My name is Lucy Maguire, and I worked on the Queen Victoria Hospital Archive Project as a Preservation and Digitisation Assistant between August 2016 and September 2017. As the title suggests, my job was broken up into two main parts but within each there was a wealth of surprises, which made every day its own unique challenge.
When I began working in the Record Office’s conservation workshop, my first task was the digitisation of the patient files of QVH’s ‘Guinea Pig Club’. I had of course been aware of the famous group before I came to the project, along with their pioneering ‘Maestro’ Sir Archibald McIndoe, and it was a privilege to work with their medical histories in such detail. In total I captured over 25000 images as part of the digitisation process, but this was only the first step – each photograph was edited, assigned a unique reference code and stored safely on an external hard-drive. This kind of post-production is a vital part of the digitisation process, as it ensures that an image will be identifiable and useful to the researchers that wish to use it.
Alongside the Guinea Pig Club patient case files, I also worked on digitising East Grinstead Museum’s collection of drawings by VAD nurse Mollie Lentaigne. As the Museum’s ‘Rebuilding Bodies and Souls’ exhibition explains, Lentaigne was drafted by McIndoe to illustrate the ground-breaking procedures he was undertaking in the hospital’s theatres. The resulting art is a fascinating and visually striking window into the surgical advances made during the war-time period.
Once the camera was packed away, work began on the other aspect of my role – conducting preservation work on all of the patient case files in our collection. With around 15,000 files to work on this is no small task, and it’s difficult not to get distracted by the stories of the patients and staff! I removed paperclips, staples and treasury tags, interleaf pages of photographs with Silversafe paper, and store x-rays and photographic slides in specially crafted Melinex pockets.
Sometimes, however, items required more specialist attention, like a collection of x-rays displayed in the shape of a mouth. We had to remove the staples that attached them to the card, but were able to retain their orientation by ‘sewing’ them back into place with archive-friendly thread. Working through these kinds of preservation puzzles is one of the most rewarding parts of my job – improving the lifespan of a record, whilst maintaining its unique character, is always a delicate balance.
The Queen Victoria Hospital Archive is full of remarkable stories, and working on the technical aspects of this Wellcome Trust project has been a very exciting journey. Although many of these processes happen behind the scenes, they help to ensure that the collection remains legible and accessible, meaning that these stories can educate and inspire us for years to come.
Lucy Maguire, Queen Victoria Hospital Project Preservation and Digitisation Assistant