APAC members’ meeting, February 2019 at Rambert, South Bank.

During this meeting, Chris Jones (Rambert Archives project manager) discussed the process of creating the Rambert Performance Database. Members were also treated to a tour of Rambert’s archives by Carly Randall (Archivist).

Karen Brayshaw (University of Kent) and Jane Gallagher (University of Manchester) ran a workshop with around 30 members to consider managing programme collections. The workshop allowed members to reflect on their own experiences and share thoughts about some of the key challenges to managing programme collections. In groups, members were asked to consider the needs of users of programme collections, and share challenges and solutions of managing such materials.

Below is a summary of the workshop; for further information and more detail, please download the full Workshop Report.

Programme for Jack and the Beanstalk, Drury Lane, 1899


Common themes emerged in several areas, from the use of materials in research to the challenges of storing the physical items. One key area of discussion was collecting priorities, and the importance of being clear about the audience for and aims of collecting. This helps to identify which collections to acquire and can support the wider membership to suggest alternative repositories for donors’ collections.

Cataloguing and metadata for programme collections were considered a key challenge, particularly the level of detail required for users, versus the amount of time spent creating it. With such a range of potential uses and users it was suggested that volunteers and students could have a significant role in supplementing programme metadata for a range of audiences or research.

Other useful research materials in programmes that may not be immediately obvious included advertising, which demonstrates social trends and wider changes to the audience.

Even within ‘core’ information, there are challenges, such as unrecorded dates and variations of names. Exploring performance dates was considered another useful project for volunteers, who could cross-reference other performance information to supply an estimated date. Name variation was a bigger challenge, but this could be addressed by a national performance database which could serve as an authority list for both individuals’ and theatre names.

Finally, the role of digital was considered both an opportunity and a challenge. While there is exciting scope for making more programme material available online (and potentially using OCR to make it searchable), copyright considerations remain a significant issue. This is further complicated by the nature of programmes, which may include materials from a range of copyright holders.

Programme for the Theatre Royal, Margate, 1907

Top tips

  • Focus on your audience: identify the audience you’re aiming for with your programme collections so you can catalogue and collect with a specific focus and relevant documentation. Don’t feel you have to collect everything!
  • If possible, use visual programmes in physical and digital promotion, such as social media
  • Make the most of volunteers: programmes can be accessible materials for volunteer projects which can add valuable information to your collections – for example including metadata about adverts
  • If you can digitise, use OCR to create data-rich accessible copies
  • Volunteers or students can be tasked with research to identify (or narrow down) production dates
  • Consider what information can usefully be provided online before a researcher arrives, such as handling information, levels of work an archivist can undertake on behalf of a researcher and further cataloguing information
  • If possible, keep duplicates for handling collections and creative re-use (such as scrapbooking)

Jane Gallagher is Website Officer for APAC and Digital Engagement Manager (Special Collections) at the University of Manchester.

Explore programmes and posters in Members' collections


What connects our members’ collections? Here we put a spotlight on some of the curious themes that tie us together.