Volunteering at the University of Northampton Part 2: the Northamptonshire Grammar School Collection

In Part 1, I blogged about my experience working with the College of Education collection. The second project I worked on was the Northamptonshire Grammar School collection. This collection involved different materials, and was quite exciting, as it involved using computing equipment dating from before I was born.

My task for this collection was to use a BBC Master Series Microcomputer 800 in connection with a BBC Microcomputer System Dual Disc Drive, to extract the information from files on 5.25″ floppy discs, and then print off the data using a 1980s Epson LX-800 printer. Printing off the data would ensure that the information on the discs could be preserved and accessed, even if the technology failed. I do remember using floppy discs in sixth form to save my school work, but I had never used a computer that size (or that basic)! The 1980s printer took longer to print out the documents than its modern counterparts, so the printing process was rather long and laborious. Of  the 24 floppy discs, I managed to print out data from almost 2 before the technology stopped working.

After printing as much data from the floppy discs as I could, the project then moved into the cataloguing stage. The collection was organised and catalogued into six series, and corresponding photographs of the equipment were added to the online catalogue.

I did some research into the BBC computer and managed to source some helpful web pages and an authentic computer manual, but sadly the computer could not be coaxed back into life. It was a stark reminder of how quickly technology moves on. If we were still using this kind of technology now as standard then we would probably have been able to turn to the University IT department for help. The computing technology that we use today has wildly progressed from the computing systems of a just few decades ago, and some of the IT department now are too young to have used floppy discs or recognise the 1980s computing technology.

The next project, which I am currently working on, is the Avenue Ducts collection. Pop back soon to hear about my first experience of selection and appraisal.

Many thanks to the Records Manager for allowing me to write some blog posts about my experience.

If you would like to know more about the Northamptonshire Grammar School collection, or any of the other diverse collections held by the University of Northampton’s Archive, then please visit the archive website.


3 thoughts on “Volunteering at the University of Northampton Part 2: the Northamptonshire Grammar School Collection

  1. davidunderdown95 says:

    Some of us can remember using BBC computers at school, and our first family home computer was an Acorn Electron, an even more basic machine (but compatible with the BBC models). A more digital approach would be to use a kryoflux or similar to create a disk image that could then be used with an emulator to keep the data accessible, but the kit isn’t cheap. There’s also, I think, a fair number of Acorn hobbyists around who might be able to help, either with diagnosing the hardware problem or reading the files and copying them to other media. I can’t remember now if there was actual word processing software for the BBC computers, or were they just plain text files?


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