Author Archives: cilipsw

Transforming CILIP, a new definition of Information Literacy, CILIP Conference, reduced prices for training and more…

There’s lots going on in CILIP at the moment which we discovered through the Spring CILIP Member Network forum. This meeting featured motivating presentations from Nick Poole, CEO, CILIP and Jane Secker, Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group and showed us that there is a lot to be excited about!

At the forum Nick Poole gave a snapshot of the ongoing internal CILIP transformation process. With a new organisational structure from June 2018 there will be a more agile organisation focused on delivering value for members. This will mean empowering people to work together across teams and putting capacity where it’s needed – in delivery and support for Member Networks, thus working towards a more ‘decentralised’ CILIP. We’ll no doubt find out more soon

Following Nick, Jane Secker presented a new definition of information literacy which involved cross-sector collaboration with members and the Information Literacy Group committee. LILAC 2017 feedback highlighted the need for a definition to be in plain language and for all, not just information professionals, since it’s about developing ‘informed citizens’ of the information society in which we all live. The new definition for 2018 reads: “Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to develop informed views and to engage fully with society.” Information literacy can be used in everyday life, in citizenship, in education, in the workplace and in health. You can find out more online

Also at the forum, Jane Daniels provided information on CIG’s partnership with Library Juice Academy. Any member of CILIP is eligible for 20% discount on LJA online courses, so why not take a look at what’s available?

Dates for the diary:

  • With the CILIP Conference less than a month away (4th-5th July) please have a look at the latest programme – you can see it here – it’s not too late to book your place
  • 8th-13th October is Libraries Week #LibrariesWeek – this year’s focus is on wellbeing and libraries across the country will showcase how they bring communities together, combat loneliness, provide a space for reading and creativity and support people with their mental health. How could your library get involved?
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Clinical Librarian Community of Practice Launch

The Clinical Librarian Community of Practice Launch attracted many clinical and outreach librarians from all over the South. The meeting proved to be very useful indeed, with discussions revolving around what librarians do, and what sort of qualities are needed for their roles.

What do clinical librarians and outreach librarians do?

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Clinical librarians routinely head out of the safety of their libraries to attend multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings, or participate in ward rounds (or both!) to support health professionals on the spot, and educate them about the support they can get from the library. They’re often asked to do literature searches, and support teams within the hospital with research and projects. Some clinical librarians may be assigned to a department on a temporary or permanent basis, to support health professionals with evidence-based information.

Outreach librarians will often have to venture outside of the main hospital, to assist with research and projects in the local community. Like clinical librarians, they may have to attend meetings with health professionals and advertise library services.

Especially for smaller NHS trusts, librarians may have to undertake aspects of the clinical librarian and outreach librarian roles as part of their job, too.

What sorts of qualities are needed?

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Both clinical and outreach librarians are ambassadors for the library service, and need to be amicable and approachable. They should be flexible too; to change their schedule on short notice (or on the spot) and be able to prioritise their workloads effectively.

It’s also important to have entrepreneurial qualities. By venturing out of the library to provide a service, they must be proactive in finding work. It’s likely that many health professionals simply don’t know about the sorts of things their library can offer, and clinical or outreach librarians can establish a rapport with clinical colleagues. Being reliable and trustworthy are good qualities to have, too, as it’s likely that clinical and outreach librarians will work with the same people on a regular basis.

Mutual support and advice.

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The Clinical Librarian Community of Practice will provide support and advice to those who work in medical libraries. It’s also about sharing best practice and ideas, so that librarians can work on improving the service at their trust. This is especially useful for new librarians and clinical or outreach librarians, who want to learn from their experienced peers.

 

 

CILIP South West Member Network AGM and Members’ Day 6th April 2018: Exploring Data and Open Data

Report by Susan Lee


Thirty library and information professionals from across the region attended the day held at the University of Exeter Old Library. The Chair, Emma Wellard, welcomed everybody and read out her report. She highlighted the professional development events that were run last year including 3 Library Safaris and visits to Britannia Naval College and National Meteorological Library and Archive. The Treasurer, Andrew Hutchinson, then gave his report and emphasized that 88% of all expenditure supported member interests. Catherine Chorley was voted on as Vice Chair and welcomed to the committee. Emma then presented the Harry Galloway Prize to Nicky Turner for her dissertation on the role of the school librarian in improving information & digital literacy skills in Secondary Schools and the transition to HE. You can read more about Nicky’s research here – https://cilipswmn.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/nicky-turner-2017-winner-of-the-harry-galloway-prize/

Dr Beverley Hawkins from the University of Exeter Business School was the first speaker with her dynamic presentation about the Unlimited Value Project: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1JQn1xdcMYNnJIxIYyCrcMVQkjPtOWQpE-ha4yBCqtNQ/edit?usp=drivesdk. The project is a collaboration between Libraries Unlimited, University of Exeter Business School, Open Data Institute and Real Ideas Organisation. The project is looking at how to capture the social value of libraries, connect social impact to financial value and how library leaders can best respond to working in a more socially enterprising way. One strand of the project is Technology and Data Analytics – using data to develop a better understanding of service user patterns and mapping onto other data sources for wellbeing, literacy etc. The second is Staff Development to empower staff to lead change around social value.

After an enjoyable networking lunch David Ball, independent consultant, gave an informative presentation ‘Open Data and its significance for the research process’: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1vr_FtNCyL1djFsQmRLeFk4QjB3cDZmRUZJNGtZc1k4YWdV/view?usp=drivesdk. He described the changes from the subscription journal model through to Open Access, Open Science and Open Peer Review. This change has accelerated knowledge developments and made data available to researchers in less affluent countries who don’t have access to funding.

The final speaker was Dave Rowe, a Geo-spatial Software Developer with Carto and a Libraries West Library Systems Officer, who gave an absorbing presentation ‘Using open Geographic Intelligence with library data’: https://geography.librarydata.uk/.

He explained geographic information, location, coordinates, geo-spatial data and geocoding. He gave fascinating examples of using geographical data and assured us that data that includes geography and libraries is always fun. Examples ranged from distance from a library and Environment Agency open data to Global Book Map which shows the books set in the local area (65 books were set in Exeter).

 

I came away from the event with not only a better understanding of open data, but with the confidence to explore data sets to find out more about library users and the local population and therefore improve my support of the community. It was great to meet up with people from such a diverse range of library and information sectors and discuss the differences and similarities of our work.

Nicky Turner – 2017 winner of the Harry Galloway Prize

This year’s Harry Galloway Prize was awarded to Nicky Turner. Here we read about her dissertation and work on secondary school students’ information skills.

Nicky studied for an MSc in Information Management at UWE Bristol from 2015-16 as a full-time student. Previously, she had been an English teacher for twelve years and was looking for a change of career which still enabled her to use her existing skills. Nicky felt that the course offered a broad and varied introduction to the evolving world of information management and its relevant current digital landscape.

During her studies, Nicky worked as a school librarian which enabled her to closely observe, first hand, the information and digital literacy skills of sixth form students. This led her to research this more thoroughly for her dissertation where she focused specifically on students who were planning to make the transition to higher education, and the role of the school librarian in supporting the teaching and development of these skills.

From her previous teaching experience, Nicky could see that it was clear that secondary students’ information skills were frequently unsophisticated, despite their confidence in using digital technology. Studies conducted by university libraries indicated that undergraduates’ skills of searching, evaluating and referencing information were consistently weak, which was echoed by the findings of her own teacher and student surveys, and observations. Nicky taught a series of lessons to help students improve their competency in these areas and noticed that they found the tasks challenging due to their lack of practice. From here, she went on to consider the obstacles for schools in improving the IDL skills of students and found that resourcing, time pressures and political decisions affecting the curriculum were particular barriers. It was also evident that teachers’ own information skills were largely self-taught and they lacked confidence in teaching them. This led her to explore how the school librarian, in his/her capacity as an information expert, could help to overcome these challenges and play an important role from an early age in supporting curriculum development and the teaching of these skills.

On completion of the course, Nicky accepted a role in the Policy and Strategy Team at UCAS. This role has made use of many of the skills she learned on the course, and she is currently leading on the development of an information flow strategy for the team. She has also been able to take a continued interest in the transition skills of young people entering higher education, through internal presentations about her dissertation topic, and attending events about the value of the EPQ following the recent reforms which have seen the reintroduction of terminally-assessed A levels and GCSEs.

Nicky was delighted when she heard that she had won the Harry Galloway Prize – she had really enjoyed learning so many new skills and knowledge; her dissertation allowed her to really get her teeth into a topic that she cared about, so receiving this award has added an extra shine to her experience.

 

 

 

CILIP SW Members Network Visit to the Plymouth Medical Society Historic Collection, report by Des Mogg

On Friday 9th February 2018 a small but select band of the CILIP SW Members made a trip to the Discovery Library at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth to have a private view of the collection of the Plymouth Medical Society.

First thing, we had a presentation by Sarah Johns, Discovery Library manager, about the background to the library and how it came about. The library at Derriford was originally housed in a small space on the 7th floor, so an appeal was launched to raise funds for a new purpose built library. Funding was eventually achieved from individual donations, charitable trust, a Heritage Grant from the National Lottery, and the largest sums from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry and the British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit, which is based at Derriford. Sarah showed a slide of Sir Ranulph Fiennes opening the library in August 2007!

The current library service is funded by Health Education England South, which covers the South-West, Thames Valley and Wessex. The catchment is approximately 17000 people from Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, GP services, Livewell Southwest, and South Western Ambulance NHS Trust (SWAST), as well as students on placement from Plymouth Medical and Dental School.

The Heritage Lottery Grant was for the preservation of the historical collection, which had previously been kept in a cluttered basement room. Tom Arnold, librarian at the Discovery Library, gave an excellent detailed presentation about the history and practicalities of preserving and making the collection accessible. As explained in his presentation, the Plymouth Medical Society dates from 1794 (one of the oldest medical societies in the country), and the donated collection consists of around 400 items, some of which date from the late 1600s. The members used to share the texts among themselves, and the collection consists of many fine illustrated volumes as well as case and lecture notes among other items.

The main initial aims were preservation of the collection, according to established guidelines and standards, and conservation, which was done by professional conservators. Tom said that most of the collection was quite sound, with most conservation being repairs to bindings which were worn through use.

Secure storage was a requirement of the Heritage Lottery Grant. The collection is in a secure environment with security cameras in the storage and access areas. Access is supervised and the usual requirements for consulting rare materials are observed – no food or drink, clean hands, pencil only for notes etc.

Electronic access has been key to the accessibility of the collection. It was decided that some items would be digitised in their entirety, such as the John Hunter lecture notes and the Society minute books, as they are fragile and e-access would minimise handling.

An Image Database has also been set up from the many fine illustrations in the collection.  E-access can be found here: http://www.plymouthmedicalhistory.org.uk/

One of the strategic aims of the Lottery grant is to reach out and widen access to the collection. Approaches have been made to schools through the Devon Education Service, and Tom is using the collection material in a Special Study Unit (SSU) with 4th year medical students.

Tom summarised his talk with some advice for anyone who may be setting up a similar collection, to enable best practice and save having to ‘reinvent the wheel:

  • Use established standards
  • Use examples of best practice
  • Use institutions and experts who offer training and advice
  • Talk to people who have similar experience

Later in the morning we had a chance to have a closer look at some items from the collection.

We saw some beautiful examples of 19th century illustrated books while Tom explained the development of anatomical illustration, from skeletons in classical poses to hyper realistic depictions of dissections.

This was a fascinating morning, which really gave us a sense of the riches of a local medical society, and the value of preserving and making such an archive available.

Many thanks to Tom and Sarah, and to Valerie Bearne for organising the day.

CILIP SW Visit to the National Meteorological Library and Archive, Part Two

In a second report on the recent CILIP SW visit to the National Meteorological Library and Archive, Susan Lee, Library Supervisor at Crediton Library, describes the day:

“Sarah Pankiewicz, Library & Archive Manager, showed us round the Met Office Library which serves both Met Office staff and the public. The six library staff come from a variety of backgrounds; library and information, astrophysics, Met Office scientist, etc. Their roles include cataloguing, procurement, journal management, digitisation and quality control, systems management including collections management and the digital library and archive, supporting various archive projects and answering 150 – 200 enquiries per month. The team have had to transform the way they work due to wider Civil Service aims for increasing efficiency. This, together with a recent reduction in staff, has also led to more integration between the library and archive with their roles necessarily evolving in order to maintain service levels.

The library has Met Office records, journals, records from organisations across the world, books, computers and displays of historical met office equipment and material from the archive. Work is on-going to scan Met Office material which is carried out either on site or sent out for digitising when the budget allows. This helps preserve the material and is more accessible for the public and researchers. The library has books on meteorology, physics, climate and expeditions,  but also has begun to concentrate on the purchase of eBooks over the last couple of years and usage statistics indicate that staff are making very effective use of these resources. The journal budget is being increasingly directed towards online journal subscriptions with a significant reduction in print journals. The long term aims of reducing physical stock, lowering shelf height, making the library more user friendly, increasing access, all resonate with those of my sector, public libraries.


 

 

 

 

Next was the visit to one of the supercomputer halls. There are 5 supercomputers which rank the Met Office as the 15th largest in the world. The halls are rows and rows of IT along with 20 air conditioning units to cool them. There are dual systems, automatic backing up of data and backup diesel generators to ensure no data is lost due to power failure.

Then we visited the Operations Centre which is a 24/7 environment with staff working 12 hour shifts. I was struck by the size and amount of monitors the staff were using and the atmosphere of quiet concentration. The centre is made up of different units: forecasting, global, flood forecasting, hazard, aviation, IT, media and customer service. The centre not only monitors the weather and makes forecasts but looks at trends, probabilities and impact.

The central part of the Met Office is an internal street. It is covered in slate paving slabs, has street lamps, a stream running through it, cafes, seating areas, etc. Public libraries are increasingly evolving into social and cultural hubs but it will be a challenge to think of ways to bring this brilliant social space into a library. We ate in the cafeteria decorated with clouds hanging from the ceiling!

The Met Office Archive is by appointment only and situated in Great Moor House, a few minutes’ walk from the main Met Office building. It shares the building, public search room and staff workroom with the Devon Heritage Centre, but has separate strongrooms. Catherine Ross, Archivist, took us for a tour of 2 of the 4 Met Office strongrooms. There are fire shutters, fire doors, buffer corridors and gas suppressant systems to protect the stored material. An air curtain starts up as you enter the strongroom to help keep the temperature at 15–18°C. A large part of the archive comprises historic weather observations in the form of tabulated data (information written in numeric form) and autographic data (the original data). There are also collections of ships logs, historic equipment, expedition diaries, weather diaries, etc. It was fascinating to hear how the Met Office evolved, see the first synoptic chart 1859, the 5th June 1944 meteorological chart relied on for planning D-Day, Admiral Beaufort’s diary with original Beaufort Scale and by the 1807 diary the revised 12 stage Beaufort Scale and much more. Digitising records is ongoing, though reliant on funding, to help preservation and to improve access for the public and researchers.

I would recommend a visit and also having a look at their online resources. I explored their website www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library and checked out the weather on the day I was born when I got home!”

 

 

CILIP SW Visit to the National Meteorological Library and Archive, Part One

We are delighted to publish the first of two reports about a visit to the Met Office National Meteorological Library & Archive in Exeter on 15th November 2017. The event, organised by CILIP SW Member, Valerie Bearne, inspired two of its attendees, Chris Johns and Susan Lee, to write reports about their experience.

Chris Johns, Systems Librarian, at the Royal Cornwall Hospital describes the day:

“The tour was split into two halves, firstly to the National Meteorological Office Library and then after lunch to the National Meteorological Archive.

Intrigued by the venue and with my lack of knowledge of the functions and resources of the National Meteorological Library and Archive (NMLA) it was an easy decision to sign up to this event.  The opportunity to visit a more exotic corner of our profession with chartership in mind could not be missed.

I shall not describe the history of the Met office, nor the library or archive here. However should you wish to find more out then please visit their website at About Us.

As we met in the foyer the range of people attending from public library to healthcare and further college librarians gave an immediate opportunity to network with colleagues from across the region, each of us looking forward to a tour of this high tech modern building which was officially opened in 2004 when the service relocated from Bracknell to Exeter.

Met Office Library

We were welcomed by Sarah Pankiewicz who is the NMLA manager.

We started with a tour of the library, a brief recent history of the service and an introduction to the current staff. There are currently 6 team members based in the library who are from a range of backgrounds. Sarah is the only professional librarian on the team.

Main duties include:

  • meteorological enquiry service
  • cataloguing books and journals (print and electronic)
  • acquisitions both for library and other members of staff
  • system management and quality control of catalogue records
  • journal management both electronic and print
  • digitisation and quality control
  • sorting , quality control and cataloguing of archive records
  • item loans
  • on-site customer services including online access to e-journals and e-books, the catalogue and digital library & archive

These are all very familiar functions to many sectors, seeing the bound journals reminded me very much of the healthcare sector library I have experience of, but the type and range of some of the materials and information here  is quite specialist. Quite different from much of the information we supply to our users in the healthcare sector.

The service supports the Met Office staff of around 1700-1800 employees the majority of whom are based at the Met Office HQ.

The service is publicly funded and falls within the governance of the Met Office Public Weather Service . The archive service also has a remit under the Public Records Act 1958 to preserve and provide public acccess to the national memory of the weather. The forward plan states that a ‘key aim of the NMLA is to promote awareness of our collections and provide greater access to as wider a user community as possible’ NMLS Policies.

I wonder how many people realise this resource is publicly accessible; I didn’t.

The enquiry service deals with around 150-200 enquiries a month from e-mail, phone calls or in person. There is of course a limit to how long an enquiry should take and how much can be supplied within reasonable resource limits, however the rule is that each enquiry should take no longer than round 30 minutes to meet and should be turned around within 5 days.

Currently the service is undergoing a catalogue migration from EOS (SirsiDynix) to Soutron. EOS was designed for specialist collections. It has enabled the team to catalogue to both library and archive standards within the same system and Soutron will take this a step further enabling the archive records to be displayed in a hierarchical fashion with hyperlinks to to associated records and so providing much easier access to the collections. The new system is due to go live in March 2018.

With the increasing transition from print to online journals and a frozen budget of around £70-80k per annum comes the common issues of subscription management, budget allocation and usage statistics. Subscription management is carried out directly with the publishers, with collections and back files being supplied by Springer, Elsevier and Nature as well as many other key publishers

Online access to e-journals is negotiated on a commercial basis and so copyright restrictions apply accordingly, however due the public access policy of the collection there are personal use clauses that allow content to be supplied to members of the public. Online access may be given either on site or articles downloaded and suplied within copyright restrictions

Scanning of items for document supply to fulfil the requests of staff and the public as well as for storage in the archive has become a large feature of the service offer. Increasingly much of the information and resources are now being ‘born digital’. Though these items still have to be catalogued, managed and archived there are fewer physical resources that require digitization.

The library itself has a very modern, spacious and well lit feel to it, with high ceiling, motion sensored lighting and light coloured decoration and fixtures.

With familiar shelving and reading spaces around the library this offers a generous and welcoming atmosphere for researchers and the public to come and use the resource.

The physical collection contains the usual mix of academic journals, reference texts and reports however this collection also include the Daily Weather Reports back as far as 1860. The collection also has weather reports from many other countries and are often the single repository of many of these items. Requests are sometimes received from the country in which the Daily Weather Reports originated.

 

The physical collection contains the usual mix of academic journals, reference texts and reports however this collection also include the Daily Weather Reports back as far as 1860. The collection also has weather reports from many other countries and are often the single repository of many of these items. Requests are sometimes received from the country in which the Daily Weather Reports originated.

The ongoing digitisation programme ultimately feeds not only the digital archive but also the Met Office ‘super computer’, more on that in a bit. This digitisation supports the drive for preservation and access as well as linking to the government’s ‘transform and efficiency’ drive within the Civil Service.

The Met Office transferred a large collection of historical instruments and artefacts to the Science Museum ahead of the office relocation from Bracknell to Exeter. The library and archive do still retain a small collection of instruments many of which are on display in the library.

We were shown a Campbell-Stokes recorder  as well as the ‘sunshine cards’ that are still in use today. Some of the library team are engaged with sorting and quality controlling a huge collection of Scottish sunshine cards ahead of their transfer to the National Records of Scotand.

There is a world wide engagement in “Data Capture” activities (or for some parts of the world “ data rescue”) where original sourced meteorological records are scanned and the keyed so that the newly digitsed data can be added to exisiting databases including the Met Office observation database known as MIDAS. Increasing the digital record facilitates more accurate analysis and re-analysis of historical weather observations and provides more data for verifcation work . Ultimately this leads to improved accuracy of the forecasting and climate models that run on the Met Ofiice super computer. The archive activiely support these kinds of projects and for records they have already digitised this can help to speed the whole process up.

Sarah indicated that there will probably be a point at which the bulk of the journal print copy additions will cease but that there will still likely be a collection of reference texts, historical records and statistical reports. There is also a display of the history of the Met Office in the library which is an important part of the service’s heritage.

The decision to move from Bracknell to Exeter was made for many reasons, not least the need for a new and expanded site that could support the new ‘super computer’ and it’s power requirement. Of course staff vote favoured Exeter over other proposed locations, but also the restrictions on planning in other sites and the ability to consolidate offices from many locations into one place was another key driver.

The Street

Once the tour of the library had concluded and before lunch in the onsite staff canteen we were granted access to the staff area that members of the public are not given access to. Through a series of swipe access doors and we entered into a vast area that resembled a shopping precinct and which is known as The Street.

The vast atrium incorporated a restaurant, many meeting rooms, offices, access to the Met Office college and a small stream. We were led to a rather insignificant door. Once through that we entered a corridor and were greeted by Peter Johnson (Co-ordinating Installation Design Authority Engineer), an engineer who looks after the ‘super computer’ who took us to a rather noisy room.

This houses some of the cabinets and processors that forms the ‘super computer’ which is currently supplied by Cray . Peter listed some stunning facts about the amazing beast.

The supercomputer consists of three main systems – an identical pair of machines and a single larger system in a new purpose-built data centre nearby. The twin identical machines provide a highly resilient capability for running time-critical operational weather forecasts, whereas the third system provides research, development and collaboration capabilities,

The three new Cray XC40 supercomputers:

  • Are capable of over 14,000 trillion arithmetic operations per second – that’s more than 2 million calculation per second for every man, woman and child on the planet.
  • Contain 2 petabytes of memory enough to hold 200 trillion numbers.
  • Contain a total of 460,000 compute cores. These are faster versions of those found in a typical quad-core laptop.
  • Contain 24 petabytes of storage for saving data – enough to store over 100 years worth of HD movies

This power allows the Met Office to take in 215 billion weather observations from all over the world every day, which it then takes as a starting point for running an atmospheric model containing more than a million lines of code.

More information is here: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/technology/supercomputer

Operations Centre

We left the highly sanitised area of the the computer halls and were taken back into The Street and up stairs to the Operation Centre. Andy Bowden (Operations Centre Manager) gave us a talk on the functions in the operations centre. The open plan office which is staffed 24/7/365 had  a massive wall of TV screens with an array of satellite images and news feeds.

This room houses the Chief Forecaster whose role it is to predict and summarise the conditions for the next 48 hours ongoing. The vast amounts of data is analysed and summarised here.

It was explained that even if a large weather event is forecast it is the potential of the impact that is a primary concern, not necessarily the scale of the conditions.

There were many areas sectioned off, each section the base for different operations teams.

These included:

Flood Forecast Centre –working with the Environment Agency to predict flood and produce warning

Natural Hazard Partnerships – liaising across organisations

Marine Centre – delivering weather and sea condition reports

Aviation Centre – highlighting and coordinating flight plans and informing air traffic control

Space Weather – long range  low probability yet high impact events

Media Centre – produce various weather summaries for TV and media forecasts

Industry and Commercial Support – include supermarkets, energy and surface transport companies

Customer Service Desk – fielding general enquiries

Met Office Archive

Catherine Ross, from the National Meteorological Archive took us on a 5 minute walk over to the building which is jointly shared with the Devon Heritage Centre across the road from the main Met Office site.

The building was developed as a joint venture due to the similarly unique requirements for storing archive records in temperature controlled strong rooms. The move of the Met Office
coincided with Devon Council needing to relocate the local archives at around the same time. The shared resource made financial and environmental sense.

As well as their remit under the Public Weather Service the archive has a statutory obligation to preserve and provide access to their collections under the Public Records Act. The collections are held on behalf of The National Archive (TNA) as a legal “place of deposit” and this status was recently ratified as part of the TNA accreditation which was awarded last year.

As Archivist Catherine’s role includes preserving and providing access to these largely unique collections. Conservation work is a different area of expertise and when materials are identified as requiring conservation work then these will be sent away or handled by the conservation team in Devon Heritage Centre.

Each strong room is temperature controlled, with the corridor leading to each room having a steady temperature. A barrier is created from the corridor temperature entering the room with an automatic air conditioning system that switches on with the opening of the door creating a buffer. This way an average temperature of between 15-18 degrees Celsius are maintained, though this is harder to achieve in the warmer months.

Gradual temperature increases are not such a concern, but any sharp jump in temperature can prove harmful to the items stored. Humidity is kept to around 55-65%. Managing the collection is made particularly difficult as much of the paper has an acid content which hinders preservation.

Photos are prone to cracking and reducing the development of mould or red rot is an ongoing challenge. Vinegar syndrome is a phenomenon that causes old film or acetates to explode, though Catherine reassured us that there were no such items in this archive collection.

A large part of the archive comprises weather observations – largely hand written from climate returns, register and ships logs. There are also numerous charts and trace recordings of observations. You will not find recordings of weather forecasts held here – partly because the copyright for these is held by the broadcasting companies but also because the archive largely focusses on the weather as observed.

We were shown the stacks of weather charts bound in monthly volumes going back as far as the 19th century and each one usually requiring 2 people to lift as they are so large.

Whilst work to digitally capture the original analogue data for transfer to MIDAS (the Met Office observation database), it is vital to preserve the original record as an important aspect of not only historic importance but also for quality control purposes. Mistakes can be made in the data interpretation process so having the original record allows for checking accuracy retrospectively.

The Met Office was founded in 1854 by Rear Admiral Fitzroy, who had had devised a way of forecasting the potential maritime conditions.  After the Royal Charter Storm on the 26th October 1859, which took approximately 800 lives and around 133 ships, Fitzroy established the Storm Warning Service, thought to be the earliest National forecasting service in the world.  One of the artefacts in the archive is the first chart produced by Robert FitzRoy and J H Babington which illustrates the conditions of the night of the Royal Charter Storm.

Other interesting artefacts include early weather observation equipment such as antique barometers, illustrations of frost fayres, a proclamation which has survived from the reign of King Charles II asking for people to undertake a 24hr fast and prayer in an attempt to end a period of heavy rainfall and the Meteorological Office grant of arms which includes an illustration of their official coat of arms. This is topped with a weather vane. The weather vane was the original Met Office logo and was affectionately known as the ‘Chicken on a Stick’.

Copies of the weather charts for the 5th and 6th of June 1944 demonstrated just how much impact an accurate forecast could have. The decision for D-Day was taken with great consideration given to the weather and sea conditions. The weather chart for the 5th June was all important as that was when the decision was made to go ahead with the allied invasion of Europe. Conditions were marginal and the German forecasters did not have such complete data as the allied forces. As a result they had thought the weather would not be suitable for the attack and so were less prepared than they might have been had they seen the same charts as the allied commanders.

The tour ended with a viewing of some rare texts which included the earliest text in the NMA, an illuminated manuscript by Albertus Magnus covering various aspects of Natural History including an early understanding of the nature of the refraction of light, and Admiral Francis Beaufort’s hand written weather diary including the first incarnation of his scale of winds.

This was an extremely informative and interesting day out. Providing insight not only into a fascinating topic which affects us all each day, but also into the similarities and differences our profession throws up in all aspects of its application. A visit is recommended.

Take away points/highlights

It is interesting how similar services are in spite of their specialist nature. We experience many of the  same challenges of resource procurement, electronic access barriers, resource management, staffing levels, proving value through KPI’s, digitisation challenges and service funding pressures. We may learn a lot of new ways of dealing with these pressures with more knowledge sharing.

I was surprised to learn how digitised historical data is being added to the modern forecasting models in order to continuously improve their accuracy. As official data, private collections and donations are added to the collections, alongside the advancements being made in technology, we are still learning a lot from the relatively recent past.

Great collaborative projects such as the joint project between Devon County Council and the Met Office to fulfill a common need with a shared resource like the Archive building are essential. Looking for alternative solutions to problems can bring many opportunities into sight.

Ultimately, weather forecasting is not about ferocity or severity but all about impact!”