Perth College Archives
Jessica Marantelli, Archivist
The Perth College Archives, as it was originally known, was established by volunteers in the 1980s with the help of donations from Old Girls and long-serving staff. The collection encompasses academic reports and minutes, architectural drawings, museum items, uniforms, badges, trophies, newspaper clippings, oral histories and photographs. It also includes a uniform collection that highlights the changes and advancement of our uniform over the years. The collection is used to communicate the heritage of the School, both in a classroom setting and with wider community groups, through the curation of displays and exhibitions.
In 2018 a surge of alumni (Old Girls) loaning large collections of photographs and memorabilia for scanning into the archives, lead to an increasing number of items being archived in digital format only. Finding a way to store and record these new accessions meant upgrading the Heritage Centres’ database to a collections server that would allow image files. With our new database up and running, phase two of the project was to expand the digital collections at Perth College by scanning our photograph collections.
Our photograph collection has expanded rapidly since the creation of our archives in the 1980s. In the early years, donated photographs were given a (P) number, while metadata and donor information were handwritten in a large bound book. Later accessions were properly captured on our collections database and given a traditional accession numbers (YearXXXX/CollectionXX/ItemNumberXX, eg 2019/01/01), while a number of images were simply housed in albums without any recording and accession information. There are also multiple originals and copies of the same image housed in different albums that needed to be recorded. The main purpose of our project is to review this haphazard collection and ensure that each object is accurately recorded on our database, creating easier searching for myself and other researchers. A secondary goal is to increase access to the digital collection and limit further deterioration of the more fragile items.
When I commenced the project, I noticed that many items had already been scanned for publications such as Built on Faith: A History of Perth College, for use in displays or for specific research requests. These files were in a variety of formats and saved in many locations. Photographs had also been selected in a rather haphazard manner. Some staff scanning images had ignored the golden rule for digitisation: capture once, use many times!
Having a digital collection or digital replicas of collection items is central to the work of museums like the Heritage Centre. We can add images to the catalogue record in our database and also share these images on social media and in publications. Creating digital records of items, especially photographs, also leads to one key thing: less handling of items that are, in general, extremely fragile and highly susceptible to degradation due to climate and over handling.
Following a callout for help in our bi-annual school magazine, I had two volunteers assist with the digitisation of the collection. I taught them the digitisation process along with safe object handling procedures and outlined our action plan for the project. This identified the most in-demand, fragile and historically significant images in the collection. Older items that have a higher risk of further deterioration have been prioritised as well as those already damaged. It also prioritised collections donated by significant Old Girls and images that are the most requested by the community and the School. Additionally, all new donations are scanned or photographed as part of the accessioning process. Under my supervision, they have commenced digitising the collection and so far we have been able to add extremely valuable information to our collections records and have increased digitised records by approximately 8%. However, there are still thousands of photographs that need to be digitised!
As an example, the image of the 1917 Perth College hockey team is now more than a century old. There is a large tear and the photograph is coming away from its stabilising mount. After digitising the photograph, the original has been safely house to prevent further deterioration. The digital version has captured the image as it is now, meaning anyone who views this version in the future will see the photo as it exists today, even if the original is no longer in the same state.
Additionally, a 1912 photograph of the Perth College Cowandilla building and students had been given three separate (P) numbers. These numbers referenced three different donors but each version was housed in separate locations. Through this project we have been able to not only link the three images but also identify each of the students through the incomplete lists of names on the verso of each photograph.