Since 2014, Adam Matthew have been working on the digitisation of the Stationers’ Archive. The originals of the digitised items will from now on be handled and consulted less (thus reducing the opportunity for damage and deterioration) but academics, and indeed the public, will be able to refer to the digitised version much more easily. We asked Claudine Nightingale to tell us more about the firm and their work.
Tell us a bit about Adam Matthew and the work it does.
Adam Matthew is a digital academic publisher that partners with libraries and archives around the world to help digitise archival collections and bring important primary source materials to a wider academic audience for both research and teaching. Founded in 1990, we seek to inspire students, enhance learning environments, and aid scholarly research by making important primary sources available to a global audience. Central to our approach is engaging with the academic community and working closely with leading archives to carefully select, digitise and publish their unique collections. At all times we recognise the importance of this work and the responsibility this entails.
Our award-winning collections span the social sciences and humanities and cover over five centuries of primary sources from around the world. We have a large portfolio of collections covering topics ranging from Medieval family life and Victorian medicine to 1960s pop culture and global politics.
Are you able to tell us about other archives on which you have worked?
We work with archives all over the world, most especially in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. The archives we partner with vary hugely; they can be large institutions such as The National Archives, the British Library, New York Public Library and Harvard University to institutions such as the Wordsworth Trust, the Thomas Cook archives, Shakespeare’s Globe archives, and the British Film Institute (BFI).
What was it about the Stationers’ Archive that interested you, and more generally, how do you select the archives you decide to work on?
We were drawn to the Stationers’ Company Archive because of their huge importance in the history of the book trade and publishing. We were researching archives that might be useful to history of the book scholars, and the Stationers’ unique documents were constantly highlighted as a key resource for this area of research and teaching. What’s most exciting about the decision to digitise all sections of the Stationers’ archives, is that it will open up material that gives amazing insight into the history of London and the workings of livery companies, which has been previously under-researched.
The process of selecting which archives we work with comes about in several different ways; sometimes it is driven by a desire to provide research materials for a particular subject area – these are often multi-archive projects. Other times we might come across a fantastic archive that would clearly benefit from digitisation; this, combined with an enthusiastic archive partner can result in a fantastic digitisation project, widening the access of that material to students and academics across the world.
What has the digitisation of the Archive here at Stationers’ Hall involved?
The project with the Stationers’ is a long process, which will have taken around three years from initial discussions to publication. We take a very thorough approach in putting together our digital archives; before digitisation of material takes place, members of our team assess all material at the archive, making notes on condition, content, format and extent. As part of this project all material has been assessed for condition, and conservation work has taken place alongside digitisation. While digitisation is taking place, every single image is quality checked by the Adam Matthew team, and then each image is indexed to ensure the archive material is as searchable as possible.
Have there been any significant challenges and if so how have you overcome them?
The main challenges were around the condition of the material. Given the age of most of the records, some of the material was in quite a delicate state. The Stationers’ chose to work with the National Conservation Service in order to stabilise much of the material.
Tell us about the members of the team especially in terms of the skills they exercise at the various stages of the process.
We have found the support of the Stationers’ Company archive team an essential element of putting this project together – their knowledge of the material and the physical archive layout. We have also put together an editorial board for this project, as we do with all our archive projects; their advice is invaluable when considering how the project comes together, and how we can make the archive materials as useful for research and teaching as possible.
What technologies are involved in creating a digital version of the Stationers’ Company archive?
We use a number of technologies to aid the process. First and foremost is the digitisation company that digitise the material itself. We make use of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, which makes any printed text within the resource searchable. We can also capture information about items with pagination or foliation so researchers can easily navigate to the page they are looking for.
The Stationers’ Company archive also holds a number of oral histories which will be included in the final resource. The oral histories have been digitised as the originals are stored on cassette tape. Digitisation of the oral histories is imperative to their preservation. The oral histories are a wonderful addition to the resource.
What is your role within the team and how did you come to undertake that role?
My role in the team is Senior Development Editor. I get involved in the very early stages of a project – researching new collections and archives, initially discussing projects with archives and formalising partnerships. I oversee selection and assessment of material within the archive, up to the point where we are ready to begin digitising the material. I have an arts and humanities academic background and have worked in several different publishing environments in the past, but was drawn to this role because of the fantastic opportunities to work with rare and unique historical material.
How long does it usually take from starting to work with an archive to producing the final resource and when will the resource resulting from your work on the Stationers’ Archive be launched?
The project has been titled Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive and is due to launch in September 2017, which will be roughly three years from our initial discussions about the prospect of digitising the Stationers’ Company archives. It’s a really exciting project, both for Adam Matthew and the Stationers’ Company, but also for the wider academic community. More information and a trial request form can be found on our website at: www.amdigital.co.uk. We are also running a live webinar on 11th October to showcase the finished project and present the fascinating history of the Stationer's Company archive: http://www.amdigital.co.uk/m-products/product/literary-print-culture/webinar/