Tackling the Rugby Football League Archive: a cataloguing project at the University of Huddersfield Archives
The Rugby League Archive provides a comprehensive history of the Rugby League from 1895 when the sport was established in Huddersfield to its present-day role as an international sport. With limited means of accessing the collection through a survey list and demonstrable interest in the history of the Rugby League, the archive service had identified the collection as a cataloguing priority. A successful application to the National Cataloguing Grants Programme, enabled the archive service to undertake a year long project to give greater access to the collection through improved cataloguing and thereby opening up the collection for research and potential use in outreach activities.
Challenges and opportunities
An analysis of users revealed that around a third of onsite researchers and a fifth of remote researchers at the archive service were studying Rugby League. The evident popularity of the collection with researchers and a high level of interest generally in the history of the sport, with potential for activities and opportunities to engage with the collection, meant the archive service was keen to improve access to the collection. They did this by enhancing the existing descriptions and making the collection available to a wider audience though an online catalogue and outreach activities.
This would also support the heritage strand of the work of Rugby League Cares, the charity dedicated to supporting the Rugby League family and its local communities. The archive service also recognised that cataloguing the collection would also help plan for future preservation needs, as these would be identified during the cataloguing process.
Access to the collection was provided by a survey list. This list was drawn up as part of ongoing volunteer work and it provided access to approximately 60% of the collection with some description item level. The survey list was available to researchers on request but required extensive mediation by staff.
The University of Huddersfield Archives was successful in its application for a grant under the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme. It employed a project archivist to survey, appraise and catalogue to three levels the entire collection of the Rugby Football League Archive. The Collections Access Officer also helped to co-ordinate the work of volunteers with expertise in Rugby League history and who were already working on the collection. The volunteers provided invaluable knowledge in identifying clubs, individual players and dates and other information for unlabelled photographs.
During the cataloguing project the service began a (separate) £2million HLF/University-funded project to create a new archives facility and to develop audiences and programming. This provided opportunities to develop and pilot activities and to showcase collections, for which the Rugby League archive has been a test bed as one of the most completely catalogued collections.
A standards-based catalogue, covering the whole collection (available on the online catalogue on the University of Huddersfield Archives and Special Collections website) enabled both researchers and staff to identify original materials through more efficient searching of the material. Sufficient level of information is now available to identify records for outreach activities and support:
- the ‘Rugby League Cares’ heritage work strand
- an exhibition on Rugby League at Heritage Quay (the new home of University of Huddersfield Archives)
- digitisation of items for the gesture wall and touch tables at Heritage Quay
Information created during the cataloguing project forms the basis of future preservation plans including the migration to digital formats for this material. Catalogue metadata and technical information about audio visual materials in the archive enable planning for preservation digitisation. Analogue items are now stored in preservation-quality packaging.
The new online catalogued was promoted in local and subject relevant press releases and sporting heritage networks. This included events and exhibitions, archive service social media and the Rugby League Cares social media.
Improved knowledge about the content of the collection means the archive service can identify material for participation in outreach activities and further engagement with the Rugby Football League Archive. As a result of this, a Rugby League programming group has been established for the archive service, along with a Heritage Forum. And a number of activities are now being run, funded through the separate HLF-funded larger transformation project.
What went well? What didn’t go quite as well?
As no other repository holds the records of a national sports governing body, the development of a classification scheme took a little longer than anticipated to get right.
The beginning of a major project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the University, including capital works and a collections move, slightly delayed the cataloguing project. However the immediate outcomes of the cataloguing project have had an enormous positive impact on the early days of opening the new facility Heritage Quay.
The momentum of the newly-available catalogued archive has allowed the archive service to engage with an existing but disparate group, of Rugby League supporters and heritage enthusiasts, to give a focus for the development of activities and programming.
Developing this work in the future
The archive service is planning to undertake further digitisation based on the management information now held, as well as to enhance further descriptions for certain areas of the collection and to continue repackaging individual items. This work will be carried out with students and volunteers as part of the ongoing engagement programme.
The work of the Rugby League programming group, Heritage Forum, and other activities in Heritage Quay is underpinned by the catalogue and management information created about the Rugby Football League Archive.