Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts

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2012 Annual Record report

St Cross is up and running! The repairs and conservation of the church building and fitting out for change of use to a special collections store and reading room were carried out January 2010 – January 2011.  We began to move the collections from their several locations on the Broad Street site into St Cross in February 2011, and finished in August. By doing the move in-house we were able to carry it out gradually and systematically, and to organise the collections in St Cross as we went along; this was particularly important as we were extracting manuscripts collections from storage alongside materials intended to stay in the Broad Street library, and marking everything up and supervising external removers would have taken even more time and effort. At the end of the exercise we concluded that for a relatively small but complex and valuable collection, moving out of complicated storage conditions, it had been the least expensive and most efficient method.

The north aisle and vestry repositories now contain all of the college archives, ancient manuscripts and modern papers collections, with a good amount of shelf space for future accessions. To be precise, out of a total of 923 shelf metres in the north and vestry repositories, 205m or 22% has yet to be filled. This is above the standard recommended 15% of empty shelf space for new archive buildings, and will mean not only that St Cross will be able to house regular administrative archival accessions in the long term but also that the College be able to consider accepting significant future deposits of personal papers. The early and rare printed books will be housed in the south aisle repository.

The Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church opened for business as scheduled at the beginning of October 2011. Since then (October 2011 – July 2012)  there have been 117 reader-days (ie researcher seats occupied) and close to 500 remote enquiries about the archives and manuscript collections.

The number of remote enquiries to the archives has been slowly rising every year and is now about 55 per month, approaching double the average of 30 a month when I first started at Balliol in 2004-5. There is no particular pattern to enquiries across the year, but visitors tend to decline in December and increase over the summer months, when academics are free to travel. There has also been a steady stream of visitors to see the work done on the church rather than to consult the collections, from Old Members of Balliol to former residents of the parish and people who were baptised or married in St Cross. One particularly enjoyable group was a Year 8 class from New College School, who asked excellent questions about the building’s architectural history and used their choristers’ Latin to help decipher a medieval document, but especially relished ordering each other’s executions from the pulpit in an impromptu re-enactment of the Latimer-Ridley trials. In addition, the Centre participated in the Oxford Preservation Trust’s Open Doors Days in September 2011, and was nearly overwhelmed with 1100 visitors in 8 hours over two afternoons. We will be taking part in Open Doors again in 2012.

As always happens with such projects, there have been some hiccups with getting the air conditioning in the repositories working to produce the very specific controlled climate conditions we need for the special collections, but it’s now working well. Temperature and relative humidity are maintained at stable levels within the limits laid out in BS5454:2000, the British Standard for storage and exhibition of archival documents and the main guidance document for the design of the repositories – for us, that means 17-18 degrees C and 50-55% rH.

Starting in late summer 2012, the staff at the Oxford Conservation Consortium, just up the road from St Cross at Grove Cottage in Longwall Street, will be conducting a condition survey of all the medieval and early modern manuscripts.  The survey will show which of the manuscripts is in most urgent need of repair work, and with past statistics for the frequency with which individual manuscripts have been consulted (kept with admirable precision by Alan Tadiello) will help to determine the conservators’ work schedule for Balliol over the next several years.

Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre is open to any visitor or researcher by prior appointment with the Lonsdale Curator. By the time this edition of the Record appears, it will have presented its first major exhibition, to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the poet Robert Browning, and hosted  researchers using the collections for at least 100 days of its first year. This is in line with previous levels of research visits to the Library, so we expect it to continue and probably increase.

- Anna Sander, Lonsdale Curator of Archives and Manuscripts
twitter: @balliolarchives

Enquiries about the archives can be directed to Anna by post or by email at
Enquiries about living old members should be directed to the Development Office.

- John Jones and Anna Sander

You do not need to request permission to download or print one copy of any of the images on these pages for your personal private study or research purposes.
You do need to request permission in writing to use any of these images for any publication in any format, including any use on a website.

The archives and manuscripts of Balliol College are open by appointment to enquirers in person at the Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell.
Enquiries should be sent in writing (email or post).
There is no charge for Archive enquiries, but donations for Archive purposes are always appreciated.
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