Special Collections, St. Andrews

At least once upon a time, the word ‘archive’ would conjure up images of dark and dusty rooms crammed full of long forgotten scrolls, papers and other records, little known to most people. These days, however, it is imperative for archives to publicise themselves so their good work might be known, visited and appreciated and as a result, the funding will continue to roll allowing more work to be done.

As a result, archives across the world use a number of methods of exposition – one of the most popular being the blog. This post will briefly look at that kept by Special Collections, St. Andrews, started in 2011.

The blog is entitled ‘Echoes from the Vault.’ Special Collections at St. Andrews has materials dating back six centuries, since the University’s foundation in 1413. It has an impressive rare book collection, much of which came from the Uni’s library and professors’ offices in the nineteenth century. It also houses the University’s institutional archive and collects manuscripts and photographs relating to the local history of St. Andrews and Fife.

One of the best things I think about this blog is its ‘series’ format. In other words, every so often a theme will be picked; for instance ‘Victorian cloth bindings”, ”52 weeks of historical how-to’s” or ”Historical Cooking” and in the following few weeks there will be weekly posts developing on this theme. This is a really fun, creative idea in my opinion; wanting to see how the theme develops will bring readers back, especially as a lot of the themes are based around putting information found in the archives into practice (reenacting recipes, for instance) in a way that the reader can mimic.

Recipe for milk soup taken from St. Andrews, Special Collections which the Special Collections team then ‘re-enacted’ see: https://standrewsrarebooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/historical-cooking-week-2-milk-soup-and-kropffen-cakes/
A different attempt at some ‘archival’ cookery by Special Collections, St. Andrews see also: https://standrewsrarebooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/historical-cooking-week-2-milk-soup-and-kropffen-cakes/

There are also one-off posts unrelated to the themes which cover notable news and events relating to the archive. These are often nicely personal, such as the goodbye written by the curator. In this particular case, the curator, makes use of music videos and even poetry to illustrate his posts. It is nice that ‘Echoes in the Vault’ isn’t afraid to do this, it doesn’t stay too strictly academic and so undoubtedly reaches a wider audience. Furthermore, this works to the strengths of blogging – you can incorporate videos, audio files and pictures in a way that is perhaps harder to do on other social media platforms.

One of the problems with blogs, however, is they tend to be a bit isolated in comparison to social media networks (such as instagram, twitter or facebook) especially as many rely on email-sign ups which people generally shy away from. Special Collections at St. Andrews, however, solves this problem by giving notification of new blog posts via their facebook page and the blog is linked up to other related blogs such as the general University Library blog.

Special Collections, St. Andrews blog: https://standrewsrarebooks.wordpress.com/


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