There are several things that I had begun to think might not happen before our project ends in March (like writing another blog post…), but I am glad to see one of them get off the ground at last. Part of the Maxton collection consists of eight or so folders of newspaper and journal clippings, plus photocopies of many, if not all, of the other original documents in the collection. They were made when the collection was donated in the 1980s. At that time, the folders had been arranged into general sections, but it was difficult to tell exactly what the contents were, so I had always thought that they would benefit from being indexed, even if just in a very simple way. However, it was one of those tasks that seemed destined never to get to the top of the “to-do” pile.
In the past couple of weeks though, we have finally made a start. Four volunteers have begun to sift through the folders, comparing the contents to the original documents, or listing the article details, weeding out duplicates, and identifying poor quality copies, in case we can source better replacements. It is fascinating to see Maxton’s political life unfold through the articles; sometimes in his own words, or through the criticism of others, or through the pen of a cartoonist. Even the smallest detail could form the basis of a news story, such as the time a pigeon landed on Maxton while he was addressing a crowd at a Labour rally in Essex, and he managed to incorporate the incident into his speech:
‘”You workers”, said Mr. Maxton, upon whose shoulder the bird was still perched, “are like that pigeon. You are surrounded by all the good things of the world, but do not help yourselves to them.”‘ (unknown source).
What is also interesting to me is how the folders themselves demonstrate a very basic issue for local studies libraries, which is how best to make materials accessible to readers, both now and in the future. These folders and their contents are very much of their time, from the early 1980s. They consist of foolscap size pages, rather than A4, and the contents were created using the most readily-available technology to the library staff – the photocopier. These days of course, with access to PCs and scanners, we would have the option of scanning a clippings collection, which would preserve digital copies as well as provide images to print from. Mind you, the paper photocopies have managed to last for 30 years already, whereas we cannot predict if our digital files would be accessible to readers 30 years from now. An everyday problem for libraries and archives everywhere.