The end of the project, but use of the Manufacturing Pasts collections is only beginning

I can hardly believe we have reached the end of the project.  I have just uploaded the last of the primary digitised materials (of which we have over 300), and the 58th and final learning resource (Terese has somewhat surpassed her initial estimate of 10 resources per theme!!) to the MyLeicestershire History website.

We have 17 different types of source material, from the normal (photographs, newspaper articles, maps) to the slightly more obscure (company building plans, and a few leaflets and an e-mail).

 Benjamin_Russell__Sons_Ltd_photograph_of_factory_c1960

The learning resources use a variety of formats, ranging from powerpoints and pdfs to Prezi’s and those for mobile  applications.  We hope that by providing this diversity it will enable people to engage with more of the resources.

prezi screenshot

The draft final report is almost complete, and will soon be accompanied by a video featuring members of the project team, these will be added to the website in due course.  The flyers have been disseminated, and the banner is about to be stowed away, although not for long…….

We will officially launch the collections at a Heritage Day conference organised jointly by Leicestershire Industrial History Society, The David Wilson Library and the

Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester, called Manufacturing: Past, Present and Future, which takes place on the 27th April 2013. 

In addition Terese and I will be running two sessions with local library groups (Leicester Central Library and Belgrave Library) in March, and I do not doubt that other opportunities to go out and talk to people will arise in the next few months.

If you are interested in learning more about the project and resources you are welcome to e-mail us manufactpast@le.ac.uk .  Otherwise, enjoy the materials and resources and feel free to make (non-commercial) use of them.

W36_ThreadCo_1 New_Byford_Factory_Abbey_Lane_Leicester Mawby_and_King_glass_factory_awaiting_demolition_1965

Digital archives v physical – can they co-exist?

As part of our dissemination and evaluation plan, the project last week became the topic of a New History Lab seminar, held here at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History.

Despite it being a Friday afternoon/evening, the event was well attended by the Centre’s staff and students alike, and after an introduction to the My Leicestershire History site by Colin Hyde, and an introduction to the project and the learning resources by Rebecca and Terese respectively, an active discussion ensued as to the merits and pit falls of digital vs physical archives.

The general consensus was that digital archives provide more convenient access to items which would otherwise require perhaps a great deal of research to track down, as well as a site visit, which you may recall were two of the main issues we sought to address in  our initial funding bid.

Reflecting on digital archives in general, the discussion generated a number of points:

  • It is useful for researchers to know whether the digitised items represent all or part of the physical archives from which they are taken, and therefore whether there may be more items of interest that can only be seen by going to the physical archive
  • Introductions and a background to the collections were essential to enable the researcher to get a perspective on the materials
  • Establishing a community about a digital archive.  Whereas with a physical archive there are usually fellow researchers present, and an archivist, this is often absent with a digital archive.
  • Maintaining long term sustainability.  Many digital archives are a result of time-limited funding and there needs to be a clear plan for sustaining the archive once the funding ceases.  This is less of a problem with physical archives as there tends to be a collections/archives policy in place to prevent them simply disappearing.
  • Quality of downloading.  To enable researchers to reuse the materials, it is essential that the quality of any material is retained when it is downloaded.

 All of these comments are important and relevant to the Manufacturing Pasts project.  We are already addressing the second point by adding an introduction to both the Skinner archive and the Local Record Office to our website, and taking on board point one, we have amended the text to reflect the fact that only some of the materials from the archives have been used in the project.

The issue of establishing a community (point three) led us to discuss the merits and feasibility of using Facebook.  When Terese held a straw poll of hands on Friday most attendees thought it would be beneficial for the project to have a Facebook page.  Despite using many other forms of social media (Twitter/this blog/Slideshare/Flickr) we have not been keen to create a Facebook page for the simple reason highlighted in point four, sustainability.

Despite the Library’s strategy incorporating digital scholarship and digital curation, the fact remains that once a project finishes, there will always be less support available to maintain a collection.  In terms of Facebook, we feel that this would not be something that we could easily maintain after the life of the project, and instead we feel that including links from our site to other websites of interest (other Facebook and Flickr community groups) will help researchers to get more up to date information on the topics we cover.

Of course, the Library has recently appointed a Digital Collections and Special Collections Manager, Simon Dixon, and this will provide some continuity and support for the MyLeicestershire site once the Manufacturing Pasts project officially ends in January 2013.  Our Project Director, Ben Wynne, also very recently wrote a blog on this very subject.

On the last point, relating to the quality of downloaded materials, regular readers of this blog will remember we do have a limitation in the quality/dpi of the items, due to the constraints of the OCR software we use.  Most items on the site are around 300dpi to overcome allow us to OCR the text, but the site does offer three different download sizes for Jpegs (all of which appear to be of decent quality), and PDFs also seem to retain their quality, despite their dpi reduction. 

It was incredibly useful for us to be present and involved in this type of debate, and to showcase our materials and learning resources, and I am glad that we are able to address the issues raised.

Buildings at risk – assessing and preserving Leicester’s heritage

I was delighted to see the BBC report this morning on the launch by English Heritage of the Heritage at Risk Register 2012.

As Terese and I have both commented in previous blogs, many of the buildings which form the focus of our Manufacturing Pasts project have suffered from a lack of care and attention, which has either resulted in fire damage or eventual demolition.

Take the Liberty Building, which was Grade II listed.  The council refused and approved various proposed changes to the use of the site over a period of 15 years, but due to a combination of break-ins and vandalism the building became derelict and, as develops at the time put it “more economic to demolish and replace rather than repair” (Leicester Mercury April 2001).  Our Liberty Timeline draws together the rise and fall of this factory, with photos, planning applications and newspaper articles testimony to not only the high regard in which the building was held, but also the state it was in before it was demolished. 

Another factory we have looked at in some depth was Corah.  Although to my knowledge never listed, this building has been partially occupied since Corah ceased trading, but there is clear evidence that some parts of the building remain exactly the same as when Corah left, with company publications, diaries and memos laying around inside, whilst outside there are smashed windows and graffiti.  See our flickr page for recent photos.  In April this year the building suffered extensive damage as a result of arson.

Our collection also contains items relating to Donisthorpe and Co.’s Friars Mill, another Grade II listed building included in our project, which has also succumbed to fire and graffiti after the owners went bankrupt and were unable to keep the building secure, and the photographs contained in our prezi Explore Historic and Industrial Leicester evidence the state of disrepair of the Frisby Jarvis Building.

I hope this move by English Heritage, tied in with Mayor Soulsby’s recent initiative on the ‘Story of Leicester’ will mean that more of Leicester’s industrial heritage can be preserved.

Collections update – new items added

I am pleased to say that we have made further progress on both our resource collections.  As I mentioned in my last blog, we decided to split the items we were producing into two collections to enable people to access the type of materials they needed quickly and easily. 

You can now find some of the learning resources we have produced to date in the Manufacturing Pasts – Learning Resources collection.   Some items, such as ‘A new factory in Leicester – Liberty Shoes’ have been released in multiple formats to enable as many people as possible to use and re-use them on different devices, although this has not been possible for all.  Additional resources and some aesthetic tweaks are expected in the next few weeks but we wanted to make available those created to date.

The other Manufacturing Pasts collection is now host to digitised materials from the Records Office.  There are a wide plethora of items, from photographs to employee handbooks, company minutes to letters, reports, brochures and magazines, all relating to the Corah, Liberty or Byford businesses. 

I had no idea how many times the Corah factory had received royal visitors until I saw some of these materials:  King George IV and Queen May (1918), Queen Elizabeth II (1958, Princess Margaret (1972) and Princess Anne (1985). 

For an interesting read, see the twenty-seven page fifty-seven point Corah Employee Handbook from 1954, which includes a one page contract to be signed by employees authorising deductions from their wages for Leicester & County Convalescent Homes Society, the Social and Athletic Club as well as the Save the Children fund.   Other points of note include fines for lateness, the forbidding of ‘unauthorised raffles’ and ‘trespassing’ (wandering from one department to another without a work related reason), and Corah’s ‘well equipped and up-to-date Medical Section’.

Welcome to Corah's Employee Handbook 1959

It is interesting to compare this with the 1959 edition of the handbook, Welcome to Corah’s where a map of the factory is now included, along with a recommendation that employees join a union as it ‘makes for easier and better industrial relations between the Company and its employees’.   An additional deduction for Dr Barnados Homes has been added to the contract of employment, a section on telephone calls is now included, and under-cover parking has become reserved for Management.  I note, however, that the company still provide a full-time attendant to make small repairs to employee’s cycles and motorbikes.  

These new items are well worth a look, so please go ahead, and tell us what you think.

Building Shared Heritages and new collections

Last weekend Terese Bird and I presented a workshop at a conference organised by Building Shared Heritages: Cultural Diversity in Leicester, which is a co-sponsored project at the University of Leicester.

There was a good turnout for the conference, and many people signed up for our 45 minute workshop, which we ran twice. 

Following a brief introduction to the project and a demonstration of the Manufacturing Pasts collection on MyLeicestershire History, we asked our attendees to go on and use the collection.  Although the time available was short, we were very kindly given some feedback on the project/collection, which suggested we disseminate information further (ie. via special interest groups and local societies), so we will try and publicise the project using as many avenues as possible. 

All in all people agreed that the resources were very useful and that they could make direct use of them, either in a personal or teaching capacity.  One attendee also said the project was similar to something he was working on, so it’s good to know that more people out there are now starting to think about preserving the historical documents and heritage in a digital format.

The slides for the workshop can be found on slideshare.

In a separate development, we have taken the decision to split the project outputs into two separate collections on the MyLeicestershire History site.  The digitised primary resources will remain on the Manufacturing Pasts collection, but the learning resources (OERs) will now be housed on a new project, entitled ‘Manufacturing Pasts – Learning Resources’.  We took this decision as we felt that the learning resources might get lost amongst the wealth of primary materials in the collection, and we wanted people to be able to locate and access them easily.

Although the new collection has already been created on the site, we have yet to upload the learning resources, so if there are any keen people out there who want to see some now, you will have look in the Manufacturing Pasts collection for the moment.