Over the last couple of years we have been working hard towards our goal to have an on-line browse-able catalogue of the library and archive collections: a recent and very exciting piece of news has now made this a very real and achievable aspiration. Beyond the Library Door – Sharing Books and Bindings is a three year project funded predominantly by the Heritage Lottery Fund but also with other matched funding including that from the Sackler Trust.
When I started working at the Cathedral nearly four years ago it quickly became apparent to me that one of the most transformative events for the library and archive collections would be a full collection management system or CMS for short. A CMS system is essentially a database of information about items such as books, documents and objects. The core aim of a CMS is to provide a browse-able catalogue of all the information about individual items in a database. However it is more than just a catalogue, it also allows us to record information about the condition of items and to track when and how they are used: all this ‘behind the scenes’ management capability will enable us to look after the collection better.
For many years the catalogue of the Cathedral’s archive collection consisted predominantly of three worn ring-binders of typed and hand annotated lists probably created in the 1950s and 1960s. These lists were not easy to use and in many cases were rather idiosyncratic – they were completely unindexed. The Library catalogue was also still in hard copy format comprising of a card index system and a printed catalogue published in 1880. The modern digital era had completely bypassed us. The CMS will enable us to record information about both the library books and the documents in the archive in a consistent and structured manner – it will be browse-able and searchable and will really open up the collections for everyone to see what we have. Our present library catalogue only records generic information about each book – the author, title and date of publication - as well as transferring this information into the CMS we will also add new ‘copy specific’ information such as the bindings of the book and information about the books’ previous owners.
So we are at the beginning of a very exciting phase in the library and archive’s history. Already as part of the project we have been very fortunate to recruit a professional librarian with rare books cataloguing experience and another archivist to assist with the cataloguing and care of the archive collection. Both Anne Dutton – our new Assistant Librarian - and Hannah Tinkler – our new Assistant Archivist - joined us at the beginning of November. The first phase of the project is for myself, Anne and other colleagues to decide on the CMS that is best suited to the needs of our library here and to oversee the installation of the system. Later next year we will start the task of importing and inputting the catalogue data as well as a programme of cleaning all the books.
The Beyond the Library Door project will also see us working in partnership with Sarum College Library advising them on the cataloguing and care of their rare books collection. We will also work with volunteers from the parish of St Mary’s Gillingham whose own parish rare books collection is deposited at the Cathedral. As the project progresses we shall run a number of talks, library discovery days and activities for young people so we hope that as many people as possible will be able to take part and to discover for themselves what lies ‘Beyond the Library Door…’
What else has been happening at the Cathedral library and archive over the last few months? In October for the very first time libraries across Salisbury got together to celebrate National Book Week. At the Cathedral we had over 1,000 visitors to the library in just two half days. A new book has been published by the Bibliographical Society – the culmination of 30 years research by David Selwyn in which the history and extent of Bishop Edmund Geste’s personal library of 1,200 books bequeathed to the Cathedral in 1577 has been painstakingly pieced together. During August on display in the North Transept was an exhibition based around the history of the spire in the 20th century. The exhibition together with a fantastic day of talks on 5 August was the culmination of our archive volunteer-led research project. Events such as this enabling us to share our history and its archive collection more widely often leads to new additions to the archive. As a result we now have in the archive additional images of the work by steeplejacks on the spire in 1950 and also what I believe is the earliest image of a workman on the spire. The photo which you can see at the beginning of this blog is of Arthur Elliot working on the Spire in 1937. I’m very grateful to Veronica Bateman, Arthur’s daughter, for allowing us to add a copy of this to our archive.