Shakespeare To Africa - Library & Archive Collections Get Designated

By David Prudames | 30 October 2005
Shows a page from a manuscript, depicting what appears to be a heavenly scene with angels surrounding a blue disc within which are more angels, a lamb at their centre.

A page from a manuscript held at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester.

From the records of the United Africa Company, to the holdings of the Mass Observation Archive, library and archive collections from all over England have been given Designated status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

Altogether 38 collections held by institutions ranging from religious and higher education libraries to business and company archives have been recognised for their national and international significance.

The status not only recognises the significance of the collections, but enables the 28 libraries and archives that hold them to attract funding and better safeguard them for the future.

Shows a photo of a woman sitting at a desk with an open manuscript. She is surrounded by book shelves.

The reading room at the Wellcome Trust library, where collections relating to the study of the history of medicine have been recognised as being nationally and internationally important.

"These 38 collections are among those in England that stand out from the crowd and it’s extremely satisfying to be able to raise their profile through the Designation Scheme," said MLA Chairman, Mark Wood.

"As well as raising public awareness of the collection, Designation confers a status which has often enabled libraries, archives and museums to strengthen their ability to raise additional funds."

The Designation Scheme aims to identify and celebrate all those museum, library and archive collections in England considered to be of outstanding importance.

Launched in 1997 it was originally just for museums. Two further rounds followed in 1998 and 1999, with Designated status conferred on more collections, and it was extended to libraries and archives in 2005. Managed MLA, the scheme now covers over 100 collections.

Shows a page from a manuscript on which is depicted a serpant-like creature with several heads.

A page from a manuscript at the Wellcome Trust library.

Among the first of the archive and library collections to be designated is the Royal Mail Archive, which contains records relating to the operation, policy, development and social impact of the Post Office from 1636 to the present.

Also in there are collections held by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Royal Shakespeare Company relating to his life, times and performance and study of his work right back to the 16th century.

Unilever Archive and Records Management’s collection of United Africa Company records dates back to the 18th century and is the largest of its kind. Of international importance to historians of African, imperial and business history, its papers trace the colonial period and its aftermath.

Shows a diagram of a mining operation in Cornwall. Three shafts are shown as are buildings on the surface and layers of rock.

This diagram is held as part of an archive relating to Cornwall's hard rock mining industry and is held at Cornwall Record Office.

The Mass-Observation Archive at the University of Sussex Library is another significant collection to make it onto the list.

Founded in 1937 by three young men, the object of the archive was to create an 'anthropology of ourselves'. The trio recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. Their work continued into the 1950s, but the archive is still actively collecting.

According to Mark Wood, this is just the start and more collections will be designated in the future. MLA is, in fact, inviting applications from institutions which can be submitted at any time.

"There are many other collections which would be worthy of Designated status," he explained, "and we are setting up a rolling programme to accommodate future applications."

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