North Devon Athenaeum: Chasing themes for #Archive30

#somethingscary at North Devon Athenaeum. #conservationnightmares shared as part of #Archive30 on Instagram.

A small library and archive, our current incarnation, the North Devon Athenaeum, was founded in 1888 as a privately endowed trust to be a free library and museum for Barnstaple and North Devon. Our predecessor, the Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institute was formed in 1845.

Since 1988, we have made up one third of the North Devon Athenaeum and Local Studies Centre and North Devon Record Office. The Record Office is run by the South West Heritage Trust (SWHT) and the Local Studies Library by Libraries Unlimited South West.

We’ve been taking part in #Archive30 since 2018 on Twitter @Baurm_Athena, and on Instagram @barumathena and Facebook @BarumAthena since 2019 – scheduling software is a wonderful thing!

While my friends in the SWHT in Somerset break out their spreadsheet and start asking their colleagues for ideas each year, I break out my trusty diary, social media notebook, iPhone and pencil and start planning what to do for each theme. It is at this point you can guarantee several things will happen. That fantastic idea you had for a theme they did last year isn’t included this time round (anyone else thought of building a fort of empty archive boxes for #archivebuilding?). That thing that always happens (books magically re-shelving themselves upside down or out of number order) doesn’t happen. That book, document, item you fell over last week which would have been perfect for a theme, you forgot to write the reference down and now can’t find (see our #ArchiveAdvice about writing down the references of anything you come across!), and for once you can’t find a rusty paperclip, dried up rubber band holding something together for #ConservationNightmare or #SomethingScary to save your life! Serves us right for being too good and finding and removing said horrors from the collections I suppose.

This year, however, I was a little more prepared. Since last year I’ve been on the lookout for scary conservation related occurrences and made sure I took photographic evidence. When the Archivist in the North Devon Record Office was dealing with a new collection which came complete with rusted paperclips I asked if I could keep a few for educational purposes, they now sit in a bag of shame in my desk. When the Record Office had another collection come in complete with (gulp!) rusted staples, I made sure to take photos of the poor Archives Assistant painstakingly removing them. I think he would have been quite happy to never see another staple ever again! When I was looking for a book for #SomethingSmall for Explore Your Archives week and discovered someone had decided to repair the binding with Sellotape, out came the trusty iPhone to document it before the poor book was given a little appropriate archival TLC. Finally, I went to the one place left in the collections I had discovered which seemed to be breeding rubber bands and took my trusty iPhone with me again, before putting a plan in place to deal with the things forthwith.

Many of the images were used as part of the Explore Your Archives Week themes, to great effect and it was after the posts had gone out, I discovered one of my predecessors at the Athenaeum had at some point in the not-so-distant past used blue tac to display a collection of watercolours by one of our former trustees, Bruce William Oliver (argh!) Out came the iPhone and a photo taken for a future campaign and subsequently added to my little collection of conservations horrors. So, when this year’s themes for #Archive30 came out at the beginning March included #SomethingScary I had the perfect opportunity to use all those conservation nightmares again and add the latest example.

The only time I didn’t have my trusty phone with me, however, was when I was arranging for our Portfolio Collection to be sent to the conservation studio in Exeter for repackaging and realised just how attached a former librarian had been with another scary conservation nightmare…the glue stick!

Thankfully I did remember to take a photo of the empty shelves the collections usually sit on while we wait for the return of the, hopefully unstuck, collection for our #ConservationWin theme.

Time for some well-earned #FoodAndDrink in the form of some #ArchiveCake I think.

Make sure to follow the #Archive30 hashtag on social media!