Parliamentary Archives Imaging

Photograph of a man taking a picture of an old book held in the Parliamentary Archives

The Parliamentary Archives Imaging and Digitisation Team is responsible for delivering the Archives’ public copying service, digitisation project work and supporting exhibitions and outreach activities. They are a team of two, with experience and expertise in photography of heritage collections and they:

  • Handle on demand requests for copies of archives, received from the public (in the search room or by email)
  • Support exhibition and outreach activities by photographing records which are about to go out on loan so we have an accurate record of their condition, and do photography for exhibition panels, publicity and our web resources and social media.
  • Undertake digitisation project work – this is essential to the Parliamentary Archives’ aim to increase online access to our collections and we have photographed a few of our smaller collections which will be made available via our online catalogue.
  • Support other departments across Parliament by providing digital images, hard copies and photographing objects and displays. We work most frequently with the House of Lords Library, Curator's Office and the Parliamentary Estates Directorate.

Our set up

We have one digitisation studio, which we share with the Collection Care Team, containing a variety of equipment for different purposes. For black and white copies up to A3 in size, required for research or reference only, we have a fairly simple overhead camera copy-stand. For anything else i.e. it is larger than A3, is fragile, needs to be in colour and/or at high resolution for publications, we use our two overhead digital camera stations.  We also use these camera workstations for all our project work and the work supporting outreach, collection care and other offices. We photograph using DSLRs and medium format cameras, for which we have several different types of lenses, as well as flash lighting and other supporting equipment.

Our processes

The documents we digitise can vary wildly in age, size, shape and format – and include bound printed books, rolled parchments, photographs, slides, large outsize rolled plans or 20th century correspondence and small envelopes. Because our Archives collections are unique and irreplaceable they all require care and different approaches and we work closely with colleagues in the Collection Care team, who help prepare the documents we’re digitising by doing a condition check of them, unbinding them from any files they may be in, flattening any folded or tightly rolled documents and generally giving advice and help with anything that needs particularly careful handling.

This work helps to speed up the process of digitisation and identifies any items which may need careful handling – but if Collection Care determine that a document is too damaged, delicate or tightly bound to digitise, as doing so would damage it, then we can’t do it because the care and preservation of the original documents is paramount.

What we’ve done so far

So far, we’ve digitised:

  • Our most constitutionally important “iconic” documents, including the Death Warrant of Charles I, the Bill of Rights, the Articles of Union with Scotland and the Great Reform Act of 1832.
  • Some beautifully illustrated Remembrance Books which commemorate the Members and Officers of the House of Commons and House of Lords who died in the First and Second World Wars
  • The recently acquired Barry Papers; a previously private collection of letters and drawings relating to the architect Charles Barry
  • The Protestation Returns which we’ve also written about on our blog

We’re hoping to put up some more web pages about our project work soon, but in the meantime check our blog for other posts about our work.