Unlocking the Medicine Chest: Accessing Medical Records at the Dundee University Archive Services

This project has enabled the preservation of, and facilitated increased access to, the full range of sources for the study of medical history held by the Unviersity of Dundee Archives, by cataloguing, conserving, re-housing and the production of digital surrogates. Using CALM 2000, a union catalogue, the medical collections, series, and selected item level descriptions and a selection of 2500 images, have been produced and mounted on the web.

The archive collections illuminate the study of such diverse subjects as public health, tropical medicine, epidemiology, medical education, surgery, pathology, dentistry, medical missionary work, the experience of women in the medical profession, attitudes to and the treatment of mental health, the development of nursing, philanthropy, hospital management, infectious diseases and industrial disease. Many aspects of twentieth century medical research, including cholesterol and phenylketonuria studies and First World War related medical conditions, including trench fever, war injuries, and nutrition are also contained within the collections, as well as aspects of social and historical geography. The potential for the study of public health issues contained in many manuscript collections is easily overlooked by researchers. The searchable union catalogue will vastly open up these collections to users, unlocking the full research potential of the collections.

  • Cataloguing: During the Follett Programme (Non-Formula Funding for Specialized Research Collections in the Humanities) the existing catalogues, which were produced using in house conventions, were converted to word processed documents. Although this significantly increased the useability of the lists in the Search Room, the unstructured nature of the word-processed lists has made it difficult to input them to electronic systems with powerful search mechanisms. After considering a number of options the most effective method of increasing the electronic usage of the lists appeared to be a flexible archive management system, with multi-functionality, which supports EAD web access for archive lists and images, has a powerful search mechanism and also has archive management functions to record and monitor acquisitions, reader usage, conservation and enquiries. CALM 2000, a recognized computerised cataloguing system, which conforms to ISAD(G) and other recognized archival standards meets those requirements. All current lists have been upgraded to conform to ISAD(G) and uncatalogued collections have been listed to item level, conforming to the same standards. Collections have also been indexed to conform to international standards and place and name authority files produced.

  • Access: The comprehensive lists described above form a union catalogue of medical collections held by the University. Access has been greatly facilitated and enhanced by the mounting of the union catalogue on a fully searchable web site using CALM 2000, which holds collection level machine-readable descriptions and images. Links have been created to other related web sites including the RSLP funded website 'Finding the Right Clinical Notes,' any other prospective medical project web sites and other relavent sites such as the Wellcome Trust and National Archives Hospital Records Database site. Within the department the expertise is available to establish the website and monitor its development. Currently, the digitisation projects being managed by the Archives are addressing these issues and a great deal of in-house experience is being developed.

  • Conservation/preservation: The project has also assisted in the long-term preservation of these items. Re-housing the collections through the purchase of folders, boxes and inert polyester enclosures of archival quality has greatly reduced potential deterioration. Some items, which are very fragile and cannot be currently accessed, have been selected for conservation to be carried out by professional conservators. In addition, a thermohygrograph has been purchased to monitor environmental conditions in the storage area in which the medical collections are housed.

  • Digitisation A selection of 2,500 documents and photographs have been digitised to a high-resolution using equipment purchased from other sources of funding and compressed for remote web access. The purpose of this is twofold. It will greatly increase access to the information contained within the records while also acting as a preservation tool, reducing handling and usage of the vulnerable originals. Significant expertise has been developed in this area within the Archives.

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O.H. Mavern - UR-SF 29/3 (11)
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