Cataloguing the papers of James Lumsden

As part of my MA in Museums and Galleries in Education here at the IOE, I am undergoing a placement with the Institute Archives. Having worked voluntarily at the Leeds University Archive and Bury Art Gallery and Museum in Manchester, I am familiar with archives but have never, until now, been entrusted with cataloguing archive material. As a library assistant, I was initially taken aback by the disparity between library cataloguing and archive cataloguing. Archive collections require a more detailed and context-based record in order for users to fully interrogate the catalogue for material relevant to their research. I was given a box containing the papers of James Lumsden, which had been compiled by a family member and given to the IOE.

Lumsden was born in 1904, and before ending his career here at the IOE as a Senior Lecturer in the Education of Physically Handicapped Children had worked as HMI as the first non-medical Inspector of Special Schools for handicapped children in the 1930s and early 1940s. In 1948 he visited and worked alongside schools in Germany, and much of the documentation relates to this. There was an overwhelming collection of letters expressing disappointment and gratitude following the announcement of his retirement in 1964 and wishing him luck in his new post at the IOE, these letters impress quite how valued he was, and how his storied and groundbreaking experience provided invaluable support to those he encountered.

As interesting as the collection is, equally as interesting was the learning curve it provided in my understanding of archives cataloguing. When cataloguing, an archivist does not only have the role of recording the contents, but must also assume the role of detective, often the order that the material has been collected in does not lend itself to an immediately obvious chronology, and so the collection becomes a giant jigsaw of someone’s life and work. Handwriting is not always written to be read (I certainly know how difficult it is to interpret my own hieroglyphic-like scrawls), deciphering signatures at the bottom of letters is a particular challenge, and the form and style of writing evolves notably even just over a few decades. Thankfully, other documents within the collection, under careful scrutiny, often give clues to the identity of letter-writers. I also encountered difficulties in dating a document, especially since it was a scanned and printed copy of a document, the catalogue record requires the date of the scan, rather than the date of the original document, as technically that is the date when the document was created. Neither the date of the original, or of when it was reproduced were immediately clear, but judging by the fact it was a type-written letter, and by comparing it to other letters of the time, I could take an educated guess at a range of dates it could have originated from, providing I correctly expressed these date ranges in the catalogue record, this document would still be searchable even though an exact date had not been provided. I could also assume a rough date that the document was likely to have been scanned, judging by the technology used, and the date the collection was deposited to the archives.

Once I had finished listing the contents in as much detail as I could, I then needed to order the collection in a coherent manner. As it is a small collection, the Archivist Becky suggested I should order it by Lumsden’s time spent as HMI, with the BFES and here at the IOE. Due to the way these papers had been collected, it was not possible to fit everything into these three series levels, but by doing so, it still created a more slick and easy to navigate record. I also needed to cross reference the collection, by linking it to other relevant collections in the archives and to make sure that those collections referenced the James Lumsden papers. The other relevant collections included the papers of Mimi Hatton and Arabella Kurdi. This has been an extremely valuable experience so far, and I look forward to continuing my work here at the Institute Archives and delving further into the rich collections we hold here, hopefully providing fuel for a high quality report and dissertation in the process!

The images are of an article from Soldier: The British Army Magazine from January 1948. Click the pictures to enlarge.

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