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.