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'I´ve had some experience with archives before' I think was the comment made an AGM that sealed my fate. I wasn´t sure what I had let myself in for when I offered to take over the vacant post of Followers' Librarian and I don´t suppose many reading this have an idea about it either. Probably, some of you don´t even know we have a library, so let me enlighten you.
First of all, a bit about me? Before becoming the Librarian, I was your fairly average Rupert Follower, I bought the odd book, had most the annuals though not all were originals, came to some of the AGMs and knew a little about Rupert and his adventures, but it was a background hobby - but that all changed.
My first task as Librarian was to collect and transport the library to my home in Leeds. It was then that I realised what a treasure we have. The car was packed to the brim with uncountable numbers of cardboard boxes and two large flat-pack bookcases from - well you can guess! It took me a month to sort and check against the catalogue I had been given. The two book cases were heaving with book and boxes of papers. In addition, I had to place some of the overflow in my attic; the previous librarian had a room dedicated to Rupert but I was not that fortunate.
There are over seven hundred catalogued items, mainly books, but also comics, tapes, videos, CDs and even some badges. We have, of course, a full set of annuals, Adventure Series and the Little Bear library of Mary Tourtel. But the Followers library has other less-known oddities, such as The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book which contains a Rupert story by Mary Tourtel called 'Rupert the Little Bear Goes Adventuring in the Robbers' Den and with the Giants' or the Blue Peter Annual No 18 which contains two pages on The Bear Facts´. Although I have been librarian for over five years I have still not found time to look through, never mind read, even a small proportion of the books in it.
The unique element of the library is its set of newspaper cuttings. In these we are extremely fortunate to have Bestall's own personal cuttings, each story in a separate envelope with the name of the story handwritten by Bestall. These cover the period from 1935 to 1967. After that, we have most of the original cuttings for the period 1986 to the present day. These cover both the newspaper stories in the Daily Express and Sunday Express. In fact one of my duties as Librarian is to cut and archive the Rupert episode in each day´s newspaper, so building up the set of stories as repeated in the twenty first century. The Library does not cover the full set of stories issued in the Daily Express but the early gap of Mary Tourtel stories is covered, albeit with photocopies of the originals. We also have a copy of 'Rupert and the Bad Baboon' being the only story published in the Daily Express without drawings - this uses photos of real puppets.
We do have some gaps with neither originals nor copies in the post-Bestall period and this is something I would like to work on. I hope to publish details of the gaps some time in the future and ask your help in filling in the gaps. Of course, we will not be asking for originals, but if any of you, withemail and a scanner, have any complete or partial stories missing from the Library, you may be able to help complete its 'holes´.
In the past, the Society has been donated a wide range of items such as magazine containing articles on Rupert, knitting and sewing patterns, scrapbooks and posters. The Library is the natural home for such items. One day I hope to individually catalogue them but that is very far in the future. At the moment I am concentrating on scanning the daily newspaper cuttings for each of the stories- a Herculean task indeed! I have prioritised those stories requested by Followers and those stories not repeated in other publications. Eventually it is hoped to have all stories in digital format but that is a long way off.
The Library is also an archive for the society as a whole. We retain copies of each Nutwood Newsletter that is published, each of the Nutwood Specials, together with minutes from Committee meetings and the AGM, correspondence to the Society, and most importantly, a copy of the Society´s constitution. As an aside, the Library has its own constitution governing the loan of items.
One recent role of the Library has taken on is to act as a backup for the various electronic files generated by the Society, so, for example, we have back-ups of the Nutwood Newsletter files, membership numbers etc.
At this point you may be asking yourself what´s the benefit of the library to the average Follower. Well, it is your Library and it operates in a similar manner to your local Public Library. You can request copies of the books and other items held within it. Most can be posted to you for you to read at yourleisure as unlike Public Libraries we don´t have fixed borrowing times. All we ask is that you pay the postal charges of sending the book to you and returning it to the library. As you well know, some Rupert books are too difficult (and expensive!) to replace so these are considered 'reference books´. You are very welcome to visit the Library and access any of these types of books. Just contact me to arrange a mutually suitable time. My location in Leeds has pretty good access both by road and by rail.
The most popular service the Library provides is that of supplying missing individual newspaper episodes or whole newspaper stories. Several members are 'regulars´ and periodically ask the Library to fill the gaps in their collection. The Library cannot, of course, provide you with original cuttings but photocopies are available in a choice of two medias. You can either request them as hard copy, that is, as photocopies of the originals, or you can request them in electronic format. With photocopies you pay for the cost of copying and postage and packing. There is no cost for receiving them in electronic format; all you need is an email address.
There is one thing I need to tell you about the presentation of the copied cuttings. The quality of the cutting is as good as we can make it - sometimes though it is a copy of a faded photocopy. In this case we will tell you and let you decide if you still want it, before creating the paper copy. However, the quality of layout of the cuttings does not come anywhere near that of the Nutwood Specials - the best I can say is that they will be straight - more or less! This is because the sheer number of stories that remainto be digitised means that there is no time to spend editing each page to ensure its cuttings are correctly aligned.
The 'virtual´ world is a feature of everyday life today and the number of newspaper cuttings available in electronic format grows as each month goes by. Once the members´ area is set up on the website, it is hoped to give members read access to a selection of these files.
The Library is also happy to provide photocopies of individual book covers or pages. This has been requested in the past to help with restoring treasured annuals. And before you ask, we can´t send you a copy of a brown-faced 1973 annual cover, because we don´t have one!