Friday 26 February 2010

School's out for-weather

We were closed due to bad weather at 2.30pm yesterday. Unbelievably exciting, even though we are closed to the public this week anyway and were having a perfectly pleasant time sorting out stock and preparing displays. We even sat in and had lunch together and cups of tea to avoid braving the weather which was, again, very nice.

There is nothing better than sitting on your couch when you thought that you would be at work, however.

Although finding a forgotten tenner in your pocket and a stashed bar of Dairy Milk in the back of the cupboard are admirable rivals. Or realising half way through an episode of eastenders that it is an hour long. Yes!

Thursday 25 February 2010

Time to build snowmen!

The Library and Archive has been closed due to the extreme weather conditions from 2.30pm today. So now you have no excuse for not building a snowman.

I may be some time...

We feel like we're working in a snow globe today, which is not unpleasant, but going out to buy lunch will be a bit of an experience. I'll just pretend that I'm Captain Scott, it'll be fine. He did die though...

There are still piles of papers, books and boxes everywhere but it's ALL PERFECTLY UNDER CONTROL.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

My old work's a dustbin

Do you know that horrifying stage in the middle of tidying up, when everything's lying on top of everything else and you wonder why you bothered starting?

Welcome to middle-of-closure-week archives!

On the plus side, no customers means that we can choose our own lunch-breaks and swap Loose Women for This Morning.

Monday 22 February 2010

Marie celeste

No email working and no customers, as we are closed. It is a sad, lonely day for the archives... almost as sad as Eastenders *LIVE* (did he fall or jump by the way?)...

We are getting an awful lot done, however, so the absence of our beautiful customers is almost worth the pain. Shelves are being built, archives are being moved and thrilling preparations for Discovery Week are taking shape.

Friday 19 February 2010

Apples and Pears

Tonight's television is possibly the most exciting event that could ever have been conceived: Eastenders LIVE!

Today in the library we shall be celebrating this truly momentous day by falling over, swearing and flicking our eyes at the CCTV cameras in a flustery panic.

In recognition of the fact that Soap Operas were originally intended as vehicles for soap commercials, we have posted a frankly quite disturbing advert from an 1890 edition of The Orcadian.

After tonight's show, you will probably feel quite downbeat and think that nothing else will match the visceral thrill that you have just experienced. Then, however, you shall remember that the library are hosting a live broadcast of Radio Orkney's the Bruck Show on Monday the 8th of March as part of Discovery Week. Phew.

Snow place like home

Let us hope that we are not greeted by similar scenes tomorrow. Look here.
These photographs were taken in the 1950s by Sandy Wylie, former Kirkwall Grammar School technician and local inventor.

Thursday 18 February 2010

W is for wasted youth

Naming capital cities. Times tables. The past participle. Burning peanuts and then weighing them. Naming cloud formations. Holding a netball for 3 seconds only, whilst travelling no more than 1 1/2 steps. Working out how many square tiles to put around an oval pool. Swimming whilst wearing pjamas.

All of the above are 'skills' that teachers assured us we would be using every day of our lives. However, apart from basic literacy and numeracy, the one school days task that a librarian or archivist uses more than any other is putting things into alphabetical order.

How completely unexpected. Of all the tedious exercises that we were given to complete, the lists of words that were provided every day from primaries 4-7 to alphabetise seemed like the biggest waste of time. Burning stuff was part of our leisure activities anyway and one day we just might own an oval pool. If retired and left with absolutely nothing else to do, joining a netball team might be an option and pub quizzes could account for the rest; but shuffling words around endlessly was the dark horse.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

30 Years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming...

Every year, every single year Brit Awards! You promise to be amazing and then force us to writhe in embarrassment on our sofas whilst our toes curl and our ear drums bleed. Still, this time next year you will have tempted us anew and enraged us once more. See you then.

I think that I would rather travel back in time to watch the Kirkwall Amateur Dramatics Society production that is pictured above, however. It is not too different really; the man on the left is wearing about as much make up as The 2 Brides of Frankenstein and the dancing bloomers are as disconcerting as the 'singing' that seemed to be happening even when the performers' mouths were closed.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

How Could I Forget A Day Dedicated To Cakes???!!

It is Shrove Tuesday as well of course. I wonder if John Mac's mum makes him a birthday cake out of a big pile of pancakes?

See below a recipe for 'Saucer Pancakes' taken from F. Marian McNeill's book 'Recipes From Scotland.' McNeill was included in our exhibition on Famous Orcadian Women.

Born in Holm in 1885 and educated in Glasgow, Florence Marian became a journalist and contributed to the Scottish National Dictionary. Her best known work is 'The Silver Bough', a 4 volume work on Scottish folklore. She was active in the Suffragette movement and wrote several books on cookery.

Saucer Pancakes

2 oz. Flour 2 eggs

11/2 oz. Butter 1/2 pint Milk

1 teaspoonful Castor Sugar Jam (Apricot or preference)

Sift the flour. Beat the eggs. Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs, then the flour and milk alternately. Mix lightly, and pour into six buttered saucers. Bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes. Heat some jam. Turn out the pancakes, place some jam on half of each, and double up. Serve immediately.

You can NOT be serious!!!!!!!

Do not be like poor John McEnroe who, although it is his birthday today, is still FURIOUS that his planned trip to research the history of the clootie dumpling coincides with the Archives closure week.

Don't make the same mistake! If there is any pressing research to be done, make sure that you get in before the 22nd of February as we are closed to the public that whole week. Normal services will resume on the 1st of March and library services will be unaffected by the closure week.

Monday 15 February 2010

Great smelly balls of fire...

We have just received a book; The Pseudo-Meteoric Events of The British Isles, from its author, James D. Robinson.

A couple of years ago, Mr Robinson got in touch asking if we knew anything about a supposed meteor falling in Copinsay in the 1670s. After much trawling of the archives, we eventually found a passage in James Wallace's Description of The Orkney Isles which was published in 1693:

"...some few years hence, some fishermen, fishing half a league from land, over against Copinsha, in a fair day, there fell down from the air a stone about the size of a football, which fell in the midst of the boat, and sprang a leak in it, to the great hazard of the lives of the men who were in it, which could be no other but some substance generated in the clouds. The stone was like condensed or petrified clay..."

This event sounds quite alarming until you read the terrifying entry for Widecombe in the moor. Here, the congregation of St Pancreas Church noticed the skies darkening so quickly and so completely, they could no longer read their hymn books. Suddenly, ball lightning entered the church through a window bringing with it a pungent smell described as 'brimstone.' The lightning proceeded to move about the church igniting hair, flesh and clothing and causing much distress. Lime and sand were torn from the walls and the pulpit was ripped asunder. One woman was so badly injured that she required an amputation and more than a few of the congregation died either after the event or during. Sir Richard Reynolds had "his scull rent into three pieces and his brains thrown entire backwards into the next seat behind him."

If you too enjoy reading about horrifying destruction caused by inexplicable natural phenomena, then this book shall be available to view once it has been suitably catalogued. Is there a Dewey decimal number for gory weather?

Friday 12 February 2010

2 Hearts... 2 Hearts that beeeaaaat as one... Our Lives Have Just Be-gun...

Whether you are enjoying a romantic meal for two on the 14th of February or staying in alone to shake your fist at the world, the fact is, on Sunday, it is St Valentine's day.

Pictured above is a Valentine's card sent to Miss Jane Grieve of Elwick, Shapinsay in 1849. It seems to be anonymous and merely contains a pre-printed poem.

Image reference D1/696

Thursday 11 February 2010

Discovery Week 2010

'Good Lord', I hear you cry, 'what a brightly coloured, informative and well laid out leaflet that is! I do wonder what it's for?'

Well wonder no more. To the right, you can see a break down of all the events that have been planned for Discovery Week 2010. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

There will be food (Broth and Breid), there will be adventure (the Archive World Discovery Traill), there will be tea, biscuits, prizes, competitions, gentle mercy (Book Amnesty) and much, much more.

Our last Discovery Week occurred in 2008 and caused such frenzied and unbridled joy amongst the citizens of Orkney that we decided to make it a biennial celebration and provide a restful fallow year.

See you all on the 4-10th of March! Be there or be square!

Wednesday 10 February 2010


This sombre bunch can be seen 'enjoying' the 1973 Orphir S.W.R.I. Hallowe'en party. It is fairly recent compared to most of our stuff so there must be somebody out there who can tell us if
something awful had just happened out of shot. Names are also good to have...

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Scary Biscuits

Biscuits are important in a work place. They make or break both tea-breaks and reputations. Woe betide those staff members who do not bring in their share, but pity even more those who bring in biscuits that are not up to scratch.

A certain well-meaning but ultimately misguided staff member brought some very promising looking chocolate sandwich-type specimens in today. They did not taste good. One by one hands reached, mouths chewed, eyes narrowed and angry insults flew. Even tea did nothing to remedy their tasteless, mealy dryness.

To put this catastrophe into context, we looked out an old recipe book from 1712 as you can usually rely upon old recipes sounding horrific. It all sounds okay though. Many more herbs and spices were being used than I would have guessed; cloves, mace, nutmeg, ginger, sage and thyme all make an appearance, and although there are many instructions to 'boyle' things until they fall apart or until you have lost the will to live, and there are recipes involving skinned cod's heads and non-specific 'shoulders', it all ends up sounding reasonably tasty.

I probably won't try the Colour A Pigg recipe anytime soon however.

Recipe book reference D14/7/1 dated circa 1714.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Northern Lights

I misread a customer's email in which she wonders when Stromness town council stopped using gas from the gas works.

I had initially thought that the query regarded the change over from gas streetlights to electric.

It was surprising to discover that the street lights were gas until as late as 1947. This means that post WW2, the council was still employing lamp-lighters and lamp-extinguishers. Apparently, the lamps were left unlit on nights when there was a full moon.

Information from Stromness Town Council minutes reference S1/7 and History of Stromness by George S. Robertson.

Friday 5 February 2010

Discovery Week 4th - 10th March 2010

Difficult as it may be to believe, there are some people in Orkney who do not use the Library and Archive... I know!

Don't worry, we've got it under control. the 4th of March is not only World Book Day, but the first day of Orkney Library & Archive's

Discovery Week.

This shall be a week of delights designed both to entice the remaining few who have not been tempted by our vast array of services (books, archives, sound archives, photographs, cds,dvds, reading groups, home library service, sing and sign and bookstart rhymetime sessions, friday cuppas etc) and to give our loyal customers even more to enjoy.

On Thursday the 4th of March, we shall have storytelling evening with Tom Muir.

A library booksale will begin on Friday the 5th.

Allan Guthrie shall host a writing workshop on Saturday the 6th.

Monday the 8th will see the opening ceremony of our wonderful new reference room by MSP Liam MacArthur to be followed by a coffee morning.

On Wednesday the 10th you will not even have to leave the building to get your lunch as soup, bread and crostini will be provided in the MacGillivray room to raise funds for The Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

All through the week there will be quizzes and competitions including the Archive World Traill which will showcase the many countries which are represented in the archives along with 5 Orcadian travellers and explorers (including Thomas Stewart Traill. Do you see what we did there?).

We shall keep you posted with the details of upcoming events here, our website, facebook and our twitter page. We look forward to seeing you then.

Thursday 4 February 2010

The book that is filled with faces

Happy 6th birthday Facebook! It's difficult to know how to feel about you! On the one hand, you have enabled so called 'friends' to post pictures of us whilst inebriated on their pages for all to see. You also seem to inspire manic, incessant laughter as your members type, if the inordinate amount of LOLs that appear can be used as a gauge.

You have, however, made it possible for friends and relatives from different sides of the world to keep in touch easily and it is also now possible to publicly declare yourself to be a fan of Orkney Library and Archive. Click HERE and your beautiful eyes shall be shown a wondrous page of delights where all who read it feel the same as you; that Orkney Library and Archive is the best library and archive in all the world with incredibly attractive staff, the best choice of books/archives/cds/dvds/magazines/photos and the tastiest free cuppa on a Friday afternoon.

You can also reach our page by clicking on the link embedded in our website where you will also find our twitter link.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

It's a mythhhstery (as Toyah once sang)

Here are a selection of pictures from the Photographic Archives that we know nothing about. If you can give us any information about them please e-mail

Get the flash player here:

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Suffer the little children

Oh you poor Fereday projectors! You may have thought that you were getting the day off from school work, but some of you have been sent/taken to the Archive to research your subjects! Life can be cruel...

Snow Solid

At approximately 7.32am this morning, if you were listening carefully, a chorus of gleeful whoops filled the air as many Orcadian children learned that their school had been closed by snow.

Today, these wee skivers will be able to hurl snowballs at each other whilst whizzing about on sledges and sculpting grotesque caricatures of their teachers in snow. And all without reparation.

If it had been 1888, however, they would have perhaps owed the school a day's toil. The Birsay school log book entry for 27th January 1888 reads:

" A very stormy day and so few present that they were dismissed before the usual time of marking the Registers. The school will be opened on a subsequent Saturday when the attendances will be marked under this date." The horror...

On 1st February 1895, the school was closed due to heavy snow-fall but no mention was made of a further catch-up Saturday. Perhaps it was an unpopular idea.

The poor teacher was left virtually alone again on the 31st of January 1896 but, this time, weather was not to blame. A steamer had been wrecked not far from the coast and the pupils of the school spent the day down on the beach scavenging for cargo.

Information taken from log book CO5/42/1

Monday 1 February 2010

Archives closure week

The Orkney Archive will be closed to the public the week of the 22nd - 27th of February 2010. This closure will not affect any of the library facilities.

We try to have a closure period every February so that we can drink tea, play winky murders and sardines in the strong-rooms, make prank calls and generally have a laugh.

Only joking. Because the majority of our working day throughout the year is spent front of house, there are many behind-the-scenes jobs that get neglected. The closure week is a good opportunity to accomplish tasks that need more than two people working on them at the same time, or that have acquired some urgency.

Last year we completely rearranged our Orkney Room, catalogued an entire collection, made great headway with another enormous collection and brought some semblance of order to our Aladdin's Cave of uncatalogued deposits. This year we hope to broker a peace deal in the Middle East, work out who killed Archie in Eastenders and invent a recipe for instant tea granules that doesn't taste rank.