The Theatres Trust

A summer archive project: cataloguing and repackaging the Theatres Trust’s collection of 20th century architectural plans of theatres


The Theatres Trust employed five interns to catalogue and repackage the Trust’s  collection of 20th century architectural plans of theatres over a three week period during July and August 2015.  The project was partially funded internally and partially funded through external commercial sponsorship which provided funding for intern salaries and repackaging materials.

As a result of the cataloguing project staff can now answer research enquiries in more detail and plan future archive projects to increase awareness of the collections.

Challenges and opportunities

The main challenge was deciding how best to catalogue the material, as the Theatres Trust did not own any cataloguing software. With architectural plans there is a lot of metadata which is not recorded for other types of records (for example, the aspect of the drawing or cross-referring the drawings to planning applications) so the Trust needed to develop a cataloguing template that not only met the needs of the material but was also in line with archival standards in case it was decided to include the data in an archival or aggregate catalogue in the future. The plan was to catalogue as much of the collection as possible in a short amount of time, rather than cataloguing a small amount in detail.

Responding to challenges and opportunities

To make the best use of time, it was agreed to catalogue the material at file rather than item level.  Staff designed a cataloguing template to reflect the needs of the organisation, as well as the needs of the archival material and  fields aligned in some way to the EAD tags used in Archives Hub so it would be possible to put the data into an archives catalogue in the future.

What were the outcomes?

The main outcome of the project is that architectural plans are better documented and both Trust staff and researchers are able to find out more about the contents of the collection. By the end of the project the interns had created 682 entries on the catalogue representing 6,890 items with material relating to 237 different theatres.

The collection was also repackaged, meaning that the material is better preserved and any damaged or particularly delicate material identified and moved to more suitable storage. This also made the material easier and safer for staff and researchers to handle.

The project created some positive publicity for the Theatres Trust, through tweeting about the project, posting updates on our website and the project featured in The Stage, the newspaper which provides news and services for the UK entertainment and performing arts industry.

The interns involved in the project enjoyed the experience, and learnt from it, improving both their archival skills and subject specialist knowledge. Staff skills were also developed in the areas of budgeting, project management, recruitment and managing people.

What went well? What didn’t go quite as well?

During the recruitment process it was important to find a team of people who could get along and work well together. Working collaboratively and having a sense of common purpose was a source of motivation for the interns. It was important to let them know why they were there and how important the work was to the Theatres Trust. Allowing the interns to take breaks together, make visits and giving them time to write blog posts also made the process more varied and enjoyable, and meant the interns got a break from repetitive tasks.

Being flexible with procedures and workflows allowed the project team to revisit and change some of the procedures early in the project, and the interns appreciated having the freedom and responsibility to suggest new ideas.

Finally, making this a paid internship was a good investment as it meant a larger pool of high quality applicants to choose from and people were more likely to commit to their shifts. Three of the five interns identified that they would not have been able to undertake the internship on a voluntary basis, so it also meant the Theatres Trust could to give more people the opportunity to be involved in the project.

Developing this work in the future

In the future the Theatres Trust hopes to continue the work by cataloguing the remaining architectural plans, which relate to regional theatres, possibly by running another similar project, and learning from our experiences on the first project. They also intend to make the architectural plans catalogue available online.

Find out more about the project.