to description:<br />Conditions<br />Poorly housed prints and negatives all over the store<br />Conservation survey has highlighted several areas of concern<br />How to preserve contextual links with re-housed items?<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    27. 27. Barriers to description:<br />Knowledge<br />No trained experts in photographic formats or identification<br />Lack of provenance for much of the collection – contextual details are very scant<br />Several interviews with former librarian has thrown up contradictions – memory fallible<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    28. 28. Catalogue description<br />No universally accepted standard for describing photographs – no ideal template out there for us to adopt<br />Depth of description variable – too much or too little – what’s appropriate at which level?<br />Flexible use of descriptive elements beyond basic ISAD(G) fields<br />Efficient and appropriate use of levels of description<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    29. 29. Descriptive elements:<br />ISAD(G) mandatory fields:<br />3.1.1 Reference Code<br />3.1.3 Title<br />3.2.1 Name of Creator<br />3.1.3 Dates of Creation<br />3.1.3 Extent<br />3.1.4 Level of Description<br />Description of photographs requires more elements than this<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    30. 30. Consider employing the following elements to employ:<br />Materials<br />Dimensions<br />Copyright<br />Photographic type (LSE Man and Cameraman project)<br />Subjects depicted (V&A)<br />Categories (V&A)<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    31. 31. Describing the photographs<br />
    32. 32. Describing the photographs<br />
    33. 33. Describing the photographs<br />
    34. 34. Other descriptive models to look at:<br />SEPIADES<br />Special elements:<br />Names/persons/photographer<br />Geographical location (with extra specification dependent on relation to photograph)<br />VRA Core<br />Championed by LOC and other organisations worldwide<br />Elements include:<br />Technique (The production or manufacturing processes, techniques, and methods incorporated in the fabrication or alteration of the work or image; e.g. aerial photography)<br />Worktype (Identifies the specific type of WORK, COLLECTION, or IMAGE being described in the record; e.g. black-and-white transparency, color transparency, etc.)<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    35. 35. Describing the photographs<br />
    36. 36. Links and resources for photographic description:<br />SEPIADES (<br />Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Reading Room (<br />VRA Core (<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    37. 37. Links and resources for managing photographic archives:<br />ICA Photographic & Audiovisual Archives Group Survival kit (<br />ICA, publications for archivists managing photograph and film collections (<br />British Library Preservation Advisory Centre (<br />Institute of Conservation (ICON), (<br />Describing the photographs<br />
    38. 38. The End<br />