Jane Baxter, Heritage Manager, interviews Rachel Kidd, the graduate trainee behind this wonderful new addition to the Local Studies website

Richmond Library 1884
Richmond Library 1884

What was your inspiration for the Borough in Prints project?

Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive’s print collection is a wonderful visual resource that can tell us so much about the history of the borough and the Local Studies team wanted to complete some sort of special project that will help to promote to the collection. My inspiration to create an interactive map, however, came from the collection itself. I noticed that many of the images showed wonderful views of the borough, including landscapes, buildings and streets which demonstrated how the borough looked in the past. Therefore I thought it would be great to display these in a map so members of the public could explore the borough and see how it has changed over the years

How did you formulate your plan and what outcome did you envisage?

It was difficult to know exactly what outcome to envisage as there was a lot of work to do to find out what was possible! We thought about several ideas and the Council’s web team were really helpful in working out how the map would work and handling the technical aspects. I worked with the volunteers to formulate a plan about how to select and research the prints and worked with the web-team to add them to the digital map.

Creating the map was just one part of the project. One of the main outcomes we envisaged was uploading information about the print collection onto the Local Studies online catalogue so that as many people as possible could access and use it in their own research. This involved entering lots of data, scanning prints and uploading images, and the volunteers have been an integral part of getting this underway.

How did you set about the project?

The project involved working through several steps, which were often overlapping in timescales. This included:

  1. Exploring the collection and understanding what we have
  2. Learning about the CALM catalogue and formulating a plan to upload the information with the help of the volunteers. The volunteers come in to work on different days and it was important to set up mechanisms to make sure all the prints were entered and work wasn’t duplicated
  3. Scanning the prints and adding them to the system
  4. Spending a full day with the volunteers to look through the collection and create a short-list of prints to include on the map
  5. Dividing up the prints between the volunteers to conduct research into their history. In the mean time, I worked closely with the web-team to create the map
  6. Finally, the research was added to the map

Additionally, the volunteer support group have recently submitted a bid for funding in order to create banners and leaflets about the research. These will tour local libraries and help the project reach as many people as possible.

Tell me about your work with the Local Studies Volunteer Support Group and their contribution to the project.

The Local Studies Volunteer Support Group have done an incredible amount of work on this project and without them it would not have been possible! I worked closely with the group to decide the theme of the project, discuss how the map idea would work and set the criteria to decide which prints we should use. Most of the information you will see about the prints on the Local Studies database was collected and entered by volunteers. Importantly, each volunteer involved in the project undertook independent research about different prints that has now been included on the map.

It’s been fantastic experience to work with such as friendly and dedicated group of people.

What criteria did you apply to select the prints for the project? 

The volunteers and I worked together to decide the criteria. Overall, we wanted to make sure the prints that we used reflected the broad range and high quality of the prints in the collection. We therefore chose high-quality, visually interesting images, a range of medium including etchings, watercolours and sketches. We chose images from a range of periods from the eighteenth to twentieth century and that showed a range of subjects, from recognisable landmarks to everyday streets and buildings. Most importantly we wanted prints that showed views from across the borough, so everyone could enjoy the map and explore their local area in prints.

I think a good example of this is a lovely watercolour showing the interior of Richmond Library on Little Green from 1884 (see image above), three years after it first opened. The interior is certainly very different to today (not to mention the outfits), but I love how you can still recognise the glass vaulted ceiling and decorated columns.

Could you summarise your thoughts about the overall experience?

The project has been a wonderful opportunity to increase access to the collection and I really hope it encourages more people to use it in their own studies.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the prints and the excitement of opening a box to see what images I might find inside. Even now, I don’t think I’ve seen all that this collection has to offer.

[ by Jane Baxter, Heritage Manager ]