Archives and GDPR

Not another GDPR training event I hear you say!  But this one was different; it focused purely on the archive activities of an organisation (not the operational side) and the relevant exemptions for that activity, then how archives were actually putting it into practise in reality.

The main presentation was thanks to The National Archives with Susan Healy and Kevin Mulley giving a whistlestop guide through articles, recitals and safeguards….  The key term was “Archiving Purposes in the Public Interest” helpfully abbreviated to the cheerful sounding “APIPI”

They aimed to reassure pointing out that:

  • archives were not the main “target” of GDPR
  • it is an evolution not a revolution
  • many of the requirements are already embedded in our ethical practise
  • The ICO Commissioner was once an archivist herself and therefore understands!
  • And TNA has produced a helpful guide available here to help.

The importance of documenting your decisions rang through the day, repeated by every speaker and to think in GDPR terminology to articulate your thoughts.

It was slightly bizarre to discover that special category data is actually simpler to handle than standard personal data in archiving terms as there is an explicit provision for APIPI in the articles.  Very strange!

The actual usefulness of GDPR was also noted as a way to show the importance of cataloguing in order to be compliant about making it easier for a data subject to find out what data you have about them.

It was fantastic to hear from Stefanie Davidson from the West Yorkshire Archives Service about how she has handled GDPR in a real life (extremely complicated) situation and her tips and also her remaining questions.  It is also reassuring to hear that even someone who clearly knows so much about the subject is still amending and developing her paperwork and guidance documents.  She made GDPR entertaining – which everyone would agree is quite a challenge….

We also heard from James Courthold from the British Library about the problems with GDPR and oral history.  His major take home message was “don’t use consent as your lawful basis!”  He also recommended planning time and budget into your project for DP issues including initial assessments and sensitivity reviews after your recordings.

The day left me thinking about how many of my archives do cover living people (or assumed to be living if less than 100 years old and I don’t know otherwise) and the need for more documentation from those donors.  Some popular archive material relating to the 1984/5 strike will need to be re-evaluated not just for the donor’s personal data but for the personal data relating to other living people which may be contained within the files.

Thanks to the North East Archives Partnership and The National Archives for providing this event free of charge.


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“Passive Aggressive” – much more than a great conference title….

Like many people in the cultural sector, I relied in BS5454:2000 for guidance on all the conservation and environmental issues that simply weren’t covered in a librarianship MA. Having concrete rules about temperature and RH were initially incredibly reassuring but then increasingly incredibly frustrating….

In an 1870s listed building it was unlikely we could ever meet these fixed point targets with such tight +/- constraints in a building without even thermostatic heating control let alone the capacity for cooling. Although, to be fair, the Victorians knew what they were doing with construction and despite not being able to achieve one exact temperature year round, the strongroom was generally about 18 degrees and about 55% RH. Yes, a bit of extra dehumidification is useful in wetter weather but the hugely thick stone walls do provide that natural thermal stability. No one has ever complained of feeling too warm in our ground floor!

When I first heard 5454 was changing, I was intrigued and everything I’ve heard so far about EN16893:2018 has been hopeful. Interestingly, all those environmental parameters we used to rely upon in 5454 have gone into an annex for guidance only and it’s all about annual averages. Now the recommended is an annual average of less than 18 degrees (with a warning point at 23 degrees) and generally not less than 13 degrees (with freezers for your acetate negatives.)
Hearing about the myths behind the original 5454 recommendations was fascinating. Chris Woods from NCS talked about the fear of “stagnant air” which was apparently thought to be full of toxic offgasses from the collections and therefore led to an obsession with mechanical ventilation to remove it. Previously they also focused on air movement to prevent mould (much better treated by dealing with the building problems leading to your high RH) and also to provide fresh air to remove co2 as in normal office situations. Yet stores are specifically exempt from building regulations which require 10% fresh air intake because they are not an “occupied space”. Do monitor your Co2 levels but even with normal retrieval visits, it shouldn’t be an issue was very much the message.
So if you take all these fears about stagnant air away, then you don’t need mechanical ventilation and you don’t need cooling to remove the heat generated by your ventilation! Already a much simpler plant set up for your M&E team.

The principle behind passive systems relies upon thermal stability and air tightness. Given that we are no longer trying to replace 10% of the air with fresh air, it is much easier to get the existing air to a consistent suitable temperature and RH instead of constantly battling the outside levels.  The terminology was “trimming” the RH on incoming air when humidity outside is higher than ideal.

Case study after case study described situations where expensive air con systems had been installed, only to discover that the building worked better with them switched off! Even in the recent hot summer, cooling systems were only triggered for a few days on these projects with good thermal stability and passive control which is remarkable.
To keep the carefully dehumidified air inside, Jonathan Hines (Architype) described using a small fan system just to slightly pressurise the space so that when the door opens the air goes out, not comes in. A simple solution which was certainly a lightbulb moment for me.
There was a strong message to keep boxing material and the importance of the protection this can provide but also the critical importance of putting monitors inside of those boxes to do your RH measurements not in the fluctuating open air. This is definitely something to factor into my pricing for a future environmental monitoring system and I will be adding it to the specification.
Almost all the speakers mentioned the basic reality that mechanised systems are subject to breakdown and failure. Chris argued that we as a sector have been naive to believe the notion (sold to us by suppliers and m&e consultants) that you can fit a system that will work 24/7, 365 from day one. It will need upkeep, repair and it will breakdown and require continual budget. We all know that is the reality and we all know of systems which have never worked from day one! There was description of water cooled dehumidification systems which simply cannot pull off enough water in summer and fail leading to regular mould growth every summer, yet the only close control alternative is DX gas chilled systems which are expensive and require high levels of maintenance.
There was a short discussion of fire suppression systems, however it was acknowledged that this could be an entire separate conference, but suffice to say that the new standard does not include them as mandatory and instead focuses on the assessment of risk. It can be that the vents required destroy the natural thermal capacity of a room. The concept of 4 hour fire barriers remains – and indeed should contribute towards thermal stability of the room.

All of this comes at a perfect time for the Common Room project which includes refurbishing our strong Room areas and doubling the size. Not surprisingly, the initial expectation from the team was to automatically install air conditioning and fire suppression to achieve BS5454 levels (and initially back in 2016 this is all we could ask for in the spec) but hopefully now that we have more information, and a new standard to support it, we can act in a more economical, more environmentally friendly way to both protect our collections and our planet (and our long term budgets!)

Many thanks to the team at the National Conservation Service for offering this conference and particularly for offering it outside of London and therefore making it affordable. Thanks are also due to Bruynzeel for sponsoring the refreshments too.
This training event was on Thursday 20th September 2018​ at the National Galleries in Edinburgh.

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Seven Stories Collection Department – CILIP NE Visit

I will freely admit that I am a Children’s fiction addict so visiting the Collection Dept store at Seven Stories has actually been on my to-do list for a while but I haven’t had a specific research “need” to feel I could justify the trip – especially as it would have to be in the working week.  So when CILIP NE committee were discussing possible places to arrange to visit, I felt this would be a great opportunity!

Paula Wride was kind enough to agree to give up her time to host our visit and show us some gems – and also the stacks!  It was lovely to see the original artwork and the archival treasures and I completely understand that this is, and should be, the focus of Seven Stories and their work.  This material is unique, irreplaceable and is what makes it a world class collection – but you need the final printed books too in order to understand why this artwork was created.  So thankfully they have a book collection too – although it’s not yet on the online archives catalogue so you have to know it exists from tours like these.  There’s around 35,000 volumes so it’s no small task to pop it all into even a basic listing never mind a detailed catalogue to help researchers.

As it’s a collection which supports a museum and archive, they have kept to an archival arrangement of stock; keeping collections together in terms of provenance rather than attempting to intershelve and alphabeticise – although I bet many of the Librarians in the group were dying to do that at times walking round- myself included.  I can understand the logic though considering the wider collection.  In some ways, these are simply part of numerous separate larger archival collection yet they can be shelved standing on a shelf without a box so you couldn’t possibly mix them up together.  It is also nice to see at a glance what different authors and organisations contributed as one collection which would be lost if they were swept into one alphabetical sequence.

My favourite sections were those which had come from libraries when they were forced to dispose of their “final copies” sets of books by various authors; often of a 70s/80s/90s era but also some earlier material as well.  I was really thrilled to see copies of the “Young Traveller” series – as described by Kay Whalley at Topsy Turvy conference in 2014.  I will definitely be going back to read some of those.  There were also various career novels which I would love to read and some reference books about children’s literature which would be fun to browse too.

I am determined to make time during the working week for a return visit to read!  I think I could probably be there all day…

Guide for researchers and other visitors to the Collection 2015

CILIP NE Visit 13/10/15

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Museums and Exhibitions

Whilst travelling about the country for conferences, I have to say I did manage to fit in quite a few museums and exhibitions as well!

Sadly in Oxford, nothing was open before or after the conference but I did manage to nip into the Ashmolean on the lunch break as it was so close – I loved this in the corridor though – one way to display them all!

image of lots of busts on a wall

I gave myself the whole of Sunday to enjoy exhibitions in London – and it was also Open House weekend – the equivalent of my own Heritage Open Days so I was sure there would be plenty to see.  I started off at my favourite of all – the V&A and their fabulous shoes exhibition.  I don’t pay to visit many exhibitions but I did feel this one was worth it.  Big enough to feel you had seen something but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.  I was in there just over an hour and I read all the captions!  I particularly liked the bit on the upper level where they displayed collections from different shoe collectors and how they store them – one woman had hers on bookshelves as decoration!  Lovely idea if you have pretty shoes.  Another wonderful feature of the V&A is their cloakroom – it made such a difference to viewing this that I could leave my suitcase behind and it’s not even a charge – it’s a suggested donation.

As it was Open House, I moved on to the beautiful Institut francais du Royaume-Uni, nearby on Queensbury Place.  I love art deco buildings anyway, but art deco with a library is even better!  This is the outside – brick in a street of Georgian stonework with lovely detailing

Institut Francais external shot

Then inside:

Inst Fran (4) Inst Fran (3) Inst Fran (1)

Truly gorgeous.  And open to the public for non-members to use the reading room (free wifi!) in Central London.  Definitely worth knowing about.  Just to finish off a great trip, they were having a booksale downstairs – mostly in French but I got some lovely French Language copies of Spot for a friend’s bilingual son!

I went on to the Science Museum and their “Information Age” exhibition – as a Librarian, I really felt I ought to!  I did enjoy it – although seeing all the old radios and TVs made me think how much my Grandad would have really loved this exhibition.  I particularly liked the telephone exchange section – I would have liked to try putting in cables…  They should do a “could you have been an operator?” interactive test!


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CILIP Libraries and Information History Group annual conference

As soon as I saw the call for papers for this conference which was themed “Libraries and the Development of Professional Knowledge” I knew that the Mining Institute should be represented.  After all, it’s the focus of what we were created for back in 1852!

I applied and I was lucky enough to be invited to come and give twenty minutes on the MI and our collections.  It was hard initially to find a focus for a paper which was essentially an introduction but after some discussion with the organisers, I focused it around the men who created the collections and entitled it “In Lasting Remembrance” – a regular phrase from the Annual Reports.  If you would like to see my presentation, the slides are all on Slideshare and I’m also very happy to come and give this paper or versions of it at other events….  It was a lovely opportunity to do some research for myself rather than on a topic dictated by a researcher (recently this has been dust from coke ovens – 3000 pages of it….)

The other papers were very varied and initially I was worried that these papers were far more academic than mine!  Despite this I got a friendly reception from the other speakers and delegates and I hope some of them will call off next time they are in the North East and see it for themselves.  I was lucky that one of the other speakers, Martyn Walker, had not only visited but used our library in the past and he was vociferous in his support for our collections!

I particularly enjoyed John Tiernan’s talk on Librarians of the Mersey District which highlighted firstly how underpaid and undersung public librarians have always been and secondly how early women were involved at a very high level.  His description of their early meetings held in each Library and including a tour to show them off to their colleagues sounded very familiar even today….

The keynote speaker was Anthony Watkinson from CIBER talking about the history of journals and publishing.  I was intrigued to hear about the economics and the “80-20 rule” – only 20% of an academic publishing house’s journals will make any money – the rest will only break even!

I was also really enjoyed hearing Christine Chapman talk about “Building a Natural History Library” with the Willoughby Gardner collection including how they highlighted his collections beyond just supporting the work of the curatorial staff of the museum.

shelves at Pusey HouseThe location in Pusey House was beautiful as you would expect of Oxford, although smaller than I expected.  Our conference room was surrounded by shelves; many of which held boxes which read “miscellaneous pamphlets” – made me feel very at home!  Other elements were similar too – there was a confusing door entry system to rival my own in Newcastle and made me realise how offputting and confusing this must be to outsiders.




After lunch we got the tour of Pusey House including the beautiful Library:

PuseyLibraryWhich still runs on these:

Puseycards(Well, apart from a small selection of titles which have now been added to the main computerised Oxford LMS.)








At the end of the conference there was the option to go to the pub and chat, however I have to say that I got a better offer from Emma Jones who offered to take us round the Jesus College and see their Fellows Library.  I was very very tired (long trip, IBS plus 2 year old = 4 hours sleep) but I couldn’t resist.  I’m very glad that I went:

Jesus College Library Jesuscollege1  Jesusme


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NAG conference 2015

Conference comes round again so quickly!  September is also a hugely busy time for me with Heritage Open Days happening as well (498 visitors in 3 days since you ask, very good total for us…) plus another CILIP NE conference happening plus a CILIP LIHG conference happening the week after.  Never again will I agree to speak at three conferences in ten days!

NAG conference was additionally stressful in that it was firstly the biggest audience of the three but also, as well as speaking about the Seam Project and our Singer-Songwriter in residence, Gareth Davies-Jones, I was also singing with him.

Back when the Executive Committee had been planning this committee and someone said “ooh, Jennie, didn’t I read about your project in CILIP recently?” and I was destined to give a paper.  We then moved on to talk about the after-dinner entertainment.  We all agreed that the casino had been a great success last year and we wanted to do it again, but we would like to offer something to make it different.

casino table

[Thanks to @HeatherSherman for the casino pic]

So we added Gareth to the after-dinner programme to present some songs from The Seam project.  Now, I was delighted to be able to offer Gareth a (paying) gig, but I could see where this was going…  For the larger gigs as part of the project, Gareth had a backing band and even a choir sometimes but always a harmony singer.  I do sing in choirs and a band, however I do like some rehearsal time which, thanks to other problems and commitments, was a little lacking for this one!  I will admit that at the point where we performed, we had never sang “Practical Coal Mining” through together so I was very relieved that we made it to the end of the track successfully.  We did get to sing through the other songs once before dinner so that made me feel a little better!  I actually really enjoyed doing the Safety lamp song – Stephenson, Clanny and Davy – it’s a lovely harmony line.

I think a song as part of the paper was a great novelty for people – we certainly got some positive tweets about it – and it was certainly the best way to show off what the project achieved!   If you want to see for yourself, Gareth is touring with the Seam this autumn with gigs across the North – from Hett to Heighington and Newcastle to Stockport.  Get a free flavour of the tracks on Soundcloud or buy the CD (all of cover price goes to Library) on eBay!

people with pieces of string linking themOne huge bonus was that once the dinner was over, I could relax and enjoy day 2 of conference with the other delegates with no further pressures.  I really enjoyed Anne Welsh and Jenny Wright’s session on RDA – trying to explain the basics of levels and relationships to us courtesy of many cards and bits of string!  A really interactive workshop which was great.  I was also keen to hear from the Royal College of Surgeons Collections Review Project as it sounded like they were also dealing with a collection which included objects, books, archives and journals.  Their scoring system was really impressive (and detailed) and I could see it was impossible to achieve it in full without dedicated staffing as a project (as they are doing) but that elements of it, particularly in terms of measuring usage of an item, might be something I could take away and introduce into my work life.


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IKEA kitchens – lessons learnt!

Lessons learnt from installing an IKEA kitchen

1.  Get the direct number of your local store

The main switchboard customer care number is useless.  They are always “experiencing high call volumes at the moment.”  In my experience, the call is rarely ever answered at all and when they do, they give you the wrong information.  Your local store will have a direct number, then you just need the extension number for kitchens.  (IKEA Gateshead is 0191 4932021 ext 6402).

2.  Avoid July

The new IKEA catalogue comes out on the 1st August therefore July is chaos as old products get discontinued and new ones aren’t yet available.  We turned up at the store ready to purchase a hob only to be told that was now discontinued and the new one was home delivery only…  I will say, the home delivery was relatively quick but there was a fee for that!

3.  Buy two options

The main bonus of IKEA (well apart from the fact it’s about 50% cheaper than anywhere else due to sheer volume) is that you can buy it as you want.  Most places, you design it, sign to say this is it, then the whole lot gets delivered and you can no longer move in your soon-to-be-kitchen because of all the boxes!  So instead, we bought a few cabinets at a time*, took them home, assembled them and tried them in different places.  You can take back anything you don’t use so why not?  We got glass and solid doors in some cases simply because we couldn’t imagine how it would look in our room so we decided to try it out and see.

*granted this only worked because we live so close to an IKEA store.

4.  Buy the doors later

The doors are the easy bit to install.  They are also the expensive, easily damaged bit so instead of having them in a big vulnerable pile in the corner whilst joiners, electricians and plumbers invade your space, leave them at IKEA for a while!  You also only need one soft closer per door, not one per hinge as you might think….

4b  But don’t forget the legs….

Floor cabinets come with legs.  But they are sold completely separately so if you’re doing a large complicated order it is very easy to forget….  Fitting a kitchen legless is not recommended!  It meant an extra trip back on a day when it was really inconvenient so please do learn from my mistake on this one.

5.  Get a Family card

Not only does it give you free coffee Monday to Friday, it also insures your purchases against damage on the way home and even in assembly!  It makes it much less worrying putting something together.

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