The Medical Officer of Health reports project begins

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By | Digital Developments

Spine with methylcellulose applied

I recently started working on the Medical Officer of Health digitisation project.

Since the beginning of December 2011, I have been spending the majority of my time in the conservation studio. I have been carrying out disbinding, cleaning and rehousing of the late 19th century Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports that are bound by year. This is so that the digitisers can scan or photograph them for the project.

The MOH reports in our collection are shelved in different sequences: Main, London and Provincial. However, all three sequences contain reports for London areas. Main and Provincial sequences are bound by geographical area and generally they’re in a good condition but the London sequence reports are bound by year and tend to be in a poorer state due to their heavy use. There are about 80 bound volumes in the London sequence and they are all being disbound. Eventually we will be able to house all of the London reports together by geographical area.

Lining coming off

In order to take the bound reports apart, I first need to remove the cloth case and spine linings whilst keeping the pamphlets intact. I use a 4% methylcellulose solution to break down the binding animal glue. A major challenge with this is that each volume’s binding breaks down at a different rate so it requires constant checking to avoid damaging the paper. On average it takes a couple of hours just to remove the spine linings. We recently purchased a pink portable clothes steamer to try to speed up the process. I haven’t tried this yet but we are hopeful that this will work faster.

The aftermath of removal

Another important part of the project is creating separate bibliographic records for each report.  We have decided to catalogue these as monographs in order to improve searching and allow users to find reports by fields such as geographic area, Medical Officer’s name and date of the report.

Whilst I am going through the reports, I have been finding  some very interesting snippets. I will include some as I continue to blog so look out for them!

Deborah Leem

Deborah Leem is Digitisation Project Coordinator at the Wellcome Library. She is trained in medical history and her current interests are in 3D technologies and many other areas of Digital Humanities.

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