A year in the University Archives, Emma Harrold

As I won’t be attending the trainees showcase, the organisers have asked that I do a little summary of my year here via the blog.

Unlike most of the library trainees, I haven’t had a specific project to work on during my year here. Instead, as you may have seen from my ‘day in the life’, my time is spent between researching for and responding to enquiries, making archives material available to readers and cataloguing.

Working in the University Archives has given me great experience in the general day to day workings of an archive, and also experience of the challenges of working with the records of an academic institution – especially one as old and complex as Oxford. This year I have worked on cataloguing four different collections accessioned by the University Archives, including records created by the University Events Office and records of a Faculty Library. Looking in detail at these records reveals the sorts of material created by different departments across the University, and the kind of material which is being preserved for future knowledge of, and research into, the University of Oxford. All four collections have presented different challenges with regards to cataloguing, and working on them has helped me gain experience which I will be able to take into a future role.

In my first blog post last September I said there were two things plentiful in this job, and that was information to be learnt and stairs to be climbed. Ten months later my initial perception has been proved right. I have managed to pick up lots of information along the way this year, although knowing everything there is to know about the records of the University seems an endless task! I also think my hopes of getting used to the stairs up to the tower were possibly a little optimistic!

I don't have any photographs of my work - but this is the view from where I work in the University Archives
The view from the University Archives

Outside of the Archives, this year I have also been able to attend training sessions and visits provided by the library trainee scheme. For me visits like that of the one to the conservation department currently based in Osney was very useful, it was interesting to see what happens to material when it is sent to conservation for repairs, and how the conservation team work on preventative conservation to preserve our records. I’ve also been fortunate enough through the trainee scheme to visit a number of the colleges and their libraries. The Codrington Library at All Souls, for example, was beautiful and it was lovely to have the opportunity to have a tour round it as it is so rarely open to the public.

Visit to the Codrington Library
Visit to the Codrington Library

I have also visited a few of the college archives throughout the year, which was invaluable both for myself in this current role and also to continue to add my knowledge of the archives sector as a whole. It is interesting to see the differences between the archives at an older college such as Oriel compared with the archives at a newer (former women’s) college such as Somerville.

All being well, I will be starting a postgraduate diploma in Archives and Records Management at Liverpool University (the archives equivalent of Library School) in September. This will, once completed, give me the professional qualification I need to progress in my career and apply for archivist jobs hopefully this time next year.

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