Thursday Morning, our tour started at the British Museum central archives. I hadn't actually heard much about the British Museum prior to this trip, but just by the name itself, I imagined a very large and very impressive museum. I wasn't disappointed. The museum was founded in 1753 as the first national public museum in the world. It was opened to the public in 1759. The archive houses many original documents, including trustees records and officer's reports, to name a few. Our guide, Francesca Hillier, took us down to the archives, which are housed in tunnels underneath the museum.
While showing us the archives, Ms. Hillier gave us a few facts about the archive itself. The archive is comprehensive, though while they do have a list of what is in the archive, they do not yet have a catalog that is available for the public to use. All of the records used to be written by hand, and quite a bit of what is collected could very well have become stuffed in a room somewhere in a terrible state.
I can say that I am not completely familiar with the workings of archives, as I have not focused on archival work during my MLIS. However, I can say that I was saddened by the fact that this archive has pretty much been sitting down in these tunnels for years without the funding and time to make it known and available to the public. There were so many neat artifacts stored in the archives. So many wonderful images and pieces of history that most people would never know existed.
Ms. Hillier had pulled a few specific pieces for us to view during our tour, and they were brilliant. One of the pieces that caught my attention was a fragment of an incendiary bomb that damaged the museum during World War 2. Ms. Hillier explained to us that during WWII, the museum strived to stay open for the public, but had to ensure the safety of the treasures in the museum. They would put on display items that they did not mind losing and moved some things into underground or offsite storage. The tunnels that the archives were housed in now were used as bomb shelters during the war. We were also shown pictures of many of the permanent artifacts being protected by sandbags during the air raids. I was impressed with the museum's dedication to the public and efforts to provide a safe haven for people to go during the war.