I would fully understand if you thought that it’s nigh-on impossible to be enthusiastic about Departmental Circulars; however I’m hoping that that by the end of this post you might share some of the excitement that I feel following the completion of a project carried out by the Collection Development and Technical Services teams here in the Library.
Departmental Circulars play a key role in the legislative process, providing guidelines on new legislation and clarifying existing legislation through the provision of codes of practice. One thing for certain is that Circulars can be surprising. A Circular might just be a couple of paragraphs printed on a single page or it might be a bound publication running to several chapters. The content varies enormously too, ranging from a clarification of legislation to some real surprises such as the discussion of the ‘serious inconveniences that arise from the want of a common and fixed system of pronouncing Latin in schools’ (Board of Education, Circular 707, 1909.)
For me, Circulars contain some really interesting and important insights into how education policy has been implemented over the years, yet it has been difficult to ensure that our users are aware of the richness of this resource. Part of the issue is related to how our holdings have appeared on the Library Catalogue:
Whilst a few titles were listed, most of our holdings were referred to by number and year alone. You couldn’t browse the full extent of our holdings or search by a relevant keyword, so as a consequence Circulars were rarely called up from the stores.
However, things have now changed! My colleague Bernard Scaife has described in his blog how we have been scanning some of our old Card Catalogues records and turning the digital images into usable metadata. Well, on one of my frequent journeys down to the Library stores, I found that two drawers of catalogue cards contained the individual titles of the Circulars produced by both the Board of Education and the Ministry of Education. The cards have now been scanned and the metadata transferred to our electronic catalogue. This now means that researchers don’t need to know the number and year of printing for a Circular; they can search by title, or they can simply browse to see if there were any circulars produced that are relevant to their area of research.
For example a researcher might want to know what Circulars were produced related to rationing: and a search on IOE Library Search will now produce something like this:
Thanks to the data taken from the old card catalogues, researchers will be presented with a much richer set of results
Improving access to official information is one of the key reasons I find my role so interesting: so hopefully you can understand why I’ve been so excited about this latest development. The next steps are to make our holdings of Departmental Administrative Memoranda searchable by title too – if you thought Circulars were exciting….