Imperial College London


Anne Barrett - College Archivist & Corporate Records Manager

Anne Barratt, College Archivist & Corporate Records Manager, has worked at Imperial College London for over 20 years. The College Archive has records dating back to the 15th Century and uses its collection to highlight scientific innovations from the university over the years.

In 2017 Anne published Women at Imperial College Past, Present and Future, which examined the role of women at Imperial from their inclusion in Imperial’s beginnings in the 19th century as students, ancillary staff and then teaching staff, right up to the first woman President of Imperial College, appointed in 2014.

Women at Imperial College, Past, Present and Future by Anne Barrett
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Hello and welcome to the Max Communications 2021 podcast series podcast, where we explore various archives and collections. My name is Beth Williams and I'm joined today by Anne Barrett, college archivist and corporate records manager for Imperial College London. Hi, I'm. Would you like to do service yourself and talk about how you came to work in Imperial as hello? I have worked at Imperial for a very long time and I started my archival career actually via libraries, mainly the Bodleian in Oxford Directive Science Library. Then I moved to the College Library at Imperial, so I'm actually double trained. I'm trying to the librarian and as an archivist both times part time via UCL diploma courses. And the reason I went round the house is that way was because I at that time, you had to have a years experience and I needed a job . So I. And the best job I could get was at Imperial. So actually, it took me in good stead because when previous archivist had left, they hadn't sort of planned to. To fill the post again, so because I've done a lot of conservation work and I was running a book fair system with proper binding and what have you not sellotape, I hasten to add. The then librarian said, Would I just go off and look after it? And then then it was looking OK. And so I took on the diploma and took on the job permanently till so I've been there quite a long while now. When I took it over, it was moribund. So we've done really well in getting it built up and getting extra staff and huge use. Actually, we get through this usually four of us, but we do a huge amount of work. Just do records management, modern records management and freedom of information in the office as well. OK. So how did you spend an average day in your role now as opposed to when you first started? Well, I don't think there was an average day. I mean, we usually all start off with our email, of course, and everyone else does, just checking to see if there's anything that comes up that we need to react to, you know, say someone wants an urgent file, that type of thing, or if someone is saying, help someone's clearing an office, come and see what you want , that type of thing. So we will we will do that. I'll check the daily news round that comes from our communications people that they say, can you use the newspapers and other journals and stuff, including television and radio media, for information about anything that's happened that imperils got into the news? And because we had a particular thing, we've set up an entrepreneurship thing and that's to do with innovation. I do a lot of pulling stuff out for that. Say that this is an innovation of ours that we've we've done so far for students have created because that's one of the things that is of interest to the internal community, how we what we've done and where when we've needed it, and that that type of thing is actually very helpful when we have to celebrate anything like a department, school or college centenary, which was in 2007. So, you know, there are visible results of what Imperil hasn't had achieved. Is Imperial has kind of brought together a few organizations over the years. So you must have, yes, collected archive. Yes, we do. Yes we do. Indeed. We we actually date back material to the 15th century because we have mineral records. And so we're very varied actually in what we have. So we go right back to them with having to do calligraphy for them, handwriting to the 19th century. But it's almost impossible unless you get your iron with a particular person to be able to read some of their handwriting to the current day when it's such huge amounts of digital stuff. And yes, we have a huge range of material and outputs and also organization, so we have the scientific and technological organizations and the medical schools which joined us as well. So as well as using material to kind of showcase your own work, Imperial, who else accesses the collection? Well, it's a huge range of people, external and internal. We have a lot of historians of science, so we're well known in that community. So I do a lot of work with them and we work on a huge range of topics from the 19th century onwards and scientists, some of them are quite celebrated. We have some Nobel Prize winners and we have, for example, of Dennis Cooper, who worked on Holography and that type of thing right up to the to the current material and the things that we're doing now. So any of the new innovations and of course, I suppose I have to mention the covert stuff, but anyway, that a lot of that just communications are keeping. So we we are looking at how we keep all the material on the output from that. Have you been doing a lot of work during lockdown, has it changed the way that we have been doing a huge amount of work? Actually, we still managed to do inquiries. I managed to bring some printed registers of material home and that type of thing and some histories which have been scanned of different departments. So we've been doing that. There's been a lot of interest in doing timelines. I'm not quite sure why, but there are several of those going on. And so I've contributed to those with images that we have a lot of scanned images already and that type of thing and text and checking over when people witness that sort of thing as well. And so the several timelines, I've also done some quizzes for people, for my actually, for my own group, the central secretariat. I've been doing a weekly quiz since March April, not necessarily to do with the archives, but just in general to keep them amused. And they amuse me with their answers, which is a good thing. But yes, so for some of the faculties I've done, quizzes and things for them just to lighten up the atmosphere and things that type of thing. So yeah, and there's been a lot of other work to do. And, you know, working back on the History Channel, a lot of stuff. That means looking at again and that type of thing, so you have been really busy. I've also had occasionally to go in to sort out files and things for some really urgent inquiries. So I am allowed to do that from time to time. What particular challenges do you think come with managing this archive? Well, it's very it's very diverse. I think. I think the challenges are probably the same as for most people. And it's also in the digital age. How do we capture most things? It's easy to get paper stuff and keep it. So we have bought into the archive massacre, so we're very much supported in that and we're doing really well with that because one of the things that I like to do with my team is to give them the the thing that they are. They are happier with doing. I mean, we all have to muck in and do different things. But one particular team member is very good at the digital and is interested. So she she's looking after the cosmetics side of things and developing that. What are your hopes for the future, then? Do you have any kind of goals or projects in mind that you want to contribute to? Well, I mean, there's always there's always new stuff to do at college. It is. It is never been static. And that's one of the reasons that this job has been so interesting because you start off doing one thing and it is always, always changing. There is always something new. So there'll be a new project like that with the centenary in 2007. We've had we do diversity in the project, but we managed to get women's portraiture. So we've had some portraits made to the women, which is a great thing. And I, for example, every year for women in peril, week run of women with Ethan. So we where we try to improve or create new Wikki Wikipedia entries for women in STEM, basically, and I have a great deal of help with that from the Aichi and the welcome and very sad and the ways women, the engineering people as well. So we we work on that. So we do things like that which you'd never thought we would have. So one of the other projects that that I've had on for many years is a book about women at Imperial. I was asked to do this by a couple of the senior women some time ago and when when they first asked me, I think it would have been quite a small monograph, but it actually has come out now at 400 pages, and it was published in 2017. So it came right up to date to that point. So I'm quite pleased with that. So it means that we included the woman president, the first woman who we've had in that role, president, rector. And so it is completely up to date, according to that time. And I think it's a way of launching things onwards so we can see that women really have had a governance role and and a role in developing imperial and teaching and its scientific research. So it's quite important to to showcase that and also to showcase the fact that they have been here since the 19th century. So we started teaching students in the 19th century and we have had women around for that time and the first woman lecturer that became an assistant professor because she didn't want to actually become a full professor, which is a shame because she was absolutely brilliant. Most rounded likely was made sure she was put on to staff chemistry in 1994. She'd been a student at Imperial, and she had a great fan of her professor, William Tilden. And I found that a lot of the women were actually really helped when pushed on by the men and even when they were researchers and didn't really want the limelight, the men to try to push them to the fore. In a lot of cases, even those who are sort of known not to particularly like women or to suggest that they shouldn't be involved in professional societies, in fact, they taught them and appreciated them for their for their knowledge and expertize. Is that knowledge from that book, is that used when you use that going onward with further projects or was that sort of a pet project of your own? Yes. Well, it is. It's something that I think does need to do to be developed. But I I think probably not in the book form, it is actually on Kindle, which I was bit surprised to find and and unavailable. So I'm very pleased actually, that it is still around and it's an inspiration to people to know that they can do things. So I'm sure a lot of younger people in it, some Ph.D. students, so they I'm hoping that one could follow up their careers. We probably wouldn't do it in print, but we could probably do something online. As I said, we have women that impair a week and it might well be a good thing to follow some of them up. And also, when we develop different aspects of the website to put that type of thing on, I think would be a good, a good way of saying yes. Look, people have managed to make a career out of science and then women and we do exhibitions. We like to showcase whatever we can for in payroll. So we help with other exhibitions. And when we have a big festival or something, we can try to do something for them. And we also work a lot with alumni because they're very important to us. And so I, I, I welcome their groups. We have alumni who have been around for a long time because some people never leave and people really. And despite the fact that they have their own jobs and lives elsewhere. But that's a good thing because it means they bring with them the new generation of students. And so we have some constituent college unions that come in with material. They bring new material in and they introduce the older to the current students and they they have a good look at old material. We can have some quite jolly evenings with some, shall I say, a bit of imbibing going on as well. And it's really good for our relations as well with people because it means that we we meet the students in a way that we might not otherwise. And then they will remember us for the future and they will deposit material. And also, if they want any help with projects or something, then we will. Someone will help them with that. Similarly, at the moment that a big project on with the Boat Club to predict their 100th anniversary was last year. So we're doing a big oral history project with that, so that's a good thing to be involved in. So that's another thing I've been doing during lockdown. They've been keeping that going. It sounds like you're adding a lot to the collection all the time then. Oh, yes, yes. Well, I think it's important to do that. It can't be static because the college isn't static, it's always changing. And you know, whatever we do with the constituent colleges is always going to be changes. You know, there's regulations to do with the medical schools and how how all those who manage this on our buildings and those items associated with what is in there when we do artifacts, at least, for example, if there's going to be any hint of a building being changed with the states that go around and check on all the artifacts and make sure that the project manager knows that either we look after them or they store them securely during the refurbishment, that type of thing. So we'll work with a wide range of people on it from HQ downwards. So because we're part of Central Secretariat, which is the governance body, which is, I think, a good thing to do. So as I say, we take on information inquiries as a couple of people in my team who do that some of the time and the rest of the time, we we just message about the things we took after some research files. So we have to make sure that we can keep up to date with the retention schedule, which we create to manage and do so. Attention box moves of that material and liaise with the different parts of college that that need the research back up and make sure we shred on time. So it's very basic things as well as quite as a terrific things which are, you know, sort of raise the level every now and then of things we do. But we're quite jolly. And you know, we we have some quite interesting chats even because we use teams, which is a great thing. So that's easy for us to manage. And so we're in touch by email if we're not even online and, you know, teams in the day. So you mentioned some organization to partner with, like I-80 and West and things like that. Do you loan out any parts of your collection for other exhibitions or anything? But what we do if we ask them, we're happy about them. But but one of the things I've done actually with the friend and Aichi and another group was actually take material to for a day visit to something we will do. We will do that with them. We've developed some portable cases, which which are also planned. So we would take those with this as well and put material in it, which which we realized we needed to do when we were asked to take material to two dinners for alumni or people who are interested in college. And you can't just have stuff out, particularly at dinner. So we we managed to get perspex boxes which fit onto a base and lockable. So I do that. Besides, as far as possible, half display cases where I display things. one of our newer halls of residence, which is named after a woman right first one named after woman Joanne Woodward, had some built in cases, which is great. So we we have to take material up to them and put and swap it around every now and then, which is a great innovation actually, so showcases some of the material at the moment. We've got some material from the space section of physics, which is in our main entrance hall. That's a good space, but there's a lot of imperial now doesn't really have anything but glass walls. It's actually quite difficult to display a lot of stuff, actually. And also because of many regulations, you can't have many cases around in the same way that you could at one time. You've got to have clearance for fire and all that sort of thing and be very aware of many wrecks and stuff. Actually, nowadays they're very hot on these things, which is absolutely right. What is your favorite thing from the collection? Maybe not. It doesn't get brought out. Maybe other people aren't that interested in it, but what you can really kind of treasure? Well, my my favorite ones are actually they are on view, but only in our corrida because although they were outside some electric centers that was deemed, we've got them recycling bins and anstead of an interesting case of papier maché teaching models in the 19th century. So we've got huge fish, which is a sort of hybrid, but it comes apart. Not that I would dare take it apart, and it shows the different organs and everything. And then there's a huge leech, which with the most intricate system of veins and interior organs, which you just wouldn't see otherwise. But it's a bit scary, and what people really don't like is this a snake's head with its mouth open and fangs? And that's really that really gets people going like that, but it's quite interesting. So I really like them. And we've also got these huge 19th century teaching charts, which which were displayed. So they're on that fabric with that painted and they really, really like those as well. But that's probably not. I mean, they're invisible, but not many people would particularly like those. But another thing that I'm really like is there's a perspex case within a model of something that went into CERN, which is the hadron collider. one of our experiments and what I showed people is particularly because I'm very proud of the way the technicians work, because I think technicians are really important to science and medicine and experiments . So I do work quite a lot with the people promoting them as as a good section of college. So this has got a lot of gold streaming in it, which is actually quite difficult to do in prospect. It's not an easy thing to work with either. And it was it was actually something that was then linked to computers and things and really worked. It was a working model. So I always showed this, particularly to students who who come in if they're doing sort of museum type studies or that type of thing as an interesting and to say that you really must talk to technicians, they know an awful lot and we really must value them very highly. And apprenticeships, I think, is very important in this area because it's the people who can actually create what you need to do an experiment that's really important. So basically, I think we we our job is not only to keep the history of college. And also look to the future because I don't think archives look back as much as looking forward, we've got to constantly be keeping stuff or need to know what's happening now in order to be able to to keep stuff. So that's one of the really interesting things for someone like me who's very inquisitive and likes to know what's going on, which is great because scientists like to tell you so that's fantastic. And and I think it's really important that we engage the younger people in doing these things and make them feel valued and technicians that we will always need technicians to build things. And it could be digital or it could be physical, but that's what we need. Because Imperial has always had sort of science based institutions, so you're always at the forefront of things, whether that sort of medicine or, you know, physics, things like that. So there's always going to be people wanting records. CERN Big Big Project The Corvette. I know the Imperial done a wee bit of work with those kind of things, so it's very important to keep records of those. Oh, absolutely, yes. I mean, we're very aware of. Well, I'm very aware of what that we really do need to be absolutely up to date with what is happening at college, which is one of the reasons keeping an eye on the the news round and checking the website because there is just so much information on the website now that it's almost impossible, you can keep monitoring it. But I have a range that we have a snapshot several times a day, the front page. We can't really do any more than that because it's just too much to dig down in, but at least say that those pages bring up the main thrust of what is happening at a particular time. So you have to, in archives, be thankful for what you can get done as much as anything. But I have to say that people have a great respect, always have had a great respect for the history of college and and the archives. So, you know, we're halfway there before we do anything at all. I mean what? We have to work with other people because they realize that the posterity thing is very important. The only thing that is slightly difficult is that scientists don't seem to think that anything, but they've published output is of value, whereas that's completely the opposite because and in the manuscript papers, there is very often material that could be repurposed and can be reused with new technologies or developed. And it also just describes quite often when they first had an idea or corresponded with someone about it. That's one of the really important things that I like to bring out in these in these papers that we have that I mentioned earlier, Melissa Block would be anyway. And here's an example I would use because when he developed holography, he knew there was not a use for it. But when lasers came along, he managed even that was a use. And now it's an everyday common object because it's on your bank card. The little silver thing in the corner is a hologram, and that's it. That's a security device. So then when he discovered it or invented it, you know, you didn't have banks like we have now even have online banking. You don't have anything you had to go to your bank. And the bank manager was very stern and you wouldn't have had any leeway. And it's all very different now, and there's no way he could have envisaged that that would be a security device in that way. Thank you so much for taking time to speak to us today and about all the processes you put in place in your archive. You clearly but a lot of time and effort into making sure that no part of the culture of the university has, you know, gone on record so that people in future and now will be able to collate information. Well, yes, we hope. I'm sure there's always things that we can look at to develop and do more work on. But we we keep as aware as we possibly can of new developments in the archival world and in the scientific world, as would be expected from Imperial. Thank you. Yeah. Thanks, John. It's a pleasure. Thank you.