Behind-the-scenes in SCA: Part 1

Have you ever wondered what the Special Collections and Archives (SCA) team do behind-the-scenes?

The SCA team will be taking turns to post about their activities every month from now until Summer 2022. This is the first post in the series and is authored by Robyn Orr, the Academic Services Librarian in Special Collections and Archives.

As the Academic Services Librarian in Special Collections and Archives, my (recently developed) role is to co-ordinate the Reading Room service, supported by the SCA Library Assistant, and to support our users in accessing the collections through outreach initiatives and University teaching.

Alongside my colleagues Jo Klett (University Archivist) and Beth Williams (Project Archivist), I have recently co-curated and installed the new SCA exhibition, Academic Life in the University of Liverpool Archive. Archival material from the Records of Graduates (GRD) section of the University Archive is displayed to demonstrate the physical output produced during the course of study at the University of Liverpool. We decided to create an exhibition on this topic to complement our online exhibition, Student Life in the University of Liverpool Archive. We also hope that the students would enjoy seeing what their counterparts of the past produced during the course of their studies!

Display cases
Academic life in the University of Liverpool Archive exhibition

After we decided upon the exhibition theme, we retrieved material from the store room in order to take a closer look at the suitable candidates for display. Aside from contributing towards the narrative presented within the exhibition, material we display should be visually appealing and able to withstand the conditions of display. We do not select any material that may sustain damage throughout the exhibition. For example, we created surrogates for original photographs in order to protect the originals from sustained exposure to light, and we use specialist Perspex rests to support bound material. Weights are used to ensure that the corners of large format drawings do not curl. Although we plan on where the material will sit within the cases in advance, finishing touches (such as printing and displaying labels, cleaning the cases and exhibition area, and adjusting lighting) take a surprising amount of time!

I have also had several fantastic opportunities to host teaching sessions in SCA. University of Liverpool academic staff are able to book the SCA Wolfson Teaching Room and use material from the collections as part of their teaching. During the pandemic we moved teaching to an online format, but, personally, I was really excited to resume face-to-face teaching. Helping students to engage with the collections is one my favourite parts of the job!

My role in these sessions varies from module to module, however I usually provide the students with an introduction to the collections held at SCA and a short demonstration on how to use the Reading Room service. Myself or my colleagues are then on hand to assist with handling the material throughout the session.

A teaching session in the SC&A Wolfson Teaching Room

I have also been working on several other projects, including SCA’s approach to dealing with historic inequalities (such as the legacies of slavery and colonialism) within both the collections and the professional practices of the department. I am also developing various outreach events with colleagues, including a Christmas themed display and an event for Liverpool LightNight 2022. Watch this space and see our Twitter @LivUniSCA for more details in due course!

The Academic Life in the University of Liverpool Archive exhibition is on display in the ground floor Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library until late January 2022. The SCA Wolfson Teaching Room is available to book for University of Liverpool academics – see our Support for Teaching and Research webpage for more information.