Archivists are careful to record as much information as possible on the sources of new material arriving, as knowing the provenance of records or rare books adds to our understanding of them. Knowing exactly who created and used particular records gives us insights into how those people worked and what they might have thought. Knowing where a collection has come from helps us to decide how much to trust a particular historical source. It can also help us decide how relevant a particular record series might be for our research. A series of photographs of a business’ premises taken by the marketing department is going to show different things than a series of photos taken by an individual employee on her retirement, for example.
However, sometimes things turn up that have been in an archive for years, but not yet documented. Perhaps they were mislabelled or housed with other things before there was an archivist to catalogue them! One such little collection that turned up in our move to Heritage Quay was a group of reports relating to trade unionism. These have just been catalogued and are now available to use in our searchroom.
The reports fall into three series: Report of the Annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) 1916-1969, Reports by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress (1906-1918), and International Report of the Trade Union Movement (1903-1911).
The first step was to check for signs of where these reports might have come from and how they came to us. Several issues were stamped Huddersfield College of Technology or had the College’s bookplate pasted into the cover. The reports therefore belonged with the Institutional Library: publications that used to be part of the University of Huddersfield’s main library and have been kept as Special Collections. They would have been acquired for the use of staff and students researching and studying here in the past.
Obviously given the size of the University of Huddersfield’s library, and its history dating back to its days as the Huddersfield Mechanics Institution in the Victorian era, we can’t keep a copy of every book or report our library every held! So how do we decide what to keep?
The ‘new’ reports add to our political collections, including the archive of the Huddersfield Labour Party, the papers of Sir Joseph Mallalieu MP, and the library of famous statistician G.H. Wood. There were already a number of other left-wing serial publications catalogued within the Institutional Library, such as ‘Labour Weekly’ and ‘Labour Research’, so the provenance made sense. These links to our other collections were part of the reason for deciding to keep these reports.
We also look for how rare items seem to be. Searches of the COPAC library catalogue showed that 12 university libraries in the UK hold printed copies of the Report of the Annual Trades Union Congress. Not all of these hold complete series. The TUC has digitised their holdings and made them available online. The International Report is much rarer: WorldCat shows only 17 libraries holding copies worldwide, none of them in the UK. This might reflect its being published in Germany, not long before the First World War.
Another consideration we take into account when deciding which publications to keep is the potential usefulness to researchers. As Huddersfield’s political history is one of our collecting areas, we attract historians, students, local people and other users wanting to know more. These reports will certainly be of interest. Many of the reports date from the First World War, and cover issues such as assisting Belgian refugees. With lots of research still being generated in the centenary of the war, and plenty of interest in politics, economics and social history the reports certainly have the potential to be great source material for a range of users now and in years to come.
If you want to find out more the main TUC archive is here