The Yale Bulldog intern scheme was established in 2005 in collaboration with Yale University in Connecticut. The scheme normally admits two interns for two months in the summer – one to work at 66 Portland Place working with Library Education department and one at the Drawings & Archives collection held in RIBA’s architectural partnership with the V&A.
This summer Alex Swanson joined members of the RIBA curatorial team and this is his story…
My Experience at the British Architectural Library
This summer I’ve had the privilege of cataloguing the manuscripts of the Barbican Redevelopment, part of the papers of the architectural practice Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Over the course of eight weeks I audited, rehoused, consolidated, and catalogued all manuscripts pertaining to the Barbican, including reports and statements, office archives and memoranda, correspondences, and related publications. I spent my first few days researching the Barbican, placing it in its historical context and understanding the development as an icon of post-war Modernism. This entailed office reading and a visit to the British Architectural Library at RIBA Portland Place.
After research, I began auditing the archive. For the first three weeks of the internship I went through each box—mostly at the Drawings & Archives Collection (DAC) offices in the V&A but occasionally at the RIBA out store in Fulham—and noted what was inside. The archive was initially about fifteen boxes. Auditing required taking most manuscripts out of their original housing and placing them in acid-free folders. Many boxes contained non-Barbican material, drawings, and photographs. Once I got all the materials separated, the final Barbican manuscript archive was nine boxes, which I had tried to organize into related materials in chronological order.
The next step was to enter each item into the RIBA catalogue. Over the course of the next four weeks I created 176 separate entries, each with their own subject headings and reference numbers to aid research. At the same time, I made a rough list of all duplicate manuscripts and separated drawings and photographs to be separately catalogued. To finish, I went through all entries to give call numbers and do a final check.
Working at RIBA has not been all office time, however. The DAC offices in the V&A offer easy access to a world-class museum. Some mornings I would spend in the permanent galleries or special exhibitions, either as a work break or a as bit of personal research. I also had tours of the store and study rooms at the DAC, the British Architectural Library, and RIBA’s conservation studios at the V&A, which were particularly interesting because I could compare research methods of art history in the US (my current degree) to those of British architecture. Yet it was ultimately archival experience that I wanted to gain from this internship, and I certainly have. At Yale we are often encouraged to do archival research, but until now I had no experience working from the other end designing catalogues that will hopefully aid a diverse range of researchers in the future. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and for the amount of respect and trust I have received from RIBA to independently conduct this project.