Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friday and my sixth day in Portsmouth

Its Sunday night and I thought I'd get caught up with everything by now, but I'm still a little behind. So, in the interim, I'm going to give you a really short outline of the last few days and then come back and edit and fill out the days a bit. The image to the left is of the building that houses the Portsmouth City Museum and Records Office.

As for Friday: walk down Kings Road to site of Doyle's surgery; back to Archives to spend last couple hours looking at radio scripts; wonderful lunch with Claire, Neil and Stephen Baily, Head of Cultural Services, Portsmouth City Council at the American Bar; most excellent exhibits and an amazing tapestry at the D-Day Museum; late afternoon walk along the shore; and the special gift of an evening concert by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra: Mussorgsky : A Night on the Bare Mountain, Brahms : Violin Concerto (soloist, Sergey Khachatryan), Strauss : Also Sprach Zarathustra. Conducted by Carlo Rizzi. Thank you, thank you, thank you Claire!

OK, here's the longer version. I'd been in Portsmouth all week and had not yet made it to the site of Doyle's original surgery so I thought that better be the first thing on my agenda. After breakfast at the hotel I gathered up my bag and headed east on Kings Road. I'd seen the location of the surgery on an earlier map, a photograph of Doyle standing outside No. 1 Bush Villas, and a photo of the current building and plaque so I knew that if I stayed on the south side of the road I'd eventually come to the spot. Its a very short walk east of the museum and easy to find. I took a number of pictures of the building and area, including one looking south that seemed to have some buildings that survived the bombing and may have been around when Doyle lived there. It was nice to find the spot and get some sense of the area. Doyle was very methodical in terms of where he located his surgery relative to other doctors. It also turned out to be a high traffic area with a number of accidents that Doyle could attend to. He was a master "networker."

After my visit to the Doyle site I headed back west and then north to the Guildhall. I hadn't made any firm arrangements with Claire as to where to meet for lunch, so decided that the archives was the best spot for her to find me. Besides, I still had about a dozen scripts that I wanted to look at from the collection. I found Michael at the archives and he very kindly pulled the scripts for me. A little bit later another volunteer, Sarah, showed up and I had the chance to meet her. For the next couple of hours I was buried in the scripts. I found a few that were written by Edith Meiser. I don't think this was noted in the CALM database, so I'll send that information to Michael later on when I'm reviewing my notes. Sometime around 11 or 11:30 Claire called the archives; it was the first place she thought I might be. We agreed to meet in the foyer of the Guildhall at 12:15 for the short drive to lunch. I finished looking at the last script a couple of minutes before it was time to leave. I bid Michael farewell and thanked him for all his assistance during the week. It was very good to get to meet him and spend some time with him in the archives. I'm sure we'll be in communication in the weeks and months ahead.

Claire found me in the foyer and we headed off on a short drive to the American Bar. I had walked past this restaurant a number of times on my way to the dockyard and Gunwharf Quays, so it was a familiar sight. We found Neil and Stephen waiting for us and settled down to a good chat and wonderful meal. I'm very thankful to Stephen for his support of my visit. I had the chance to tell him of my experiences and impressions during the week, i.e.
  • the collection and exhibit are impressive
  • the collection's breadth and depth are quite remarkable, especially in the area of spiritualist and movie/television materials, but in much else besides
  • our two collections compliment each other very well
  • it is important to keep working on matters of access, especially in providing a single portal for discovery and research
  • it would be good to speak to the technical people involved with Spydus to see about the possibilities of crosswalks with CALM and MODES
  • the city of Portsmouth has much to be proud of. It is a very interesting combination of old and new. The museums are very interesting and loaded with content.
  • I couldn't possibly fit everything into my visit and hope very much to come back (with my wife) to spend more time enjoying the city, its culture and history
That's just a thumbnail expression of my week. It was a very engaging and informative time exploring the collections, getting to know some of the staff connected with the project, and exploring the city and its rich history. There is much to be proud of. I want to reiterate here how very impressed I was with how much work has been accomplished in such a short time and how the extensive use of volunteers has made this possible, guided by the project staff. I came to Portsmouth with a preconception that much of the collection is not yet accessible. This may be true, to some extent, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how much is already processed and accessible. Close to fifty percent of the archive has been entered into CALM, most of the books appear to have been cataloged on Spydus, and museum content entered into MODES. I didn't have the chance to see MODES in operation, or to get a sense of what remains on that front, but it seems that the project staff have a firm grip on the intellectual content of the collection as a whole. One challenging area, for the library, seems to be with the periodicals. I understand the challenge, but hope they'll tackle this chunk of the collection to make it equally accessible. Viewed from the outside, I would give the project an enthusiastic "thumbs up" for all that they've accomplished. Well done! And keep up the good work!

Part of our conversation at lunch also revolved around the academic connection with the collection. Here access is the key. This, and the need for a more controlled study/reading space should be nailed down before the collection can be truly opened for use by students and advanced researchers, especially as it might relate to specific academic disciplines, programs or curricula. My impression is that the project is moving along the right lines; the discussions should continue with the technical people to create a single portal that will withstand a great deal of traffic (i.e. not crash and cause frustration). Once this is accomplished, and a secure and quiet space provided for researchers (as much as I enjoyed chatting with the volunteers) the collection will be poised for its next leap forward. At the same time, the collection will see more electronic traffic, in the form of e-mail requests, especially for electronic scans of the wealth of material from the visual archive. The knotty questions of copyright and permissions will need to be dealt with. My impression was that the staff and volunteers are already working on these matters. It will be good to have policies and procedures in place to deal with these requests. I would be happy to share any expertise that we might have, and to have our digital collections people talk with the Portsmouth team, if that would be helpful.

Finally, there is the question of long-term space. I think it will be very important for the collection to find a single physical home for the entire collection, one that provides climate controls and security. I understand that such a facility is being thought of, and would encourage continued work on this, even in this poor economy. If our own Andersen Library experience is anything to go on, a new building with attractive user space and controlled collection space will garner even greater attention for the Doyle/Green collection and quite possibly pull in other related collections, thus enhancing the cultural depth of the city and its existing collections.

Well, as you can maybe tell from my extended discussion, it was a good lunch. The food and company were both excellent. I invited Neil to our 2010 Holmes conference and promised to be in contact with additional details and information as the planning unfolds. Again, I can't express my thanks enough for the kindness and support Stephen and Claire have shown me during my visit. This will be a week to remember, cherish, and build upon.

After lunch I had another treat in store. Claire brought me to the D-Day museum and arranged for my admission to see the amazing tapestry and exhibits. This was another bit of icing on the cake. The Overload Embroidery is 272 feet in length, the largest work of its kind in the world. It is simply spectacular! My visit began with a fifteen minute film that puts the museum in context. This film was also well done. After viewing the film I began my tour around the room, looking at each of the panels from the tapestry. Once I reached the end of the embroidery I moved to the exhibits. The website maybe says it best: "in the Museum's displays visitors experience the sights and sounds of Britain at War - the air raid warden's living room in the Blitz, the factory resounding to the strains of 'Music while you work', and troops preparing for D-Day in their forest camp. The climax of the displays is a dawn to dusk reconstruction of the Allied landings by sea and air on D-Day itself - World War II's 'longest day'." I would encourage you to check the link given above for more information on the museum and tapestry. It is well worth a visit.

After the D-Day Museum I walked south towards Southsea Castle, built during the reign of Henry VIII and from which he witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose. I didn't go into the castle, but walked around the perimeter and took some pictures. (Let me also encourage you to explore all the informative web pages created by the Portsmouth City Council for its museums. They are a great resource.) From Southsea Castle I walked back towards the city and my hotel. It was a beautiful afternoon and a wonderful way to get a few more views and breaths of sea air. Back at the hotel I took a little nap before the final candle on the cake, a concert by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Claire arranged for this final gift of my visit. It was a wonderful evening of music. I've noted the program above. Let me just say here that the performance by the young soloist, Sergey Khachatryan, was inspired. There were times I found myself holding my breath and on the edge of my seat. What a treat! And what a way to end my visit to Portsmouth. I found Claire at the end of the concert and thanked her again for a wonderful week. I am looking forward to our continued communication and collaboration. I told her, in parting, that we will welcome a visit from her, whenever that might be possible.

From there it was a quiet walk back to the hotel. The pubs and clubs were alive with music and merrymaking. For me it was a silent word of thanks and then off to bed.

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