London South Bank University


Ruth MacLeod - Archivist

London South Bank University, based in Elephant and Castle, was founded in 1892 as The Borough Polytechnic and became a university in 1992. With over 17,000 students the university teaches across seven schools at its Southwark Campus.

Ruth MacLeod is Data Curator and Archivist working with research teams and academics, as well as looking after the University’s historic collections. Ruth discusses relationships with the local community, the opportunities for raising the archive’s profile that a new location will provide and documenting current student voices for the future.


Archive Website: Lsbu Archives Centre
Online Catalogue: Lsbu Archives Online Catalogue

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello welcome to the Max Communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is Faith Williams and I'm joined today by Ruth Macleod data curator and archivist for London South Bank University would you like to introduce yourself Ruth and tell us about how you came to be in your position yeah thank you yeah uh my name's Ruth obviously I have been with London South Bank University for about four years but I've been an archivist for nearly 15 which is a slightly horrifying length of time in some ways it doesn't feel like that long and my dog players will just found very fancy because it's data creator and archivist and the data curator that refers to the fact that i work with research teachers check the university and chat to academics about their requirements for storing and managing the long-term preservation of their data which does actually tie in quite nicely to working with archives i am obviously also the university archivist which means that I'm looking after the historic collections of the university and helping people to use them and also it gives them quite a lot for internal stuff at the university it's mostly an institutional archive so we like to use our history for arrangements as well probably in the series about those as we go on so far frank institution was founded in 1892 and then you became a university in 1992. so is that the period that your archive covers yes but we have a handful of things from slightly earlier on because south bank when it was founded as the borough polytechnic in 1892 but the borough polytechnic and in fact another south London polytechnic we're founded by public subscription so we've got records relating to the fundraising for it which are really interesting because it's a big fundraising and project to try and get a range of different people from people who were giving kind of several thousand pounds to people who were giving a few shillings and so we've got the records of that from the 1880s onwards but the bulk of the collection does start with the foundation of the barnapoli in 1892 and we became a university in 1992 so we've got you know right up to the present day as well and we've also got a range of other institutions that have joined us at different points and we didn't just go from being this one polytechnic institution to becoming university uh we changed over time as different bodies merged in and kind of brought different subject specialities in with us so we've got stuff relating to some of those as well so what type of material do you have obviously a lot of student related things but do you have other content yeah we've got this complete kind of governance history of the university and which sounds very unexciting when you phrase it like that what it really means is we've got all that the minutes of the governing body and the minutes of various committees and things like annual reports we've got 125 years worth of prospectuses which are really interesting due to the way they describe courses at different points the really random courses that we ran and we've also got quite a lot of photographs that were taken at different points some of those were taken for promotional purposes early on there's a really great set of images from approximately 1910 which are of all our classrooms and some very posed shots of and students in the classrooms at the time which are both interesting and sometimes a bit strange the ones that people posing in the gym are always really disconcerting and but then we've also got things from the other institutions that became part of us so some of those are again more minutes and lists of who did exams and when there's a couple of nice little architectural models of buildings that we've had you know designed at different points and i i do always like an architect little tiny people in cars and trying to work out how things are gonna run in them and they're just such an unusual thing to have we've also got some stuff from a couple of nursing schools that joined us at different points uh which includes lists of you know who studied at the nursing school and some generic prospective stuff about studying nursing but also a couple of nurses cloaks which are quite fun and i like to get those out to show people at different points because nobody really expects you to have a cloak in your collection if you're at a standard university as opposed to a nursing organisation or some kind of magic school it doesn't really come up very often there's a range of different things i mean the as the setback started off as a polytechnic so it's more kind of practical courses so it would be like nursing i think you had cooking as well and so do you have a backlog of sort of these practical items that were used for teaching not really the practical items so much i mean we we do have the oldest still running bakery school in the world and the national bakery school was founded in 1894 but because they've had to keep the teaching up to date and we haven't really got the old stuff around and there's some stuff from the bakery school that they want as prizes at different points that we've got as part of the collection so there's a small amount of silverware but the bakery school at different points you know if they needed to upgrade their equipment they didn't keep their own stuff hanging around and ditto with things like engineering labs they need to keep them up to date so we've got a lot of images and plans of when people redesigned all of these things and but we don't have the the old kit so who accesses the archive it really depends on what people are looking for so we use it quite a lot for our students we have a history course at lsbu which is very keen on the practical application of history and making sure that the students are actually working with more than just history books so they're encouraged to look at archives to do some kind of object handling and muse work at different points and to look at things like buildings and so we do a lot of work with them to make sure that they know how to use archives and they get an idea of how to start doing research and archives for themselves so they they actually do a an archive research project in their first year so that quite a kind of hands up that's very hands-on thing and you know they they do all the research they kind of we have workshops for them when they do that and increasingly we're looking to broaden that out so that other students might get a chance to do that as well so that's kind of mediated access really we get researchers who are particularly interested in some of our more unusual collections and most of our stuff is institutional but we have got one collection which was the greater London area war risk food which was run in the 1980s to assess i think what would happen to London if it was hit by a nuclear bomb which is sort of reports about emergency medicine preparedness and and you know where this where the safe stones would be from fallout and a whole range of other things like that which are slightly unnerving there's a docent in there called preparing for Armageddon uh which is like well somebody asked for that that's going to be a a cheery day today so but we've had a range of people come in to look at that who are interested in the history of nuclear war really and the kind of influence that some of that had uh we've had people come in who are interested in different methods of teaching we've got quite a lot of material about adult literacy we had a unit that works specifically with English as a second language and adult literacy so occasionally we've had researchers who are interested in the history of how that discipline has developed coming to look at that and the other thing that we get a lot of and the archive used a lot for is our own history there are a couple of bits of the university that have had significant anniversaries in the last couple of years and the institution was 125 not that long ago and the bakery school uh because it was founded in 1894 in its 125th anniversary was last year and we're looking at another anniversary coming up and next academic year teaching engineering so we've got quite a lot of internal history that people are keen on examining and using to boost the profile of the university but also just because they're they're interested in seeing how we have maintained our mission over time you know we were founded as this organisation that wanted to increase the practical education for people of south London who might not otherwise have had access to that kind of education and actually our mission many ways hasn't changed that much we maybe use slightly different phrasing from what people use in 1892 a lot of people within the university like to use that history to demonstrate that we've been doing this for a long time and it's actually really interesting kind of they come to me and ask a question then i go and find what i can in the archives to support it whether that be images or sections from our prospectuses talking about what courses we ran or trying to work out the statistics for how many women did engineering subjects with us and what happened to them afterwards that's the kind of thing that we get asked about you have mentioned that south bank was founded for the sort of local community but it is still largely got a London population of students doesn't it yes very much so and we currently train i think it's 25 of London's nurses oh wow which is a staggering amount i mean the amount of people that come through health and social care is is really impressive but yeah we are always very very much have that local focus and yeah trying to encourage people from from the area to come to us because we're right there and it's easy for them and over the years some of the stuff I've been looking at recently has shown that you know we've done things to specifically encourage people back into work and later on and we make provision for that kind of thing and that is always going to be local people if we're running a class in the in the evening that is going to be a very London centric thing but we had some great classes at different points for encouraging women into engineering in the 1980s specifically ones who may have been out of their out of the workplace for a little while and we had a great class about encouraging maps for people that we were running in the evening who maybe hadn't done math since they were in school but needed it to get into some other course and it was very much an evening one for people who are working so it's very locally focused and you can see that thread from from the 1890s those classes are early 1980s right up to today as well it's really interesting do you feel like you have more links with the local community than perhaps a normal or another university archive might do it's very hard to say because i i can't really comment on what other university archives are like specifically i think that we we do as a university try to work quite closely with the area around us and because we've been doing that for such a long time then we probably do have a little bit more crossover than some others might have and we run on exhibition for the centenary at the end of the first world war and we ran that jointly with southern archives to look at the impact of what happened over the four years of the war and in and around Southwark and particularly around borough and alvin castle and we did actually have quite a lot of crossover in the stories that we could tell through that exhibition we we knew that some of our female students had gotten involved with nursing in a particular local military hospital and you know sonic had more information about that military hospital and the images for it so you can see the kind of threads tying up together with the area because we have always worked quite closely with with Southwark really which is where we're based i mean we're right on the border of but we are solidly in how do you get how do you build your archive do you get donations and things like that or is it mainly coming from within the university it mainly comes from within the university we do occasionally get donations of material but because our collection policy is largely to collect the history of south bank most of it is coming from inside the university uh occasionally things will come up that we just don't have so and someone else might have it so earlier this year we were given an image of all of the teaching staff from the girls trade school we used to run it up until the late 1940s we ran what were effectively two high schools one for boys and one for girls which helped them prepare for working and trade they were called the boys and girls trade schools and and somebody sent us photographs of the teaching staff because their mother had been on the staff so he no longer wanted the picture or he scanned himself a copy of it and so he sent us the original and we just didn't have that and so occasionally we will fill gaps because other people have given us material but a lot of the time it does come from within the institution what particular challenges come from managing the south bank archives i think there are always challenges of managing any archives around long-term preservation of it and i don't think we've got any unusual challenges in that respect you know we're just trying to make sure that we look after it and that anybody who uses it handles it properly and we don't kind of degrade the collections in any way and i think possibly one of the the biggest challenges for most archives is letting people know that we're there and encouraging them to come in and use us so we we try and do that in a range of ways i mean my fondness for getting involved with anything to do with institutional history i think really helps in in promoting what we do and how we can support things but i think the biggest challenge for us is always people realising that we're there and it can be quite easy to overlook that the archive exists at the moment we're in the middle of planning a move for next year there'll be a new university library and actually a new space for the archive and we're hoping that that will help and the kind of challenges of people not knowing where we are or not knowing that we exist because we'll be obviously there in a corner of the library and with big signs outside and so the big challenges at the moment are around planning for that move because an archive move is always a fairly daunting prospect it's not just a case to pick something up and and shove it in a box and move it and carry it over it's a bit more complex than that and and then yeah making sure that the the new location goes alongside with people knowing that we exist and obviously uh by the time we've moved we don't know what the requirements are going to be for the current world situation and we don't want to go into that too much but we need to take your plan long term as well is your new location still going to be in select yes and we're moving to a new different building on campus a building that we've had for a long time and it's been extensively refurbished and in fact completely redone that's being kind of gutted from the inside out and so the whole something with us are due to move how big is your archive how much stuff do you have to move oh that's the kind of question that i should have looked up before we started i think we have something like approximately uh four thousand items in the archive an item can range from being an architectural model which is you know two meters square to one photograph so it's quite a difficult question to answer and because our our storage space is a little bit varied at the moment it's not even like i can say it's however many pictures of shelving it's not a massive collection what are your hopes for the future of the collection do you want to expand it or is it just all about engaging people with what you've already got the first bit is actually all about engaging people with what we've already got and i would really love to see more people using the collection and whether that be you know of using in teaching with students or more people coming from outside the university to do that and so a lot of the work that i'm trying to do at the moment is about promoting what we have and looking at how we can do that and what else you can do and in terms of like the content of the archives we do have some plans for what we might want to do in terms of developing the collection but those are kind of slightly dependent on other other factors uh one of which is things like a funding bid so we have to wait and see what happens with that but what we would really like to do is see the collection have more of a representation of students and a lot of it is very heavy on the official side of the university who's running things what minutes we've created what the big decisions have been and we don't always have that much that reflects the the life of the students at the university but obviously you can't have a university without students so we'd really like to expand the collections to cover a little bit more of what student life is actually like and so that's a kind of long-term plan for the future do you think a lot of this stuff in the future will be digital yes i do i mean one of one of my favourite things that demonstrates student voice magazines uh which i i might go on about a bit later because they're brilliant but i do think that things aren't being produced in that kind of way a lot of the time even our official documentation is now all digital so we are moving a lot to having a very minimal printed element and a very much so the digital side i mean we will still be printing our our prospectuses every year but we're not going to be printing out every single set of minutes in the same way our handwriting every set of minutes the way we were in 1892 so yes there's a real mixture at the moment but i think increasingly is going to be digital so that is one of the challenges actually for the future is like everybody else how best do we manage that and continue to make it available you just mentioned your student newspapers which i agree or i remember them from uni and they're great fun but are they your favourite interesting item or do you have something else that tickles your fans say more so oh i think i think the student magazines probably are my favourite item they're a really fascinating mix we've got student magazines from the early 20th century which i think are more kind of were slightly more official but with quite a lot of student content in them so they're quite formal and then you move to the the ones of the 60s which were a bit more early 60s are a bit more formal but student driven and then by the time you get to the late 60s and into the 70s they are much more informal and they're very heavily student and student union driven and there's some incredibly uh non-politically correct material in there uh which is sometimes quite shocking to see and except that often there's the reassurance of the next issue there's somebody complaining about it you know this is this horrendous sexism and then the following issue there are people pointing out that that's not acceptable and but also there's quite often a real political strand to them they were quite a campaigning bunch of students at that point and it's just really interesting to see how they write about the different challenges that they had you know the stuff about student housing guidance for what to do in a whole range of different kinds of situations that you might come up against as a student everything from counselling to financial problems to what to do if you get arrested some of which is uh i'd say a little bit shocking to read but also it is some of the issues haven't changed so they're just a really interesting snapshot of the time and as well i mean the the old prospectuses are great a lot of it's really standard you know descriptions of courses but then you you're looking through it and you find out that we offered a course in the in the 1930s called household jobing for women which is basically about how to do basic diy around the house and it's just so you get this sort of it's in the midst of you know all these other courses that are quite similar to what we've run today and then you've got these very practical courses and some of the stuff that's listed are something i could not do i mean i'm recently good at diy and i was like i can't do that how to you know muck about with the gas and i'm like i'm not touching the gas that's insane but you know so little little snippets of things like that are great and i like anything i mean i like anything that's got a good story attached so some of the some of the other material that we've got you can clearly see the personal stories that come through we've got a really interesting file from a woman who worked for us in the 1910s and 20s and she was obviously very good at her job uh you know there's things commenting on it and when she left they had to ask her to stay on an extra few weeks while they tried to hire a replacement but the reason she left is because she got married and they wouldn't let her keep her job after she got married so it's both really interesting and absolutely infuriating and quite sad all at the same time because you know that completely changed her life she'd been relying on this job 10 15 years and it says a lot you know that that kind of file says a lot about the kind of social and political expectations of the time for women and for organizations as well you know they weren't they weren't obligated to make her leave but it was clearly the expected option and so it just said so much about the environment in which people were working and i just find that really it's also a really interesting file to to show to our students at different points as well because it does tell them so much about what life was like at the time and it's something that often they haven't thought about before you know we were quite likely to do the suffragettes in school but people don't necessarily think that there was more to it than the right to vote so i really like the fact that then we can use this archive file and a true story to kind of open up wider aspects of the history of the university and our society for people yeah it sounds like with south frank uni being so integral to the local community it sounds like it's quite a good overview of what normal people are doing the culture of the times what they're learning almost like what people are googling today or what's trending on twitter or something like that yes yeah i mean it's it's possibly not quite as specific as maybe what people are googling or whatever but it does give a really good overview of the kind of things that people are concerned about and the centenary we've got coming up in the next academic year is the centenary of when we started encouraging women to do engineering sometimes and that's actually immediately in the wake of the first world war when there are vacancies for certain kinds of jobs and they need more people to come in to the workplace to do these so they start encouraging women to study these things and some of the things that we were teaching women basic and car engineering and teaching them how to be chauffeurs if that's what they wanted to do because those are things that are actually opening up and there are perhaps fewer men around to take those jobs but they're not the super skilled jobs so it's okay to encourage women into them and it's a really interesting snippet of social history at different points to look at what they're offering and how we phrase it so the archives are great for that kind of thing nice to have some progressive positive things to look at as well i'm sure oh yeah it's really encouraging to say yes we were encouraging women to do these things at a time when perhaps other people weren't so much or when it was a little bit unusual and we were always set up with the plan of encouraging men and women to study and to have opportunities that maybe they wouldn't have otherwise and i do i do think that the archive material that we've got demonstrates a remission kind of from beginning to now and it's nice to think that it hasn't it hasn't changed too widely and that we can actually help support that with the archive material that we have do you have anything specific planned for that centenary celebration and we have a range of things planned at the moment we have a twitter account for specifically for the centenary and we've been working on identifying some of the women that have studied and worked at lsbu in these subjects over the last 100 years so we're going to have profiles of 10 of them uh they'll be like one per decade and maybe some others as well who've done particularly interesting things we've got kind of highlight we do have one kind of minor celebrity who appears to have done one of our engineering subjects at some point so we'll be mentioning that and then we're going to finish off with a conference and in about just under 12 months time uh June next year to just discuss some of the challenges of being women in engineering and the history of it and how our own history has tied into that quite a fun subject yeah it is it is who's your who's your minor celebrity or is it a secret until the revelation uh wow that is a celebrity i know she's listed in she's very very subtly listed in one place and then she was technically a princess so in in the standard class list she's done as a very simple you know first name surname i just think oh i wonder if and then if you look her up on the prize list for that year because i think she would win a prize for that particular class for you know having top marks or something like that she she is listed as princess i was like wait a minute it looks like so a little bit of research later on it turns out that yeah uh she did one of our classes in the 19 i can't remember twenties or thirties now but yeah the queen learned how to service the car and all that during the war so it's not that far-fetched is it yeah exactly i think i think it was a one of the the car related engineering courses as well i'd need to look at my notes to be absolutely sure but you can see that yeah out there being an independent woman as well as a incredibly rich department store family i bet she was racing around in her uh Bentley or something having a whale of a time to think that herself if anything went wrong yeah is there anywhere else you want to point people at any other project you have going on i think that's the big one that's coming up at the moment uh we're in the process of moving our archive catalog so we'll have a new archive catalog and site available uh soon within the next few weeks and then uh i don't think there's anything else particularly these are all things that take up a lot of my uh thought thought on headspace at the moment but i don't think there's any other projects that are necessarily coming up that people would want to look at at the moment there are a couple things on the back burner but i can't uh i can't understand yet fair enough we've got your big move to concentrate on first yes yes that'll be exciting but if you've gotten it out you'll be able to have some say over how you organise things won't you yes it's it's as practical as it can be within an existing building yeah yeah so that's been it's been a really interesting process actually if anybody who's ever moved an archive knows it's actually quite interesting and complex kind of planning out what goes where and how it can all fit and what your requirements actually are i mean at one point early on in this suggesting oh you could have this this space and like well that space looks great but there's no straight walls where am i going to put the shelves in and then they sort of as oh yeah this is the favorite rider we'll just reconsider this to know if it's the worst now in a study doesn't fit in the building yeah it's always a learning curve it's always that's one of the great things about it it's not a massive collection it's quite a small archive service but there's still always something new to do and something new to learn and that's pretty good well hopefully it will be able to visit you soon on location and the students will be back annoying you with questions uh i quite like the students questions most of the time so actually that's not about annoying it's not quite the right word thank you very much apart from when they asked me where something is when i'm just when i'm carrying boxes that's slightly light helpful not the best timing is that when that's right thank you very much for agreeing to speak to me today it's been really interesting hearing about like they would be very interesting seeing and how they are they're decorating over the decades and yeah i wish you very uh the best of luck in your new move you can add architecture or cv no doubt but it'll be good okay that's great thank you very much thank you very much cheers thank you bye