Making order out of chaos - Cataloguing the Rose-Innes papers
Imagine a jumbled collection of books, pamphlets, photographs, letters and notebooks. What would you do with the collection? How would you know what treasures of information were contained in it? How would you organise it and allow others to explore it? These issues are taken on and solved by archivists as they catalogue collections within their archive, and I am here to tell you about my experiences of cataloguing one of the newest collections in the Archives at Kew.
A large proportion of the lifetime’s work of the grassland ecologist Reginald Rose-Innes arrived in 7 large boxes in late 2009. Delving into the boxes I was struck by the variety and richness of the material, and realised I had set myself quite a challenge for my first cataloguing project!
Before I could organise or catalogue the collection I needed to know what was there; initially I put together a list of all the items in the boxes and discovered they contained around 170 items! I was then able to establish an arrangement for the collection. I divided the material into four main series; those being personal papers and correspondence, research notebooks, printed material including reports and off-prints, and photographs - and I organised each series and further sub-series chronologically. I then wrote the catalogue entries which meant identifying dates, titles and a concise description of each item. This was the most time consuming part of the project but also the most enjoyable. Looking at each letter, notebook or photograph in turn allowed me a huge insight into the career and personal life of Rose-Innes.
Photograph of Reginald Rose-Innes (Reg is on the left)
Once I had catalogued the collection I was able to complete its physical arrangement. I numbered each item to allow for easy identification in the future, and carefully removed metal fastenings. I then repackaged papers into archival quality folders, and photographs into melinex sleeves, and finally placed the collection in acid free boxes. These measures will prolong the life of the collection and allow others to discover it for many years to come.
A selection of the papers from the collection.
Cataloguing a collection in this way allows researchers a brief glimpse into the vast quantity of information contained within it and provides clues as to which items may be of most interest to them. The material in this collection will not only hold interest for those carrying out grassland research but also others with interests in history, geography and anthropology.
I hugely enjoyed cataloguing the Rose-Innes collection; I discovered a down-to-earth individual who was passionate about his field of work, and held great admiration for those who inspired him and his colleagues. Throughout the project Reginald’s sense of humour brought his papers to life, and I end with a snippet from one of his letters -
‘We partook of hot coffee, which was good and boiled beans seasoned with garlic – which were frightful. “Them beans is good food” said Gilbert – “stick to your ribs”. I swallowed mightily and said I’d never tasted better.’
- Hannah -
The Rose-Innes catalogue exists in Calm, which we hope will be available on the web by 2011. In the meantime paper copies of the catalogue list, which includes a brief biography, are available by request. Visitors are welcome to book an appointment to view the items from the collection in our Reading Room.