Well that’s a lot of pamphlets….

BLDS Legacy Collection

By Caroline Marchant-Wallis – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

I was chatting to my Librarian mentor recently about how we approached starting the BLDS Legacy Collection project, and I realised it was a good question. What did we do? Having been caught up in the whirlwind of the project for the past 18 months, it feels like a good time to start looking at what we have been up to.

So this is the first in what will be a series of posts over the next year or so about the BLDS project; how we have been managing it, things that have caused us sleepless nights, the highs of seeing the collection coming together, and as with most things these days some chat about how we dealt with Covid and not being able to access our collection for 6 months.

For background information on the BLDS Legacy Collection, see our previous posts here)

In the beginning…

October 2019…feelings: overwhelmed….

Walking into the IDS basement – where the BLDS Legacy Collection is housed – and seeing stack after stack after stack of densely populated shelves of material that it is your responsibility to organise, rationalise and make accessible in 3 years is a daunting prospect. One which I can’t deny did for quite a few months leave us feeling slightly panicked. To help you picture the size of the collection, when we started the project it contained roughly 4,000m of pamphlets, censuses, annual reports, monographs, journals, government publications and more.

So where did we start?

Well with a bit of good old-fashioned tidying up of the space for starters, (tidy workspace tidy librarian brain) including removing all the extraneous material and matter that had found its way into the basement over the years. A good old declutter always makes things better (although my other half dreads it when I utter that word) Then we set about trying to understand what we had become custodians of. We did this by reading through documentation created by previous librarians and IDS academics, and by physically going through the collection a shelf at a time, creating a listing of what organisations and countries were represented in the collection.

Image of handwritten listing of countries contained in which stacks
BLDS – Initial listing of material – photo credit: Caroline Marchant-Wallis
Screenshot of BLDS Excel spreadsheet listing organisations contained in Chile in the collection
BLDS – example of listing of material in Chile

This listing had a number of purposes, firstly it helped us to know what we were working with, and secondly it ensured we were able to locate material and answer basic queries from those requiring items from the collection whilst we are working on the project.

Alongside this we were also thinking about the future preservation of the material and the physical space. We consulted with the conservator at The Keep who alleviated our fears over the condition of the material, and advised on what we could do in terms of storage. As with most projects, our budget is tight, so coming up with storage solutions that both supported and preserved the material whilst not breaking the bank was vital. We opted for pamphlet boxes, and luckily the library had a lot spare so we were able to use these for the first 300m – after that we sourced a cardboard acid-free option. I could go on and on about why pamphlet boxes instead of being straight on the shelves or closed boxes, but as I have been warned before, that might not be a very interesting topic.

Due to the location and nature of the material it was decided (in consultation with management and the project advisory board) that it would be a closed collection, making decisions regarding retrieval much easier, and also meaning we did not have to physically reorder the whole collection, which would have taken 3 years on its own. We were able instead to apply a structue on to the collection which allowed for both simple retrieval but also maintained the provenance of how the collection was originally ordered. The only exception to this was if a country had changed its name in which case we decided to move material to sit alphabetically under its current name. So for example, Ceylon changed, and moved, to Sri Lanka.

Image of library stacks with pamphlet boxes and pamphlets
BLDS Legacy Collection – reboxed and labeled material – image credit: Tracy Wilson

Once we had a greater understanding of what we physically had and how it would be stored, we were able to start thinking about our metadata schema, subject headings and themes which we wanted to apply to the material.

The University of Sussex (UoS) catalogues using Resource Description and Access (RDA) , Machine Readable Cataloguing Standards (MARC21), and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), along with the Library of Congress classification scheme (LOC). As the collection catalogue would be hosted on the UoS Library catalogue it did not make sense to catalogue in a different way. We however needed to add in BLDS-specific information to aid discoverability. We did this in discussion with the UoS cataloguing team and decided to add in a 583 field to our schema, which would contain information on what we decided to call ‘themes’.

The collection is vast so we needed something which would help to aid thematic and longitudinal research as well as country-focused investigation. To solve this we created 19 themes, a combination of which which could be applied to each item we catalogue, with the information being entered into our bespoke 583 field.

Screenshot of list of themes in the BLDS collection. Themes are: Agriculture and rural development Conflict Culture and information Economy Education Energy and utilities Environment Gender and sexuality Government and politics Health and welfare Human rights Labour and trade unions Law Population Religion and belief Science and technology Towns and cities Trade and industry Transport
BLDS – themes
Screenshot of 583 field in MARC 21 record
BLDS – 583 field in MARC21

What this then allowed us to do was filter records based on theme, and create a Primo Discovery database through which users can easily search resources within a certain theme and across countries.

Screenshot of BLDS Legacy Collection  Primo discovery homepage
BLDS – Primo discovery homepage

With all of these decisions made, plus so many others which included: how to arrange skip hire (for disposals), what barcode numbering to use, pest control, and so many other tiny decisions it has been full on. With many unexpected challenges, but we are getting there, and having managed to keep on track despite Covid we pretty pleased with how things are going.

That’s a quick whistle stop tour through how we started the project and some of the decisions made. Look out for future posts on other aspects of managing the BLDS project.

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library

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