Wednesday, 6 July 2011

British Museum Archives

British Museum Archives
Librarian/Archivist- Stephanie Clarke
The archives for the British Museum are housed under the actual museum.  It is a collection of the Historical records of the museum, which included lists of trustees, secretarial minutes from past meetings, photos, plans, and old staff records.  Clarke is the first archivist the museum has ever hired.  She has had the task of going through all of the material and trying to sort it correctly.  There is no working catalogue in the archives, just an excel spreadsheet with all of the holdings listed on it. 
The archives have some really interesting pieces.  All of the original notes and letters from when the museum was opened through the 1990s are housed in the archives.  There are some 5,000 photos of past collections and galleries as they looked in 1950s, though the 1980s.  Job Applications from 1850-1950 are held here as well.  The staff has many people, interested in their genealogy, come in or email them with questions about these applications. 
The British Museum opened its doors to the public in 1759 in what was then Montagu House.  The archives have documents dating from 1694, before the museum even owned the building with signatures and seals still intact.  The plans for the current building, built in 1851, can also be found in the archives. 
The thing I found most interesting though was the records from the Reading Room.  In its beginnings, access to the reading room was very exclusive and restrictive.  To gain access, one had to apply and send reference letters proving they were upstanding and would not damage the collection.  The archives has all of the applications from 1890-1970 which amounts to about 5,000 potential readers.  The applications of people like Karl Marx, T.S. Elliot, Beatrix Potter, and Bram Stoker can still be seen today.  The applications from before 1890 were lost, but the rooms sign in registry was preserved.  It has the signatures of everyone who entered the room, when they entered, and their address. 

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