Archive News December 2018

If you are a regular reader of our blogs, you may at some point have wondered how on earth a small handful of staff is supposed to conserve, sort and catalogue over 100 years of motor industry history (as well as a record number of donations in 2018) for the general public to enjoy. The honest answer is that we don't do this alone – we have the help of a small team of skilled and dedicated volunteers.

Volunteering in Archives and Museums has increased dramatically in the last few decades and the British Motor Museum is no exception. The organisation as a whole has a large number of volunteers and each applicant goes through an interview process before being inducted into whichever department they have chosen to work with. We currently have eight volunteers who work in the Archive, which is the highest number to date. Not only do they help with the physical work of collections care, they strengthen links with local communities and provide expert knowledge.

Who are our volunteers?

Some of our Archive volunteers have been with us for many years, while others have only joined us recently. Many have had previous work experience in the motor industry; others are simply interested in helping and learning new skills.

Our longstanding volunteers (left to right Colin, Oliver and John) have been working with us for fifteen years and more. As well as their time, they offer us vital skills and in-depth knowledge about various aspects of the Collections.

As we are archivists, not motor industry experts, we often rely on the specialist knowledge of our volunteers to organise the Archive Collections more efficiently. With a background in car sales and an extensive knowledge of all things British Leyland, Colin is the person to go to for odd and unusual questions. He knows a lot of people in the car enthusiast world and walking round with him on the Leyland/BMC show day at the Museum is sometimes like walking around with a celebrity! John is another of our experts, who was an Austin apprentice and then had a long career as an engineer at the Longbridge factory. He also runs a popular Austin website and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience into his work on our Longbridge collection. The third of our long-standing volunteers is Oliver, a former film editor and early motor sport enthusiast, who has been working to identify a set of very early uncatalogued glass negatives. He is always finding an interesting building or a fabulous hat for us to come and have a look at!

One of our new recruits, Pat, working on the repackaging of one of our oldest glass plate negative collections.

Several of our volunteers work on the re-boxing and re-sleeving of the glass plate negative collections which is one of our larger on-going projects. Glass plates were used right up until the 1960s, and they are less susceptible to deterioration than more modern negatives, unless of course they are broken which is an ever-present hazard. Most of them are still in their original boxes as they came to us from the factory, and many of these are in a very tattered state and are no longer suitable for the preservation of these unique images.

The task therefore involves carefully taking the glass plates out of very old cardboard boxes, putting each one into a special low-acid enclosure, transferring any information from the old to the new enclosure in pencil and finally putting it into an archive-friendly box which is resistant to UV light, variations in temperature/humidity and water damage. Considering we hold around a million negatives, each with its own unique number, the task is time-consuming and requires great attention to detail. Alec and Robin, who split their time between the Archive and the Museum, work alongside Pat on this project.

Volunteers can be a key element of special projects. When we won funding from the Archives Revealed programme earlier this year, Lyn and Les were recruited to work alongside the Project Archivist to sort and catalogue our Sales and Press collection.

Finally our latest project 'The Art of Selling', which is funded by a grant from the Archives Revealed programme, is focused on the sorting and cataloguing of the British Leyland Sales and Press Collection. This unique material has long been in a state of disorder and it is only with this grant money that we now have the opportunity to organise it and make it available to the public by creating catalogue which will be put online using The National Archives Discovery website at the end of the project.

The Archive team has therefore been joined by a Project Archivist, working with two volunteers dedicated to completing this project. Lyn has an excellent eye for detail. She is a whizz at organising and also very accurate at database work. Les used to be a marketing executive with Rover Group and made many donations to BMIHT during his career. As he spent many years creating much of this material, he is the ideal person to help us identify the many adverts, brochures and other paperwork which make up the Collection. The fact that the project is only funded for one year gives an urgency to the task. The rush is on to get everything done by the end of October 2019. A Project Archivist could not achieve this alone, it is only the help of our volunteers which will allow us to reach this goal and possibly help us to gain funding for similar projects in the future.

All our volunteers are essential – they help us in so many different ways and without them we would certainly struggle to do our jobs as efficiently. A massive thank you to all of them from all the staff in the Archive!

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