Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tuesday and my third day in Portsmouth

At the moment windblown rain is pattering against my hotel window and its just about ten at night. But, regardless of the rain, its been an excellent and productive day. I am more and more impressed with the work that has been accomplished by the staff and volunteers at Portsmouth. Let me take you through my day. The picture is of the Guildhall, where the Doyle archives are located.

I was up early for a 9 o'clock appointment with Michael at the archives. My desire for the morning and early afternoon was to explore as much of the collection as possible. Originally I had planned to have Michael pull some of the radio play scripts from the collection, but with full access to the Calm database I decided instead to use this tool to get another sense of the breadth and depth of the archival portion of the collection. According to Michael there are about 20,000 items described and entered in Calm. He estimates that there are about 40,000 items in this portion of the collection, so they're about half way through the descriptive process. One large chunk of material that is not presently in the database are Richard's working papers. So, for this trip I won't be able to get a full sense of what this section might include. But the other categories are well represented so by using the search capabilities of Calm I was able to get a pretty good sense of other portions of the collection. Basically, I searched names of Sherlockians, actors, and organizations and discovered quite a bit. I've taken pages of notes that I'll incorporate into a final report on my visit, but I won't give you all the details here. But let me give you a few highlights. There are hundreds of items related to Jeremy Brett, Sidney Paget, and the Baker Street Irregulars. There's a good representation of materials from the Norwegian Explorers and the Friends of the U of M Libraries. Some of our local Sherlockians appear: Bergem, Southworth, Sveum, McKuras, McDiarmid, and Blegen to name a few. I have to admit that I searched for my name and found listings for a couple of my writings. In addition to the Meiser material I looked at the other day there is also a large group of items related to Vincent Starrett and other members of the BSI. The types of material are varied: letters, advertisements, photographs, pamphlets, brochures, etc. This database, combined with the book and object databases, will be a valuable research tool for identifying materials.

While working through the Calm database I had the opportunity to meet three more volunteers: Karen, Audrey, and the most remarkable Cynthia Sherwood. Cynthia described herself (early on in our little chats) as a "bit of a nut case" and a "chatterbox" but what fun it was to talk with her. She is, by the way, 85 years old, the oldest of the eighteen volunteers. She's lived in Portsmouth all but the first eleven or twelve months of her life. Her father worked for the Navy and her family house was described as "the last house in Portsmouth." Indeed, if you google that title (or click here), you'll find a web site about that house, on the point overlooking the harbor. The house is no longer standing; I walked past the site on my first afternoon in Portsmouth. Cynthia is also the president and long-time member (over fifty years) of the local embroiderers' guild and lived very close to where Doyle's surgery was located. She also volunteers with the records office and is full of stories about life in Portsmouth. In the midst of our conversation I asked her a favor: could I take her photograph. After a moment's hesitation, she agreed. I'll post her photo with my other Portsmouth images. I wanted to capture her for memory's sake; she is one of the gems among the many jewels of the Portsmouth volunteers.

Round about half-past one in the afternoon we wrapped up our chat and I finished my work for the day on the Calm database. Close to two I left with Michael for a brief taxi ride to the Carnegie Library in Fratton Road. I had not realized that Carnegie also provided the funding for library construction in the UK, but such was the case. The building includes some very nice stained glass (I took more pictures) and one of the librarians (Linda, I believe her name is) gave me a tour of the upper floor, including a view of one of the original reading desks. Michael's visit to the Fratton Library was for the purpose of giving a mid-afternoon talk about the Doyle collection and Richard Lancelyn Green. His talk is part of the outreach work to make the collection known to the community. Tea and biscuits were offered and I enjoyed his talk and the follow-up questions by members of the audience. About an hour or so later we were back in a taxi for the ride to the Guildhall, where I left Michael for the day. I'll return tomorrow morning to look at those radio scripts.

The walk back to the hotel was a little on the damp side as the rain was picking up, but I made it back without getting too wet. I had a bit of time to myself before Claire came to pick me up at seven and take me out to dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant near the Spinnaker Tower and enjoyed good food and conversation. I've really enjoyed getting to know Claire and Michael and am convinced that there are all kinds of possibilities for a long-term collaborative relationship with the Green/Doyle collection. I'm really feeling good about how this week has gone so far and that much of what I've accomplished is right in line with what I was thinking about when I submitted my original proposal for the staff development grant. I believe the folks back home will be very pleased with what I'll have to report when I return. The sense of the collection's depth and breadth is important, but what I'm especially valuing is the relational connections that are being made with the staff and volunteers. Tomorrow afternoon I'll have a chance to expand those contacts as I meet people involved with the book portion of the collection. I'm also looking forward to exploring the Spydus system that's being used by the libraries. Claire told me over dinner that the system is fairly new to the staff, having been rolled out in December.

At the moment the weather report is on the tube. Scotland is getting snow; we're getting rain and wind. Tomorrow it looks like it will be colder, with a chance of frost on the ground and temperatures just above freezing. I was surprised to see snow on the ground in Washington as the news reported on the Prime Minister's visit to the new President. Claire told me that the paper reported eight inches had fallen in DC; I'm imagining that such a storm pretty much shut down the city. Time to call it a day. It looks like I may have some internet connectivity tomorrow at the library. I was able to get online for a little bit on the terminal in the archives this morning, but there were no USB ports for copying over my blog entries so I'll see what might be available in the library. Claire told me there are some "hotspots" as well, so I may be able to work directly from my laptop. I hope the e-mail hasn't piled up too badly.

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