The annual archival popularity contest: 2013

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By | From the Collections

For some years we have been compiling posts based on our analysis of the statistics of use of the various archive collections we hold (2012, 2011, 2010) and in spite of the upheavals due to building works that began in the second half of 2013, usage of these materials remains very healthy, although numbers of visitors to the Rare Materials Room during its period in exile on the 5th floor (and the necessity for booking a place) did show some degree of decline.

Doctors in training. WI no. L0044175

Wallace-Cowell Theatre Trailer ( mobile operating theatre): Doctors training to apply leg splints. Photo number 14 from the papers of Major General Sir Ernest Cowell in the RAMC. WI no. L0044175

Over 300 collections were consulted by at least one reader, but there were no real surprises in the Top Ten collections in terms of numbers of readers:

  1. Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection (RAMC) (126)
  2. Wellcome Foundation (69)
  3. Family Planning Association (51)
  4. Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (48)
  5. Eugenics Society (35)
  6. Medical Women’s Federation (33)
  7. John Bowlby (29)
  8. Frederick Parkes Weber (25)
  9. Society of Medical Officers of Health (19)
  10. Abortion Law Reform Association (19)

The archive of the Society of Medical Officers of Health (SA/SMO) features for the first time, having gradually been climbing the charts for the past several years. The Queen’s Nursing Institute (SA/QNI) has slipped slightly down the list. The common factor is that these are all relatively large collections which are of interest to a broad range of researchers.

Health exhibits, Central Council for Health Education. WI no. L0030301

Health slogan lantern slide, May 1929, Central Council for Health Education. WI no. L0030301

As always, a slightly different story is told by relative numbers of productions (a measure of the number of files requested from each collection):

  1. Family Planning Association (505)
  2. Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection (467)
  3. Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (310)
  4. John Bowlby (232)
  5. Eugenics Society (219)
  6. Wellcome Foundation (201)
  7. Medical Women’s Federation (199)
  8. Donald Winnicott (199)
  9. Marie Stopes (180)
  10. Grantly Dick Read (177)
Eugenics Society WI no.

Eugenics poster

While a significant number of readers (indeed there was a 20% increase over last year) still came to the Library to consult the archives of the Eugenics Society, which have now been digitised as part of the Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics project, the relative decline in numbers of productions suggests that once the ability to access the collection remotely was known about, researchers no longer came to look at it on site. We shall see if the digitisation of significant portions of the RAMC Muniment Collection, in particular the sections relating to World War I, will have an impact on the number of its non-virtual readers.

Given the current interest in the Great War, it is probably worthwhile mentioning that, besides this obviously important collection of major relevance, we have a large number of other collections bearing upon that conflict which is being so widely commemorated and debated. See our downloadable pdf sources guides:

Author: Dr Lesley Hall is a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.


Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall

Lesley Hall, FRHistS, PhD, DipAA, has been an archivist at the Wellcome since 1979. She has published extensively on the history of sexuality and gender in Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, given many talks and conference presentations, and featured on radio and television. Further details can be found at her website.

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