DIY Archiving – Presenting Collections

Yesterday there was an interesting conversation on Twitter on the subject of archiving and UK spoken word. This conversation was sparked by the work of Lunar Poetry Podcasts, and their work to archive their podcast series with the British Library. It was followed up with blog posts by David from Lunar Poetry Podcasts, and Katie Ailes, a PhD researcher from the University of Strathclyde.

Following these excellent contributions, I wanted to note a few of my own thoughts. I have recently finished a work placement with the National Theatre archives, and have worked with the National Library and Scottish Poetry Library. One of the particular challenges from an archivists point of view is a lack of resources and funding for new projects. As such, when a new collection is deposited with an archive, the archivist often has to make some quick judgements as to what can be kept, catalogued, and discarded.

I wanted to write this blog post to give a sense of how individuals can help the work of archivists. There are many horror stories I can tell you of libraries being given literal garages worth of jumbled papers, or official records being left in sacks (cw 13:00 onwards contain graphic scenes of death). Being able to provide a cursory catalogue will helps an archivist in evaluating a new deposit.

Archives tend to operate by some form of international standard. One of the most widely adopted of these is ‘ISAD(G)’, the General International Standard of Archival Description. The goal of this standard is to catalogue archives in a manner that is accessible and accurate. This is a pretty intensive document, but there are a few points that I feel are useful for individual practice:

Catalogue from the General to the Specific
Unlike libraries, archives do not start cataloguing from the item level. Rather, they look for general description in order to represent the relationships between items. For your own collection, don’t waste time by trying to make descriptions for each item. Rather, if you have collected poetry pamphlets, separate them into year of publication. Or, if you have the organiser of a regular open mic, separate your materials into press releases, posters, flyers etc.

This is a fancy word that essentially means “why is this here?” An archivist wants to find out what the relationship is between an item and the place it is stored. As such, it is useful to make a note if you bought the items in your collection, or acquired them after running an organisation, or if you made them yourself. This will help an archivist make a decision about keeping materials in one place, or donating relevant parts to more more specialist archives.

Date Your Materials.
This. Is. Crucial. I can not tell you the amount of headaches I have had due to materials that have not been dated, or even worse, been dated inaccurately. You don’t even need to get this to the precise day. If you can accurately place an item at ‘early 2003’, or ‘c. [June] 2012’, this will help enormously with the work of an archivist.

4 Important Facts
If you want to put in a little bit more work, you can begin to put together a cursory catalogue of your materials. ISAD(G) sets has 26 different fields of description, all of which work together to create an accurate catalogue. However, only six of these are considered essential by archivists. Two of these (‘Reference Code’ and ‘Level of Description’) will be decided by the particular archive you donate to. The rest can be adopted into your own practice:

  1. Title – What is the item?
  2. Creator – Who made this?
  3. Date(s) – When was this made?
  4. Extent – What is it? Is it a book or pamphlet? Is it a collection of papers? Is it 20 identical flyers?

I hope this has been a helpful introduction into adopting archival standards. I will be putting together a demonstration of this with my own poetry pamphlet collection in the near future, and would be happy to talk through any questions that people might have.


NaPoWriMo #23 – The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1916

I wish I felt grief more keenly,
like The Endurance trapped in ice
on a journey to the centre of nothing,
a whiteness, Shackleton, that unchecked,
will consume you. This crew knows hunger
as sudden and unexpected loss, oatmeal biscuit
crumbs dissolved under tongue in spite of all
this good fortune, or child loss, or waves,
by God, fourteen feet high as I remember them.

I read those obituaries as an exercise,
looked for the sharp recognition of love,
income tax, home ownership, instead admired
all those lovely words, all those lovely
moments, all those incredible feats
of humanity, sailing their James Caird’s
outward, in search of rescue.

NaPoWriMo #22 – As Good As Love Gets

I will love you enough to
open a joint savings account,
apply for a mortgage, negotiate
our credit score, haggle with interior
decorators, go on holiday with your parents,

I will travel a reasonable distance
at night to visit you, learn
new recipes, buy a dog, share custody
of our Netflix account, be woken up
by your snoring, go to IKEA

I will iron your shirts, debate catchment
areas and property resale value, consider
career prospects, surprise you with
small gifts at opportune moments, apologise
when I am wrong, buy a new bed

You make me feel good, and I hope
to make you feel good, and I hope
we last a while, and I hope
that is the point, and I hope
this is as good as it gets.

NaPoWriMo #21 – Career Prospects

Do what you love
and if you can not;

do what can pay you
enough to do what you love
and if you can not;

do what gives you
enough time do what you
love without being too much
of a financial burden on yourself
and if you can not;

do what you do not love
but pays you so much
that you only need do it
for a short amount of time
and if you can not;

do what you hate
and offset it with what you love
and maintain that delicate balance
without letting yourself
become bitter or jealous
and if you can not;

do not resent what you did
not or could not be, that you
and love did not meet eye to
eye, cheat the system, do not
cheat yourself, be fair to others,
give yourself enough time to
have time, give yourself enough
love to grow love, keep going,
and if you can not;

do what you can.

NaPoWriMo #20 – Opinions of Difference (after Wendy Cope)

Opinions of Difference (after Wendy Cope)
She tells him that the earth is round –
Her argumentation is sound.
Discussing all the facts at hand
(that NASA is a globehead sham)
is not enough to change her mind.
He keeps composure in his face
and wishes her ‘good day’ in kind.
The earth is round, this he will grace:

A round flat disk floating in space.


this poem is a re-imagining of the following poem by Wendy Cope:


NaPoWriMo #19 – Regimen for Clear Skin

Regimen for Clear Skin

It’s easy:

Apply freshly squeezed lemon
to face and neck for 10 minutes, mix with
raw honey and slash or sugar. Use Greek Yoghurt
and lukewarm Rose Water, mix flour
and lime juice into a paste, oatmeal and turmeric,
afterwards rinsing with cold water, apply
for 20 to 25 minutes, use an exfoliator
and moisturizer, puree fresh tomatoes with
a drop of vinegar or baking soda, massage into pores,

don’t touch your face, pat dry with a soft towel,
try retinoids, try salicylic acid, try benzoyl peroxide,
try unpasteurized goats milk, my dermatologist
swears by Himalayan salt scrubs and a rotating brush
with adjustable bristle strength, coconut oil
wiped away with cotton wool, try not being stressed,

have sex, no seriously, but wash your face before and after,
drink water and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar,
get plenty of sleep, wash your hair, have a balanced diet consisting
of watercress and fish, avoid oils, exercise daily,
avoid sweating, get plenty and not too much sunlight,
don’t wear makeup when you were 15, don’t get
pregnant or go through puberty, see your GP
and counsellor and sales advisor from Lush,

be at peace with the world, earn a good salary,
have healthy genetics, be consistent, understand
your skin’s pH balance, go on a detox by drinking
a glass of warm lemon water each morning, listen
to relaxing music, read books, visit a spa,
go on holiday, use a fragrance free detergent,
reduce your iodine intake, avoid smoking pollution
and alcohol, drink wine, clean your pillow case phone
hat hair clothes bangs hands but not too much,

and if none of this works,
be born with clear skin.