Thursday, 5 April 2012

In the stores

Another great day, this time mostly buried in the stacks under Euston Road. I love this, getting to see behind the scenes, these places in London that people don't even know are there. And hanging out with people who love their jobs and have such knowledge. Listening to them is fascinating and enlightening. (It's also curious to me, that all these years when I've been desperately trying to make some kind of career, getting fired, resigning, temping, volunteering, signing on, applying and applying, that they left college and moved smoothly into their first jobs and stayed there, quite happy, gaining in expertise and authority. How people's lives are so different.)

The librarian/curator was offered a collection of government posters that otherwise would have been binned. He said yes and a week later a vanload of boxes was delivered. He hasn't looked a them yet and doesn't know what's inside. Would I like to help him? Hell, yes. Opening them is exciting, it's like Christmas morning opening the stockings. We are both gleeful, tearing through the boxes. He also has a budget to buy things for the collection. Being sent stuff and being able to buy stuff, without feeling guilty because it's for the public benefit. What an awesome job.

We're in the stores, dark and temperature controlled (if you keep still for too long the lights go off so that you have to wave your arms around to trigger the motion sensor, it's a bit spooky.) Vertical wire racks of painting after painting in elaborate gold frames, shelf after shelf of antique books, boxes of archive material - I could spend hours in there.

The posters are from the department of health, ranging from recent stop smoking campaign artwork to treasures from the 1930s and 1940s, recruitment for nurses, appeals for blood donation or what to do in an air raid. The design and typography from the war and post war years is a thing of beauty.

We come across an old photo album from the 'Ministry of Health public relations department' shoved in there showing some amazing Festival of Britain type display around public health, dating from the late 1940s. It shows exquisite installations in the Central Office of Information, mock-ups of a Victorian factory or interactive displays that would not shame a museum these days. And also more modern posters, less charming but historically interesting - the AIDS campaign posters that I remember from TV, bafflingly featuring icebergs. It's hard to believe that someone was just going to chuck this lot in the bin. Someone would have bought them for sure.

We also have lunch in the canteen on top of the research institute next door. Slanted glass roof with a spectacular view of the Shard, the Post Office Tower and the whole of King's Cross. There is a sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick which runs through the five storeys of the building. The librarian tells me about the history of the trust and the man who began it all, he shows me the budget and the library budget, an eye-watering amount which is still only a tiny percentage of what the Trust spends a year. It is interesting in this time of austerity. I wonder what the founder would have made of all this.


  1. Love it.
    Perhaps the good thing about archive work is that a cardigan is essential...

  2. Oh fantastic! Given what a mint "keep calm and carry on" have been, they should turn these into posters, postcards and books pronto.

  3. Arabella, we had WHITE COATS!

    B, yes, I'm amazed with all the stuff they have in archives and libraries, that more places don't publish what they have...