It was always Sidney Webb’s vision for the Library that it should support researchers, rich in primary sources including archive materials. LSE Archivist Sue Donnelly shares the story of LSE’s first archivist, Angela Raspin, who served in post from 1975 until 1998.
In 1898 the Library took in its first archive deposit when Beatrice and Sidney Webb donated the trade union papers they had acquired during the research for The History of Trade Unionism. Following on from that first acquisition the Library developed as a significant research resource holding the records of Charles Booth’s Enquiry into London Life and Labour, the papers of John Stuart Mill and his wife and step daughter Harriet Taylor and Helen Taylor, and the diary and correspondence of Hugh Dalton, a former LSE lecturer who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1945 Labour government. However, it was only in 1975 that LSE appointed its first post specifically focussed on caring for the archive collections.
Angela Raspin began her connection with LSE in 1966 when she applied to study for a PhD on the war time economy of Italy. Initially accepted for an MPhil she converted to a PhD in 1969. Angela continued to work as an archivist while studying and finally submitted her thesis in 1980 seeking special permission to submit as she was outside the ten year limit for University of London PhDs. In her defence she said she ‘had my nose against the Library grindstone for the last five years’ – a statement corroborated by the then Librarian.
Angela Raspin was appointed by the Library as archivist in January 1975 and in her own words ‘had to sort out eighty years of accumulated manuscripts’. The initial period was occupied with organising the move of the archives into the Library’s new accommodation in the W.H.Smiths’ old head office, soon to be renamed the Lionel Robbins Building. This involved producing a large number of quick catalogues for significant collections such as the Dalton papers, organising a new reading room service and scouring the cupboards of the Old Building for misplaced archives.
In the 1980s Angela, always a technophile, took a great interest in the developing use of IT in opening up archives and special collections to wider audiences and new types of investigation and research. In particular LSE was in the forefront of investigations into the development of computer based cataloguing systems spurred on by the task of arranging the LSE archives in advance of the LSE centenary in 1995. 1986 saw the first pilot project and by 1989 all new cataloguing was undertaken directly onto a computer system. In 1997 the Library delivered the first online archive catalogue at the School one of the first archives to provide this kind of access.
In the 1990s as part of the Non-Formula Funding Archives Sub-committee working on the outcomes of the Follett Report into university libraries Angela was a sponsor of the National Networking Developer Project which aimed to develop a national archive network with the ability to locate and search catalogues of archives across the UK. Although the project was unsuccessful the lessons learnt fed into the development of Archiveshub and AIM25 which have revolutionised archival research.
Throughout her time as at LSE Angela continued to develop the collections and was frequently far sighted in her decisions. In 1988 when the community based LGBT archive, Hall-Carpenter Archives, lost its funding in the midst of the Section 28 debates, Angela was quick to see its potential for future researchers. She also supported the publication of editions of Beatrice Webb’s diary by Jeanne and Norman Mackenzie and Ben Pimlott’s edition of Hugh Dalton’s Second World War and political diaries.
Angela retired in 1998 having made her mark on the archives at LSE and the wider world of historical research. In retirement she moved to her home county of Yorkshire and was able to finally undertake a City and Guilds diploma in embroidery.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)
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