Wednesday, September 1, 2010

British Museum Archives

For anyone interested in archives, special collections or rare materials, the British Museum Archive is truly a shrine worthy of academic pilgrimage. Words fail when describing the depth and breadth of information contained in this repository, but I will try to do it justice. Our guide on this amazing experience Stephanie Clark, a museum archivist specializing in prints and fabrics and part of the British Museum's small archival team. The British museum has only had a full time archivist since 1973, and the archives themselves are split into eight collections: Coins and Metals, Prints and Drawings, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Greek and Roman, Middle East, Prehistory in Europe, Africa and Asia. In addition, the archives also houses records of meeting minutes and trustee notes from 1753 to today and are organized by governance, including historical staff records, financial records, trustee documents, exhibition notes and reading room applications from 1842 to the 1970's (Including T.S. Elliot and Karl Marx). The archive receives approximately fifteen requests a month, mostly related to the trustee collections. Many of the older volumes were bound on-site when the museum had a book bindery, though now such duties are outsourced.

In addition, the archives also hold the Book of Presents, which is an extensive compilation of all gifts and donations that the British Museum has ever received, including the donator's name, address, copies of the letter of thanks sent to them by the museum and letter books of correspondence. Furthermore, all of these records are backed up on microfilm to ensure preservation. Requests for this collection are often for information regarding the reason behind an object's donation, or for information regarding the donor themselves. They also have an extensive photo collection, including objects, former staff members, buildings, galleries and exhibitions. An interesting point of fact, no object can be given away once it has been received by the British Museum. In terms of digitization, the archives has its own ongoing project called BMImage which deals with images and reproductions of objects, as well as with any potential copyright issues which may arise.

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