Meet Neil Parkinson, Archives & Collections Manager
Neil Parkinson looks after the Royal College of Art’s archives and special collections. There are over 30 different collections at the RCA, including the College archives and art collection, the photographic record of student work, and the internationally renowned Colour Reference Library, one of the largest collections of material on colour in the world. The collections range from manuscripts, paintings and rare books to digital files, sketchbooks and architectural models.
The Special Collections service supports staff, students and the external research community in a wide range of projects. Some users are just browsing for inspiration while others may spend weeks undertaking in-depth research for publications or exhibitions. The collections are united by their visual richness and, although an extensive digitisation programme is ongoing, Neil encourages visitors to experience objects in person and handle them directly. ‘Ensuring easy access to materials in a friendly environment is one the principles behind what we do,’ he explains.He has hosted many popular group visits to the RCA’s Colour Reference Library using an array of hand-coloured rare books, samples and optical illusions as visual aids, and has delivered workshops for students on the College’s collections of posters, artists’ books, and student magazines. Neil is also responsible for managing the College’s art collection, and handles the many loan requests from international galleries each year.
The most rewarding aspect of the role, Neil believes, is connecting objects to users. ‘Special collections by their nature include a lot of complex, unpublished or rare materials that require a bit of demystification’, he explains. ‘My job involves interpreting people’s research needs to match them with hidden material that unlocks something and enhances their work. It’s especially rewarding to see how students’ practice can be transformed by their encounters with beautiful or strange things in the archives, prints or rare books. It’s a journey of discovery for us both!’
For more information on the collections and archives, and for access and visitor information, head to the Special Collections page.