CONSERVATION IN ACTION: Bajan Archivists Upskilling to Protect Our Documentary Heritage

Anne Bancroft Conservation Workshop

Remember Anne Bancroft, Senior Book and Paper Conservator at the V&A Museum in London, well in early October, 2019 she was back in Barbados delivering a special workshop at the Barbados National Archives, Black Rock, St. Michael on book and paper conservation techniques to archival staff and partners in the Barbados heritage sector, including the Barbados Library Service, National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society (BMHS). There were also special sessions organised for the larger heritage sector and with the use of technology, regional colleagues from institutions such as the National Archives and Library Service of Trinidad and Tobago,  the St. Kitts Archives Department and The UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica participated in some sessions. 

Our archivists and librarians in the region do not always get access to the most ideal resources for professional development as Conservation is not always seen as a priority in fiscal budgets. But once it is gone, it is gone and our archivists and documentary heritage handlers are well aware of the risks to the preservation of archives. So when the opportunity comes around to share with others nationally and regionally and to get some hands-on training from professionals in the Diaspora, it is a resounding 'Yes, please!'.  Read more on the perspectives shared by Barbadian archival staff, Brian Inniss and Stacia Adams.

We will be pleased to welcome Anne and Nerys Rudder back for workshops and papers for our inaugural conference "Caribbean Conversations in Conservation" in Barbados, March 16-19, 2020. More details on this conference will be available after December 15, 2019. 


A Perspective on Conservation: Brian Inniss, Senior Archives Technical Assistant of the Barbados National Archives

The Barbados National Archives recently hosted a week-long workshop on ‘Current Preservation and Conservation practices in Archives and Libraries’ in early October, 2019.  The concept came out of previous discussions and collaborative planning on the part of Chief Archivist, Ingrid Thompson; myself, Brian Inniss, a Senior Archives Technical Assistant and Senior Book and Paper Conservator from the V&A Museum and Collection Care Consultant, Anne Bancroft who was the workshop’s key presenter.  We wanted to not only provide an opportunity for professional development in preservation and conservation in-house but also a forum to share experiences and expertise with our colleagues working in the field. 

For an integrated approach to collection care, Barbados National Archives’ staff was in attendance as well as those individuals from local and regional institutions like the National Library Service, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of History and Philosophy, the UWI Federal Archives and the National Cultural Foundation.  Colleagues from the St. Kitts and Nevis Archives, the Trinidad and Tobago Archives and The UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica also joined in the discussion via live feed.

There were enlightening presentations and frank discussions on:  Past and current use of archives and library materials; Typical damage and degradation of library materials; Handling issues in Libraries and Archives; and Historical and contemporary making practices of Library and Archival objects.  Crown Office and Master Scribe Paul Antonio Attong and Mark Cockram, a Fellow of the Society of Bookbinders and a Fellow of the Designer Binders, were available via live-feed to share on the history of book binding and calligraphy.  Preservation Officer at The UWI Mona Camps, Nerys Rudder also shared on local treatments which would not damage objects.  Later, there was a tour, led by Archivist Karen Proverbs, of one of the repositories and the research room where we conversed on current practices.

The variety of participants afforded us the opportunity to network and learn of what other institutions were doing while seeking critical advice and feedback.  Both UWI lecturer Dr. Tara Inniss and Ms. Bancroft stressed the importance of the use of social media for keeping in contact.  As a result, there is already a WhatsApp group in effect as well as a Regional Preservation and Conservation page in the pipeline. 

There were practical segments to the workshop as well where we delved into current practices in prioritizing, documenting, cleaning, re-sewing and repairing archival and library objects.   Implementing this training has taken our area of work into a new era, which is that of working towards international best practices in paper and book conservation.


A Perspective on Conservation: Stacia Adams, Senior Archivist of the Barbados National Archives

I was fortunate enough to attend two sessions of the week-long Conservation Workshop titled:  Current Preservation and Conservation Practices in Archives and Libraries.  An Archivist’s primary goal is that of preserving records of enduring value so, as Senior Archivist of the Barbados National Archives, I was particularly interested in this workshop to learn about the various conservation practices and techniques that could assist in prolonging the life of our record holdings here which constitute the national memory of Barbados. 

On the opening day of the workshop, our very informative and engaging presenter Anne Bancroft familiarized herself with participants by asking us to not only state our names and posts but the role conservation plays in our line of work and what our conservation goals were.  With regard to the role conservation plays in my scheme of duties, I related some of the issues I encounter in my duty as Senior Archivist.  I am tasked with providing various government institutions with technical advice regarding records management. 

In this capacity, I advise the latter mentioned institutions on retention and disposition of records, the optimal atmospheric conditions, cleaning procedures, equipment and enclosures for records.  Conservation concerns come into play in employees’ treatment of the records with which they work.   For instance, some organizations may fall short of employing good conservation practices by not having records professionally cleaned, incorrect handling and by storing inactive records in sub-standard physical environments and atmospheric conditions.  In addressing Ms. Bancroft’s second key question, I informed that my goal for conservation at the Barbados National Archives would be for it to rise to established 21st century standards.

On the following Monday, Ms. Bancroft shared her knowledge on current approaches, principles, ethics, materials and methods in Preservation and Conservation through a mixture of lectures, discussions and practical exercises.  I, particularly, enjoyed the session where we, as participants, assessed the various forms of disrepair on a 1945-1949 deeds index which showed signs of red rot and mould.


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