Exploring The Keep – valuable resources for teaching and research

Recently the TEL team went to visit The Keep and were hugely impressed with the range of resources available to students, teaching and research staff and the public. Here we talk to Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator at the University of Sussex, exploring the many ways in which The Keep can be used to enhance learning experiences and develop research skills as well as the ways in which TEL will be working with The Keep in the future.

Tell us about The Keep

The Keep is many things but at its most basic level it’s a building which has been created to house the archival and rare book collections of the University of Sussex, the archival collections of East Sussex Record Office and the collections from the Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove. Opened in 2013, the building is designed to house archives and rare books in the correct environmental conditions and has been created to be completely accessible.

The Keep

How has The Keep been used in teaching at the University of Sussex?

On a very practical level it’s about bringing students over, showing them how to use a building like this, to use catalogue systems, to think outside of the library catalogue. It’s also about giving them hands on time with the physical archives, rare books and physical objects in a way that you don’t necessarily get with digital. It’s that leap from the textbook into becoming your own researcher, creating your own research identity. And then we show how that translates to the digital resources, digitised versions of things like the Mass Observation Archive and Early English Books Online, providing that alternative side to research.

We’ve been working with Sociolinguistics, that’s one of the newer ones. We’ve also got the traditional uses of History and English. Since the early phase of Mass Observation has been digitised more tutors are using or encouraging their students to use the digital archive because you’re able to manipulate it in different ways, you can do different kinds of searches and comparisons in a way that the physical archives might limit you. So we are able to take opportunities to use the digital to enhance the experience of students. What we also want to do is maintain that sense of ownership and responsibility for the physical objects so that the emotional point of contact doesn’t get forgotten.

How do you think The Keep could be used in the future?

The digital is the area in which it could be exploited more, that sense of what else we could do with it. We’ve worked with a digital artist around digitising portions of the archives to start looking at them in different ways, overlaying images and exploding them. How can you change it? How can you manipulate it?

Observing the 80sThen there’s the very practical research which things like the Observing the 80s project explored. How can you create a resource that brings together resources from disparate locations to create a sort of central bank of learning? That’s quite a traditional use of digital, creating this virtual collection that’s themed, but I think what was interesting about Observing the 80s is we had the ‘cooked’ – the curated, taught package – but also alongside that was the raw data that had been digitised, the raw digital which enabled other people to come along and pull bits of it to create their own packages. So I think that’s probably where I would see the future, as archives we need to try to digitise and keep our voice in there but we need to allow people to create what they want to create.

How can individual students come and use The Keep?

Well they can register online, explore the catalogues online, come and talk to staff who can help them look at very specific collections or just generally how to use and look at archives. And they can come in and explore. Once registered you can order items, go into the reading rooms and start looking at them. The other thing you can do is come in and explore our growing digital resources. That’s actually one of the challenges that we are facing at the moment – how do we preserve and provide access to things like the born digital collections that we are acquiring.

Are there any initiatives or projects that people should keep an eye on?

Over the next few months we are going to be experimenting with TEL, exploring how we can use packages like Biblioboard to deliver our digitised surrogates and our born digital archives. I can see that there is a bit of tension between what we are able to provide and decide to digitise and what researchers and the students might want to look at. What we need to do is find out how we put these two together, how do we find out what people want and how do we provide it in a way that they can deal with? So over the next twelve months we need to experiment with this platform, find out what kind of metadata is required, how people want to use it and how we can exploit it for presenting as well as preserving what we hold.Capture

If you would like to discuss how The Keep can enhance the learning experience and development of research skills or would like to find out more about the Keep please email Fiona, f.p.courage@sussex.ac.uk.

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