Tag Archives: what’s it like to be a trainee

What’s it like to be a trainee? Francesca Miller, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I discovered the Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist role while looking for jobs in Oxford that gave opportunities for training and learning. Though I didn’t know much about digital archiving, as soon as I read the advert I knew it was the job for me and I was delighted when I got it. My background is quite varied, having degrees in Graphic Design and Mathematics and being part way through my MSc in Maths, all while working in the financial sector. I decided I wanted a change of direction and the traineeship was the perfect opportunity to use my skills and knowledge in an interesting and developing field.

Having no previous experience of archives hasn’t been a barrier as the work introduces you through on the job training and the PGDip at Aberystwyth University. While studying and working at the same time can be demanding, the course compliments the job and I already feel like I know so much more. While there has be some aspects of the role I haven’t be able to do, due to remote working, there is always plenty of work and I have learnt so much in 7 months. Working alongside the other two trainees has been really enjoyable and our twice-weekly web archiving session via teams has worked really well. They have both been very supportive and are always willing to answer my questions and navigate me through the complexity that is web archiving. The role has enabled me to expand on my coding skills by learning XML as part of a retro-conversion project and learn new skills around cataloguing and indexing.

I started my traineeship in September 2020 and like a lot of what has happened in the last year it hasn’t gone quite as expected! Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been into the Weston Library since my interview which took place prior to the first lockdown. Despite working from my home and not meeting my colleagues in person, I have been made to feel welcome and part of the digital archiving team. I am very much looking forward to discovering more aspects of digital archiving during the rest of my traineeship and I hope very soon to be able to experience the Bodleian Library in person!

Francesca Miller, May 2021

What’s it like to be a trainee? Simon Mackley, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I applied to become a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist because I wanted a route into the profession that would also equip me with the skills for working with archives in the digital age. I have always had a keen interest in the past: I originally trained as a historian, completing a PhD in British imperial history at the University of Exeter in 2016. The following year I got my first archives job, working as an Archives Assistant as part of the Conservative Party Archive team at the Bodleian. I found the work fascinating and really rewarding, and it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to pursue this as a career. When the opportunity to apply for the traineeship came up, I jumped at the chance!

One of the great things about being a digital archives trainee is that you get to work across a wide range of projects and collections. For instance, my work over the past year has included reviewing, indexing, and publishing a hugely diverse range of catalogue records as part of the Summary Catalogue project, as well as more technical tasks such as retro-converting the historic catalogues of the University Archives to make them machine-readable. A particular highlight for me has been working on the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Not coming from a technical background, this was a completely new area for me. However, working on the web archive has become one of my favourite parts of the traineeship, and I have really enjoyed developing a new set of skills in this area.

I have also found studying for the postgraduate diploma at Aberystwyth University really interesting, and the topics covered often prove very useful in my day-to-day work. Balancing distance learning with full-time work can be challenging at times, but you get plenty of support from your fellow trainees and the tutors at Aberystwyth. As a digital archives trainee, you also get to take part in the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee programme, and I have really enjoyed having the chance to learn more about the wider work of the Bodleian and College libraries.

Obviously, working during the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it its own unique challenges: my first day in the role ended up coinciding with the start of the first national lockdown! Fortunately, the nature of digital archives means that there has still been plenty of tasks to get on with while working from home. The Aberystwyth University course has also been able to continue throughout the pandemic, so I’ve not had any disruption to my studies.

I am now halfway through the traineeship, and looking back on the past year I am amazed at how much I have already learned. I really value the opportunities I’ve had in this role, and I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store!

Simon Mackley, April 2021

What’s it like to be a trainee? Hannah Jordan, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, 2019-2021

I moved to Oxford and started working as a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist in April 2019. I graduated in 2016 with a BA in History and English Literature and during my undergraduate studies I volunteered in a couple of different roles within the heritage sector to try and decide what career path would be the best fit for me. I decided that I was interested in working as an Archivist because it would give me the best of both worlds: working ‘behind-the-scenes’ engaging directly with historic documents, whilst still doing some public engagement and outreach work.

I came to this job with very little experience of archival work, but this hasn’t been a barrier at all because the traineeship is designed to introduce you to the basics and build on your understanding in a structured way. So far I’ve learned a range of transferable skills, including modifying XML files, arranging and cataloguing papers and ephemera, and capturing media-based archives, such as cassettes, CDs and DVDs. Once per week I also work on curating the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. My work on the Web Archive has been particularly interesting, as it has been a gateway to learning about the challenges we face in trying to develop technologies and methodologies for curating and preserving the colossal amount of born-digital information that we generate every day.

Studying part-time with Aberystwyth in addition to working full-time as a trainee can sometimes be difficult, but the course readings are interesting and useful for contextualising the work that I do in my day-to-day job. Oxford has so many beautiful libraries to explore that even finding somewhere new to settle down and do my readings feels like a bit of an adventure!

Working as a trainee in Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries is extremely rewarding. It gives me the opportunity to handle some fascinating and unique collections and to work with supportive colleagues who really love their work. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.

Hannah Jordan, May 2019

What’s it like to be a trainee? Marjolein Platjee, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist, 2018-2020

Having now worked as a trainee with the Bodleian Libraries for a little over a month, I can honestly say that the job was 100% worth the move from The Netherlands to the UK. As my predecessors have written, the job is incredibly varied, interesting and very rewarding.

Like the majority of my fellow trainees I do not have a background in libraries or archives. However, I do have a background in research and using archives from work on my PhD focussing on British Popular Literature. Whilst writing my dissertation I was also working as an Information and Process coordinator. In this role I managed a number of IT related projects, including the implementation of a knowledge management base. It was this project that got me interested in knowledge and records management. So when I stumbled upon this traineeship with the Bodleian it seemed the ideal combination of my love for technology and research. As it turns out, it is indeed.

Although I have only been working at the Bodleian for a short while I have already been given the opportunity to do and learn so much. I have already been taught how to manipulate XML files, how to archive websites and how to digitize cassette tapes and other media. I am currently also being trained to assist in the reading rooms and I have been assigned my very own cataloguing project. Working on the latter has been especially exciting and surprising, as next to documents and books I have also been cataloguing merchandise which includes such ‘exotic’ items as t-shirts, jackets, corkscrews – they come in five different colours and have even been engraved – and temporary tattoos.

The distance study at Aberystwyth really prepares me for the tasks that I face in my work and therewith helps me to gain a better understanding of my job, its importance and the history behind it. It does take some self-discipline to keep up with the course work whilst working 4.5 days a week, but if you manage your time wisely it really is doable.

I look forward to learning even more over the course of the coming two years, and I am sure I will look back upon my decision to apply for this job as one of the best ones I could have made.

Marjolein Platjee, Nov 2018

What’s it like to be a trainee? Miten Mistry, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

Before starting this traineeship I had very little knowledge or experience of the archives and heritage sector. I have a science background and completed my PhD in Pre-clinical dentistry in 2016. As soon as I saw this role advertised I became immediately intrigued. After reading about the archives sector and what this role entailed I knew that this was the job for me; the more I found out about it the more I wanted to do it. I thought having little experience of archiving and this sector would make it difficult for me to get into at this later stage of my career as everyone else I spoke to seemed to have done a lot more! I undertook some short work experience at the Bodleian Library and also volunteered at De Montfort University Archives and after that it was clear in my mind that this was definitely what I wanted to do as it was so enjoyable and the satisfaction you get from your work is immense.

Learning about archiving from the Bodleian library has been a fantastic experience so far and I don’t feel that the lack of prior experience has hindered me in anyway. Having six other trainees starting at the same time has been a really nice experience as we all have different backgrounds and interests and we have been able to learn from and support each another. There is so much going on within the library and everyone is incredibly friendly and willing to help so it fosters a great working and learning atmosphere. This has allowed me to settle into the role and increase my understanding about all things archive related incredibly quickly.

After the initial training, it was great to be able to get hands on with my own projects as I knew that I was making an immediate contribution from a very early stage which was incredibly satisfying. As a trainee, currently I spend my time between Web archiving, XML work on re-coding catalogues from EAD.1 to EAD.2, collection management, working in the reading rooms and part time distance learning. This variety is fantastic as it is developing my skills in a broad range of areas and has allowed me to see how a library and archive of the Bodleian’s size and stature operates.

It is a lot of work and you have to manage your time well however we receive great support and knowing that this is a truly unique and valuable experience that will give us a solid platform to build a career within the archiving profession makes it worth it.

I’m really looking forward to developing my skills and experience as a digital archivist over the coming years at one of the best libraries in the world. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working in the place that I do, doing the work that I do and learning from colleagues that have great experience, passion and pride for their work.

Miten Mistry, May 2017

What’s it like to be a trainee? Kelly Burchmore, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

I feel incredibly lucky to be taking part in a traineeship here that combines both full time work and funded distance learning with Aberystwyth University. There is no time as trainee digital archivists when we are not busy- but I love this and thrive on it! Special collections staff are so supportive, and we all have a personal tutor at Aberystwyth, too.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History from Royal Holloway University of London. During my degree I undertook some work experience in the United States at a National Historic site in Kansas, engaging with materials and culture linked to the site and its history. I was so engaged with the work there, but knew little about working towards a career in archives until I returned home and began to research.

Not having a STEM background, I have surprised myself at how much I enjoy the technology related aspects of the traineeship such as assisting in an XML conversion project which will contribute to improved access for all of our users. I have also massively appreciated mastering web-archiving related terminology and functions; in my first month I have learnt so much about the entire process of the BLWA from nomination of a site through to quality assuring its ‘crawls’. In the months to come I am excited to raise awareness of the web archiving here at the Bodleian and the wider importance of preserving sites.

No two consecutive days are the same as a trainee, and the varied experience means I am building up a rounded skill set. It’s difficult to choose an aspect I enjoy the most, but currently I would say it is assisting with enquiries. I love gaining insights into the collections from more experienced staff members, visiting the stacks and working to find an item that a reader specifically needs for their research. The scope and extent of the Bodleian’s collections are so exciting and it is a joy to work with them.

Kelly Burchmore, May 2017

What’s it like to be a trainee? Iram Safdar, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

Growing up in Glasgow, with regular visits to its many and varied cultural institutions, including the excellent Glasgow Life museums, meant I knew from a young age I wanted to work in the cultural heritage sector. However, it was my undergraduate degree in Digital Media and Information Studies that cemented this ambition more fully, and where I became particularly interested in how digital technologies can, and are, affecting the way we live, learn and work. This, combined with modules on digitisation and record management, encouraged me to pursue the Bodleian Libraries Digital Archivist traineeship to gain vital experience within the archives sector with a long-term aim of contributing to the preservation and accessibility of our past, for future users.

The traineeship has been meticulously organised to provide us with a diverse and comprehensive introduction to the many aspects of archival work; so far I have worked on collection appraisal and cataloguing on some fascinating modern political collections which has been especially engaging; worked in the reading rooms where it has been very rewarding to see our collections being used and appreciated and to help with this process; and have been working in BEAM (Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts) to extract digital materials for processing. Working in BEAM has been really exciting; as digital content becomes increasingly relevant to archival work, I feel this is somewhere we trainees can really contribute. As our training progresses, I’m looking forward to capturing and preserving a variety of digital material.

The Aberystwyth University Digital Curation diploma has been really useful in providing a theoretical basis to the work we have been doing; learning archival principles via the course and seeing how they work in practice during the traineeship has been invaluable to my development as an archivist. The best part of traineeship has to be working with my fellow trainees and our colleagues at the Weston Library, who have been incredibly helpful, introducing us to a range of archival roles and processes. It is great working alongside such passionate and knowledgeable individuals and I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far; it doesn’t feel like work, because everything is so interesting!

Iram Safdar, May 2019

What’s it like to be a trainee? Carl Cooper, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

I studied History as an undergraduate at Goldsmiths University of London, during this time I undertook an internship at St Paul’s Cathedral in the Collections Department gaining an introduction into Collections Management and Archiving. After my first internship I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the heritage sector once I graduated. After university I worked on a digitisation project at the Royal Airforce Museum in London. This gave me an insight into record management and the importance of digital media and the issues surrounding preservation and access for both traditional mediums and born digital material.

The traineeship is great and I enjoy all aspects of the work I am involved in. My days are well structured but varied. I am currently working on a number of projects including the Conservative Party Archives, Roy Strong’s personal papers and legal deposit web archiving work. Some days I work on enquires, these come from all over the world and are expanding my knowledge of the archives and collections held by the Bodleian. Learning new software and programmes is also an essential part of the role that I enjoy and I am looking forward to using more applications as the traineeship progresses.

Working full time and completing a postgraduate course in Digital curation can be challenging but the study school and support from colleagues and my fellow trainees makes this aspect fun and enjoyable. Being able to take what I learn at work and apply it directly to my studies and vice versa is extremely beneficial as is the knowledge and experience of those around me.

Carl Cooper, May 2019

What’s it like to be a trainee? Ben Peirson-Smith, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

I started my traineeship after completing my BA in History at Aberystwyth University, my interest in the archive sector started with two internships, the first being with The Hong Kong Heritage Project in 2014, and the second being with Hong Kong University in 2015. Both of these internships showed me how important archives are from a cultural heritage standpoint and from an education standpoint.

The traineeship at the Bodleian presents graduates with a golden ticket into the archive world, giving hands-on training in many different aspects of collection management whilst also helping you to study towards a recognised qualification. The work and study complement each other nicely, and with mentorship from experienced members you rarely feel lost. In addition, the opportunity to start alongside five new trainees has also proven to be immensely helpful as we are developing not only individually but as a team.

The work we have undertaken so far has been extremely varied, our schedules consist of work on Conservative Party Archive, the United Nations, enquiries and digital work in BEAM, each presents its own set of unique challenges and invaluable insight into how archives are run. The work is consistently challenging alongside being endlessly interesting.

The traineeship’s focus on digital archiving showcases the direction the industry is taking. The digital aspects of the traineeship, especially work in BEAM and Web Archiving, has shown us the importance of born-digital preservation and digitation projects and how avoiding a digital ‘dark age’ is hugely important.

The distance learning diploma at Aberystwyth forms an important aspect of the traineeship, the work and study balance is by no means easy but the overlap between many aspects of study and work is particularly useful and means that development at work compliments development academically. In addition, the benefits of emerging from the traineeship with a qualification also cannot be understated and will hugely increase my career prospects in the archive sector.

Part of the traineeship involves attending various archive related events across the UK, these should prove helpful as they both promote the development of new skills and also present a platform for meeting new members of the archive community.

In short, being a trainee at the Bodleian is a unique learning experience that will form the cornerstone of my professional development into the archive sector, it is also something I am very grateful to be a part of.

Ben Peirson-Smith, May 2017

What’s it like to be a trainee? Alice MacDonald, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2017-2019

Before starting work at the Bodleian I could never have imagined just what a diverse, exciting, and welcoming place it would be to work. So far I have been involved in many varied and interesting projects including: utilising XML to re-code catalogues from EAD1 to EAD2, web archiving, processing Roy Strong’s personal archive, and answering reader enquiries to mention just a few. I even got to spend an afternoon helping one of our archivists, Catherine McIlwaine, with Tolkien’s spellbinding collection!

My decision to become an archivist has been inspired by my academic and practical trajectory to date, namely my undergraduate degree and masters in History of Art and year-long partnership undertaken at the National Railway Museum. These initial experiences cemented my passion for the material object and led me to want to learn more about its preservation through traditional and digital archiving practices.

I am thoroughly enjoying being a Trainee Digital Archivist here in Oxford. It is wonderful having the opportunity to gain practical experience of a range of collections and archive work (including the Conservative Party Archives and born-digital material), as well as studying for a postgraduate qualification in Digital Curation from Aberystwyth University. Working full time and studying is certainly a challenge but also a highly rewarding one.

I really value the knowledge and skills I have gained from the traineeship so far, the experience has certainly shown me the value of digital archiving in today’s society and I very much look forward to everything the next two years have in store.

Alice MacDonald, May 2017