We go behind the scenes to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to open up our collection for everyone. This month we meet Imaging Technician, Barrie Cooper.
“I literally had history in my hands… I felt huge pride to have been asked and trusted to work with such precious items, which will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Barrie, who currently works in the imaging studio in St. Pancras will be celebrating his 30th anniversary at the Library this May. His role encompasses digitising to preserve our own collection, as well as digitising material for clients, from companies to individual customers.
Over his many years working in digitisation, Barrie and his team have successfully adapted how they work as the technology they work with changes.
“Nowadays I mainly use the Zeutshcel 14,000 and 12,000 overhead scanning devices which are quick and easy to use. They enable me to digitise items ranging from very large maps down to the smallest photo or book, though I have used many types of imaging equipment to fulfil my role.”
How did you get into this field?
“I started working for the British Library in the Patent Express department, copying UK and international patents from hardcopy, microfilm and microfiche.
The opportunity came up to work for the Microfilm department. I converted Library collections onto microfilm and assisted colleagues in the dark room. It was almost going full circle creating the very microfilms that I used to work from in my previous role.”
Barrie then came to work for the Digitisation Services team in the new imaging studio where he’s currently based.
What do you love about working at the British Library?
“I enjoy the variety of jobs I have been able to work on. For example, handling and digitising the varied and fascinating collections the Library holds and, as result of this, I help to bring this content to the world, which I think is pretty special. From a personal perspective, working with the many amazing people I’ve had the privilege of coming across in my near 30 years here, some of whom I’m lucky to call friends.”
What’s been your favourite project and why?
Barrie has worked on many projects in his time but these highlights are some of his absolute favourites, where his many years of book-handling training has been invaluable.
Admiral Nelson’s personal logbook from the Battle of Trafalgar
“I literally had history in my hands, I felt the pressure and responsibility of handling such a unique and precious item. I remember the paper felt like thin cardboard and the item was housed in an ornate wooden box with a beautiful cushion holding the item securely inside.
Barrie was entrusted with digitising this precious document, which details the basis of Nelson’s tactics for the Battle of Trafalgar, widely regarded as a masterpiece of naval strategy.
“This was a project that I felt huge pride to have been asked and trusted to do, and one which will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Kenneth Williams’ personal diary collection
Following our acquisition of Kenneth Williams’ personal papers, Barrie digitised a series of the actor’s diaries. As a fan of Kenneth, growing up, watching and listening to his television and radio programmes, this was a real privilege.
The diaries stretch back many years providing unique insight into the man himself, alongside personal photographs. It’s clear that they made a real impression on Barrie.
“In the later diaries and entries, I felt a sadness reading some of these passages where he was unwell and the last page and date of entry was particularly poignant as to me it signified an end of his life in black and white so to speak. His passing just left a sea of blank pages.”
By digitising these diaries Barrie created an invaluable record of post-war Britain for social historians to explore, detailing the experiences of a gay man both before and after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1968, alongside accounts of everyday life in London.
Your most recent project?
The Masha Project for the University of Cambridge has involved digitising some of the Library’s Indian maps collection, ranging from the late 1880s to the early 1900s.
“I always enjoy this type of project, as the maps are all unique and interesting and beautiful to look at, as well as educational. As these are mostly large in size, I use the Zeutschel 14,000 device. I currently have a list of hundreds of these maps which the client requires. I order them up from the storage areas in the Library’s basement via the catalogue, which I’m trained to use, and when delivered I digitise them.”
Alongside this, Barrie is working on a project for the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office.
“I’m in the process of digitising photographs, information labels and sheets of British Ambassadors and High Commissioners based around the world and their careers. There are literally hundreds of photos to digitise and we work to a deadline, so a lot of hard work, but really enjoyable.”
Barrie has also undertaken a small project digitising Superman and other comic titles which held great appeal from a personal perspective.
What’s your favourite item in our collections?
“Too many! Although the ancient Qurans and Bibles which the Library has have such beautiful hand-drawn illustrations that need careful handling as some are centuries old.”