Public Record Office: Conservation Database
This dataset series provides details of the conservation work undertaken by staff at the Public Record Office (PRO) and now The National Archives (TNA). The original bound registers from 1882 provided a record of PRO and TNA documents on which repair and/or binding work has been carried out, and provided details of the conservation work done. From September 1957, they also gave information about materials used in the process. These datasets are comprised of automated versions of these registers, and this series is evidence of the use of such automation in the Department from 1989 to 2003. The earliest dataset in the series contains information dating back to 1978.
The datasets constitute a detailed record of conservation work. Their primary function was to provide a permanent record of the fine detail of the conservation work that took place. Secondary functions were to assist with the workflow of the tasks, record significant steps in the process, and identify the members of staff who did the work.
After 1995, the datasets were also used to generate reports, to be used as evidence of meeting targets.
Between 1989 and 1995, the datasets existed as spreadsheets. They followed a uniform arrangement to record each year's work, and included the following types of data:
- Information about the document. This includes the original PRO/TNA reference; its location (Portugal Street, or Kew); the name of the document; the dates it entered and left the repair system. A ticket system was used to keep track of the document as it moved between sections; this is the 'issuing department' referred to in the datasets, and department in this case means an internal section of PRO/TNA, not the Government Department that created the record. The datasets also contain some contextual information about the record and its historical importance, although users should not regard this information as a definitive archival description, and are advised to refer to The Catalogue at TNA.
- Information about the conservation actions, and materials used in the process. One field records a description of the physical state of the item when it arrived; the description is sometimes continued in the 'Notes' field. Objects requiring conservation were identified with broad categories: paper, parchment, maps, seals, photographs, and volumes. Specific repair and conservation actions are described in each dataset. These include, for example, the use of insecticides, fixatives, adhesives, and chemicals used for cleaning; the manufacture of boxes or cases; the use of envelopes or encapsulation; moulds used for seal repair. Bookbinding work is described in numerous related fields, concerned with sewing of sections, spines, boards, styles, covering material and finishing, etc.
- Information about the conservators. This includes the initials of up to three conservators involved in the process. Other fields record when they did the work, estimates of time taken, and how long the work actually took.
After 1995, when the dataset became a database, it included broadly the same sorts of data as above, but with additional data relating to exhibitions and the loan of documents for exhibitions; the internal storage and retrieval of registry file materials, and electronic records; and the internal storage and retrieval of images. The database itself however contains no image material.
Conservation records are important for two main reasons. Firstly, they provide a detailed overview of the overall physical condition or the state of repair and subsequent conservation needs of public records deposited in The National Archives. Secondly, conservation actions constitute a part of the history of each document or volume, and should always be recorded so that the actions could be reversed in the future, or that subsequent actions can be performed safely.
The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.
Hardware: The Conservation Database was available to conservation staff working at The National Archives on networked PCs.
Operating System: Windows NT 4 until 2001; Microsoft Windows 2000 thereafter.
Application Software: SmartWare II, from 1989 to 1991; Microsoft Excel (version not known) from 1991 to 1994; Microsoft Access 97 from 1995 to 2003, latterly in Microsoft Access 2000.
User Interface: Following the adoption of Microsoft Access as the application software for the Conservation database, the user interface consisted of a number of Access forms for data entry and report generation.
Logical structure and schema: The Conservation Database as transferred to NDAD comprises eight datasets. The first seven of these datasets (INFO89 to INFO95) are single tables extracted from MS Excel spreadsheets, organised according to the year's work they represent (although the contents of the first table includes records from 1978). The eighth dataset (oldConservationV21) was extracted from an MS Access database, and has a slightly more complicated structure.
How data was originally captured and validated: The data was entered by conservation staff as they started and completed their actions on the documents. Each dataset is thus a cumulative record of work, built up over time.
All the datasets derived from MS Excel spreadsheets in this series are closed, in that they represent an annual 'chunk' of data which was not updated at year end. The dataset taken from the MS Access database is likewise closed, in that it constitutes a 'snapshot' of data from 1995-2003.
Validation performed after transfer: Details of the content and transformation validation checks performed by NDAD on the datasets for the Conservation database are recorded in the Dataset Catalogues.
The series records the conservation actions carried out on public records stored in The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), by staff of the Conservation Department, between 1978 and 2003. These records of conservation work were created and used at a time when the Public Record Office operated on two sites, with buildings at Portugal Street near Chancery Lane, and a second building at Kew.
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- PRO Domestic Records of the Public Record Office, Gifts, Deposits, Notes and Transcripts
- Records of the Public Record Office's Internal Administration
- PRO 80 Public Record Office: Conservation Database