Establishing an Archive During a Pandemic – Lorraine Murray

2020 has been a difficult and strange year for everyone, but during these “unprecedented” times, at The Glasgow Academy Archive, we viewed it as an opportunity to set up and launch our new archive service.

The archive collection dates from 1845 to the present day and relates to all aspects of the school’s history consisting of governance and administrative records, minutes, admission registers, financial records, records of clubs and societies, school magazines and publications, officer training corps records and other associated miscellaneous historical papers and objects. There is also a large collection of physical and digital photographic material of various sizes, shapes and formats. Over the last year prior to lockdown, the priority had been to organise, package and store this collection as well as beginning the process of cataloguing the items.

The school c.1937

But the lockdown and subsequent restrictions has meant a period of home working that has encouraged us to look at different ways to work, to promote the service and to use the archive to engage with our wider community. Digital engagement has always been something that The Glasgow Academy has embraced and during lockdown their blended learning approach has been extremely successful. But one of the challenges faced by the archive was being able to launch the service as intended in April 2020, to coincide with our second season of the “Ronnie Woods’ Memorial Lecture Series”. After a successful and well-attended first season of lectures in 2019, our plan was to use the second season as a platform to launch the new archive service to our stakeholders and broader community. However, as this was simply not possible, we decided to make a short video to virtually launch instead and used YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to let the world know!

We set up a Twitter and Facebook Account to showcase what we have in the collection, which will hopefully incite interest for when we are able to welcome visitors in person (as government advice allows), having done the groundwork to reach those who may be interested in accessing our resources.

Another way we engaged with our school community and externally was through a series of “Then and Now” blogs that compared how the school dealt with the crisis of war compared to our new crisis, showing parallels between the two situations, as a way of bringing these historic events to life using photographs and images or items from the collection. These short articles which appeared online and in our Etcetera publication gave the newly appointed archivist an opportunity to learn about the history of the school and to share these stories with others; something that may not have been a top priority when establishing a new archive, when there was so much work to be done!

Records and photos relating to the Westbourne School for Girls which merged with the Academy in 1991

A major school milestone this year relates to our governance. In 1920, The Glasgow Academicals’ War Memorial Trust was formed, and to mark our centenary, we broadcasted a live feed on Remembrance Day instead of welcoming people to our usual service. To allow us to achieve this, the archive has proved invaluable; the photographs and research carried out on our former pupils who served during the wars were used to inform, educate and engage audiences – to hear the story of a First World War casualty and see their photograph touches people so much more than simply seeing a name etched on a memorial or printed in a book along with so many others. Archives bring history to life and are a tangible link with the past.

War casualties – we used this image for our recent Centenary / Remembrance Day broadcast, showing some of the First and Second World War casualties

One of the messages we have tried to put across is that the collection cannot be static; it is not simply about looking after what we have already, but to continue to collect as daily life occurs. And as the Covid-19 pandemic has been such an important event globally, we began to collect information about how the school responded to this, such as the communications sent out to parents and carers. Also, some of our senior pupils created a student newspaper during April and June called QuaranTimes which included updates, advice for health and well-being and activities. Although recent events are still fresh in our mind, in years to come, this will not always be so; they may be of interest to researchers in future, or useful as a tool to show how the school was run or what measures were put in place during this period, which is extremely valuable.

Student publication QuaranTimes May cover

Although physical access is restricted for now, the forced hiatus caused by Covid-19 can be viewed as positive in some ways; allowing us to reflect on what we have in the collection, how it can be used to promote the school through communications and media and as a way of increasing meaningful engagement, which has been proved through the positive feedback received about our videos, broadcasts, publications and communications.

Lorraine Murray, Archivist, The Glasgow Academy

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