My first experience of cataloguing…

By Katherine Doyle

I am a UCL student on the MA Archives and Records Management course; I am at the Institute of Education’s Archive for two weeks to get some experience of cataloguing. 

On my first day I was presented with nine boxes with ‘Gillings’ inscribed on their sides.  On closer inspection they contained rusty lever-arch binders with cryptic labels such as ‘RI(72)SCM-RI(73)RM’, filled with unremarkable-looking yellowing type-written pages.

I started by looking at what the archivists already knew about the collection.  It arrived in Bedford Way several years ago; ‘Gillings’ was a former head teacher who had been a member of the Committee of Inquiry into Reading and the Use of English, chaired by Sir Alan Bullock, which sat 1972-1974.  This collection was mostly made up of his papers relating to this Committee. 

With this in mind, I started working through the boxes, transferring paper from the aged ring binders to archival-quality card enclosures, pulling out rusty staples and paperclips, getting a feel for what the documents were, and trying to figure out what order Gillings had in mind when he was using and filing these papers. 

Far from being unremarkable, these papers trace the progress of the Committee through its formation, meetings, interviews with expert witnesses: notable teachers, academics and linguists of the 1970s, visits to schools, and numerous drafts of parts of ‘A Language for Life’; working towards the main conclusion, that the teaching of English should be done across the curriculum, not just in English lessons.  There are hints of disagreement between the members, amazingly they all agreed to sign-off the report.     

After working methodically through Gillings’ papers, and following the cataloguing rule to keep items in their original order, I had catalogue entries for 42 files.  These I grouped into series, based on the function of the document, e.g.: minutes, evidence, administration etc., as Gillings’ himself had arranged them.  The series are linked to a collection-level description for all nine boxes, which now has the catchy title ‘Records of the Committee of Inquiry into Reading and the Use of English’.  The catalogue entry for this collection goes live on Monday 16th May; the papers are accessible on request to the Archive from this date.

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