MERL Village Fete

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Things have come a long way since my first blog post back in February about what we do in our work at MERL. No longer do we spend our days solidly cataloguing! In fact, it sometimes feels that a week goes by with hardly any cataloguing at all. So I thought I’d write a bit about some of the other things that we’ve been doing.

JISC Project

We’re working on a joint digitisation project with University College London, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), as part of Object Based Learning 4 Higher Education (OBL4HE). We’re digitising two things – 60mm negatives of objects in the collection, and documentation relating to 150 selected objects. This involves scanning and some basic editing in Photoshop. Our target is to digitise about 3500 negatives, and we’ve already done 3150, but we’re hoping to carry on and see how far we get – there are 23 boxes of these negatives in the archives, and we’re only on Number 7! We have a wonderful team of volunteers who have done most of the work on the negatives – Felicity and I only spend two or three hours each a week on it. If you’d like to get involved, take a look at our Volunteering page. Felicity and I started scanning the documentation last week and have already scanned 370 documents for 47 objects (there’s often a big chunk of letters and forms in each object file). Have a look at the OBL4HE blog to find out more about.

Me posing for my scanning negatives shot. It's actually quite a relaxing task.

Tour Guiding

MERL offers guided tours to visitors on Wednesday afternoons and weekends, so we’ve taken up the opportunity to be trained as tour guides. As well as practising the general museum tour we’ve also developed a project-focussed ‘Sense of Place’ tour which draws out connections between the displays and the work that we’re doing. We’ve already given our tour twice, but still need a bit more practise.

Felicity posing for her tour guide training shot. Here she's highlighting the regional differences in wagon design.

Bucklebury

As mentioned in earlier posts, we’re working with the Bucklebury History Group on various aspects of the project. Danielle has been enhancing the catalogue records for objects from Bucklebury, concentrating at the moment on the Wells Collection. Harry Wells was a handle maker working in Bucklebury for about forty years until 1950, and we have lots of his tools. I’ve been scanning the Collier Collection of glass plate negatives of Bucklebury. Phillip Osborne Collier was a commercial photographer and postcard publisher working in Reading from 1905. We have around 6000 glass plate negatives of photographs he took in Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire. The Bucklebury photographs were taken 1905–1960s – they’re beautiful and we’re hoping that the members of the History Group can help us pinpoint more exactly where they were taken. The History Group visited MERL a couple of weeks ago and we’re off to Bucklebury tomorrow for a guided tour to help us get to grips with its geography – there’s  Bucklebury, Upper Bucklebury, Bucklebury Common, Chapel Row, The Slade and numerous other places – and we need to understand how they fit together in order to catalogue them properly. Bucklebury History Group will be at the MERL Village Fete on Saturday 9 June, and Felicity, Danielle and I will be scanning photos of Bucklebury which could be uploaded to Historypin, so do bring any along if you have them. We’ll also be scanning your royal photographs to add to Historypin’s ‘Pinning the Queen’s History‘ page so bring those along too.

General work

We’re also getting to have a go at other curatorial tasks. This includes editing label text for our new exhibition, Our Sporting Life, which runs until 16 September, responding to enquiries, looking into possible acquisitions for the Museum, and supervising visits from researchers and interested groups. Felicity has signed up for various technical training courses as she’s rapidly becoming our technical whizzkid.

And finally…

And finally, we are still doing a bit of cataloguing, although at a considerably reduced rate. Danielle is focussing on Bucklebury objects, Felicity is cataloguing objects from particular cases which can be linked to QR codes and I’m happily cataloguing baskets.

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Just in case you weren’t listening to Radio Berkshire yesterday afternoon you can catch up with what Greta and I had to say to Bill Buckley on the History Hour. We talked in detail about A Sense of Place and discussed other ongoing projects at MERL. Go to http://bbc.in/HEQUOL – the interview begins at 1.06.55 and continues for several segments of the show.

Amongst other things, we spoke in more detail about Lavinia Smith and her collections from East Hendred, as well as some of the other ongoing digitisation work being undertaken at the museum – Rural Images Discovered and OBL4HE – and about the forthcoming MERL Village Fete, which sees the museum turn its attention to a fresh diamond jubilee theme. I say ‘fresh’ because MERL actually celebrated its own diamond jubilee in 2011, staging a 60th anniversary exhibition in collaboration with none other than the BBC. As the following image shows, yesterday’s broadcast on BBC Berkshire was the latest in a long line of connections between ‘Auntie’ and MERL over the years.

Live TV broadcast from MERL, May 1954

Live TV broadcast from MERL, May 1954

Turning my attention back to this year’s jubilee – that of HRH Queen Elizabeth – the museum is lucky enough to be linking up with HistoryPin once more as a result of this milestone event. MERL, of course, has previously partnered with HistoryPin on a project concerned with Pinning Reading’s History, and the Sense of Place project team will be working with them over the coming months to find new ways of making the museum’s artfactual collections accessible via virtual maps.

By way of extending these existing and ongoing links with HistoryPin, we’ll be using the Village Fete as a context in which to gather content for another place-related project that they are currently developing, which is concerned with Pinning the Queen’s History. Having been born within a week of the 1977 celebrations I am what is commonly referred to as a ‘Silver Jubilee baby’ and therefore have something of a soft spot for street parties and bunting. With this in mind (and just to show how all these things seem to tie neatly together) I’ll finish with a rather pleasing photograph that somebody posted on HistoryPin, which shows a Reading-based street party held around the time I was born.

Silver Jubilee Street Party Vine Crescent Reading, 1977

Silver Jubilee Street Party, Vine Crescent, Reading, 1977

I hope you enjoy listening to Greta and me on the radio and we both look forward to seeing you at the MERL Village Fete on Saturday 9 June 2012!

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