Highlights from the Rylands Modern Literary Archives Programme in 2012

Members of the Modern Literary Archives Programme Steering Group
Members of the Modern Literary Archives Programme Steering Group. Left to right: Rachel Beckett, Michael Schmidt, Karen Jacques, Stella Halkyard, Chris McCully, Fran Baker, John McAuliffe, John Hodgson. Photograph courtesy of Fergus Wilde (group member and photographer extraordinaire).

On 7 December, we held the annual meeting of our Modern Literary Archives Programme (MLAP) Steering Group – providing the opportunity to reflect on the activities and achievements of this programme during the past year.

The MLAP Steering Group, which includes writers, academics, and professionals from other libraries, was founded in 1991 to oversee the management and development of our outstanding twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary archives. The MLAP is directed by Rachel Beckett (the Library’s Head of Special Collections), Chris McCully (poet, writer, academic and expert angler), and Michael Schmidt (Managing & Editorial Director of Carcanet Press, poet, critic and general polymath). The Programme’s day-to-day work is undertaken by an archivist – or at least part of an archivist (about 45% of me, Fran Baker).

The MLAP manages over fifty collections, and many of these have seen extensive use by students and researchers this year. Some of our key achievements of the past year include:

  • Managing the Carcanet Press Email Preservation Project. The ever-expanding archive of Carcanet Press, one of the UK’s premier publishing houses, is the most significant (and by far the largest!) of our modern literary archives. This year, we successfully obtained some funding from JISC, which enabled us to take in the email correspondence of the Press. As with any contemporary business, the Carcanet hard copy correspondence files have been dwindling during recent years, while the email inboxes of Carcanet staff are reaching overflow point. We have now acquired a snapshot of these digital riches and – working with our technical colleagues in the Library – are exploring different ways of preserving this highly significant research resource. For numerous reasons, the email will not be made available to the public for some time to come, and we are still working hard to build on the initial project’s work. However, for the technically-minded, the project’s report (already looking slightly out of date) can be found at More news about this project to follow in 2013!
  • I also managed to produce some basic lists of recent hard-copy accessions to the Carcanet Archive. These reflect the whole spectrum of the Carcanet list, including material relating to established Carcanet authors like John Ashbery, Eavan Boland and Les Murray; poetry in translation; anthologies of new poets’ work; poetry by earlier writers such as W.B. Yeats; and some work in other genres – notably the fiction of Ford Madox Ford, which has reached a much wider audience this year as a result of the BBC dramatisation of Parade’s End.
  • Our MLAP volunteer, Matthew Schofield, has done some sterling work this year. His catalogue of the archive of Tony Dyson (1928-2002, literary critic, academic, educational activist and gay rights campaigner) will go online in early 2013, and a small display relating to Dyson’s work in the field of gay rights activism will be mounted in the Library in February to mark LGBT History Month.
  • I contributed to an interesting case study for a student on Liverpool University’s Archive Studies masters course, whose dissertation focused on living writers’ involvement in the documentation of their own archives. Grevel Lindop was kind enough to share his writerly reflections on being ‘archived’ and his own Blog includes an account of the experience.
  • We continue to contribute to the excellent work of GLAM, the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts, of which the Rylands was a co-founder back in 2005.
  • In addition to our acquisition of the Carcanet Press email archive, we have taken in accession 21 of Carcanet’s hard-copy archive (still awaiting processing!) as well as further papers relating to Elaine Feinstein, L.P. Hartley, Herbert Lomas, Chris McCully and Norman Nicholson.

Here’s to an equally productive 2013!

Fran Baker

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