Marjolein Platjee, Weston Library

Hello everyone! I’m Marjolein and I am the new digital archivist trainee at the Weston Library. The Weston Library, or originally the New Bodleian Library, was built in the 1930’s in order to house all the books and collections that no longer fit in the Old Bodleian. However, by 2010 the Bodleian’s holding’s had outgrown this building as well. The decision was made to move the majority of the material to Swindon and to completely renovate the New Bodleian. The library reopened under the name Weston Library in 2015, and is now home to the special collections. It has two large reading rooms where readers can consult the material in these collections.

The Weston Library

So now you know where I work, but I bet you are wondering what it is I actually do. Well, I have a job that offers quite a bit of variety, which makes it exciting. On Monday mornings you can find me in one of the two reading rooms of the Weston Library to answer questions that readers have, give out archival materials and books etc.

I am also being taught how to catalogue both digital, paper and hybrid collections. This involves making a boxlist (where you list what is in each box of a collection brought into the archive), creating a cataloguing proposal, arranging the material in a way that is logical for readers who wish to consult it in the future, cataloguing it and publishing it online. So far I have really enjoyed making boxlists, as you never quite know what material you come across… The most exotic items I have encountered are undoubtedly temporary tattoos and multi-coloured, gold inscribed corkscrews. That’s right, archiving doesn’t just involve books and piles of loose paper.

Me getting materials out of the stacks whilst wearing the protective and “ever so stylish” Bodleian bobcap.

Speaking of publishing catalogues online, I am currently helping my colleagues to reformat the XML (i.e. code) behind the online catalogues of the special collections. We are doing this to transfer them to a new, better system, which will help readers navigate the online collections more easily.

Next to this, I also spend quite a bit of time digitizing media such as CD’s, cassette tapes etc. using forensic software so that the information is preserved for posterity.

Apart from all of the above, I also work on the Bodleian web archive, where we archive entire websites so anyone can still consult them after their owners have taken them offline. We are currently writing a Libguide to accompany our collection, to help readers navigate the collection and to refer them to other web archives that might be of interest to them.

I am really enjoying my time here and definitely am not getting bored with all the exciting and interesting tasks I have to do. I cannot wait to see what else there is to learn!

New Trainees – Advice for an Aspiring Archivist, from an Aspiring Archivist

Advertisements were placed, interviews held, and now we look forward to the start of a new intake of trainees this coming September.

As the Archives Assistant at the Oxford University Archives I will have the rare pleasure of still being in post to greet and assist my successor in settling in to their new position. In light of this, I have given a good deal of thought to what it might be useful to tell them beyond what they will need to know to do the job. The advice I received from my predecessor was invaluable and, to pass that on, I have compiled a list of tips for aspiring archivists.

The first thing that I would suggest is to subscribe to the JISC mailing list, JISC ARCHIVES-NRA. You can subscribe from their website. I recommend opting for the digest, otherwise you will get a lot of emails in your inbox that might not be relevant! The daily digest email gives you the top discussions going on via JiscMail. Sometimes these include job vacancies and requests for volunteers, as well as news about what is going on at other archives, interesting articles and discussions and advice.

It is also worth asking to be put on the mailing list for the ARA New Professionals Trainees Section. You will get news about meetings and talks designed to support trainees in the Archives sector. Heads of archives postgraduate courses often give talks at these meetings, and it is a great opportunity to meet other trainees and visit different archives. The next meet up is on 20th June 2016 and will be visiting the M&S Archive and ITV. Use the contact details on the New Professionals Trainees webpage to ask to be added to the list and enquire about spaces at the next meeting.
You might also consider following the ARA New Professionals blog, Off the Record, where you can read posts by current professionals who discuss how they got started in Archives and they also include write ups of the trainee meetings which can be very useful if you were not able to attend.

Archives and Manuscripts aArchives Selfiet the Bodleian Library also have a blog, I would particularly advise following this if you are coming to the Bodleian as a trainee but it is also interesting in its own right and other trainees and volunteers might find it interesting.

Archive Trainees UK, part of the ARA New Professionals Trainees section, is a Facebook group that is worth joining if you are on Facebook. Another Facebook group that I highly recommend is the ICA New Professionals (International Council on Archives) group. They put out a lot of thoughtful content and invite debate and discussion.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has advice for sources of information for trainees and volunteers who are pre-course but looking to become professional Archivists.

This has been a very wordy post, and I’m afraid I have not had the time to source any relevant pictures to accompany the advice, so here is an archives selfie!



Elizabeth Back – Archives Assistant (Trainee), Oxford University Archives

Hello all, I’m Elizabeth. I’m in my first month working with the Oxford University Archives.

Tower of the Five Orders

For those who don’t know, OUA hold the administrative records of the University. We are housed in the Tower of the Five Orders in the Old Bodleian, guarded by James I who sits on his stone throne outside the Lower Archive Room. If Wikipedia can be believed, ‘the Tower is so named because it is ornamented, in ascending order, with the columns of each of the five orders of classical architecture: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.’ If you look at the capitals on the columns you can see the differences in the five classical styles so, in this instance, I am inclined to believe them! The tower was likely finished between 1615 and 1619, but the tower as we see it today owes much to restoration work in the 1870s.*

View of the Weston from my desk.
View of the Weston from my desk.

We also have stacks in the new Weston library and any external readers who have requested to view something from our collections are invited to do so in the Rare Books and Manuscripts reading room over here. We also assist internal University departments as many of our documents are still relevant and useful to them.


Like other Library and Information Services roles, it’s a job that can require a lot of lifting and handling of sometimes heavy materials but this particular role also involves a lot of stairs. I don’t think I’m going to need a gym membership to keep me fit this year!

I am really enjoying my placement so far. There are some real gems in this collection and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better. My favourite item so far is the Proctorial Cycle (1628) as it is beautifully illuminated with birds and flowers, and bears the signature of King Charles I. It is a calendar organising the order in which the colleges would have the privilege of electing a University proctor from their ranks. The role of Proctor still exists at the University and if you want a less dry introduction to what they do there is an Oxford Student article where the then Proctors were interviewed here.

As you may know, the University does not have an official founding date but the earliest University document held in the University Archives dates back to 1214 (you can see it here). It details privileges conferred by the papal legate following a dispute between town and gown (in which, I understand, a woman was alleged to have been murdered by a scholar and the town sought retribution by hanging two University clerks. They didn’t have Morse back then, so the Pope had to settle it).

Many of our records are much more recent than these and I have enjoyed helping family and local historians trace their ancestors. We often hear from people interested to know if their grandfather or great grandfather came here and I really enjoy it if I can tell them that they did and perhaps give them a few details.

I hope this has been an illuminating insight into what I do. By the end of this year I am sure I will be full of facts about the University’s history. I find it all fascinating so I hope I don’t get carried away with anecdotes that no one wants to hear!


* Cole, Catherine, ‘The Building of the Tower of Five Orders in the Schools’ Quadrangle at Oxford’ in Oxoniensia Vol. XXXIII (1968) pp. 92-107

So what do you actually do as an Archives Assistant?

…and now for a quick word from the 23rd successive Archives Assistant at the Oxford University Archives, or ‘what I actually do and why I love it’!

When people ask me what I enjoy most about my work, I’m prone to say – just like my predecessors, I imagine – that it’s the view from my desk:

A view onto the new Weston Library, with the Sheldonian Theatre’s white cupola to the left and the ‘green belt’ just about visible in the distance.

I say that mostly because it’s the sort of thing that’s easy to explain in a casual conversation, plus there’s an element of surprise (‘oh, so you’re not hiding away from the world in a basement somewhere?’)  But in reality, what I enjoy the most about being an archives trainee with the University Archives is something very much related to the archiving trade itself: it is how well I can get to know the collections.  A year isn’t a long time when faced with over 3km of records, and yet I feel that, half way through my time here, I have a fairly good grasp on our holdings.

This has come naturally as a result of my day-to-day duties.  One of my main responsibilities is responding to enquiries.  Questions range from fairly straight-forward queries about past students to quite complex ones about the University procedures, practices and endeavours. In order to provide answers, I have to carry out research which can take anything between five minutes and a good few hours spread over several days.  This has given me the chance to familiarise myself with our holdings and, as a bonus, I’ve picked up some very in-depth knowledge about sometimes very minute details of the University’s history.

My other main duty is processing readers’ requests, which is yet another gateway to the collections for me: when a new reader’s request comes in, I get to delve into the catalogues and locations lists to find the desired item.  This gives me the chance to find out what this particular collection is comprised of, how it’s stored, and what format it’s in – which can be anything from strips of parchment protected by an archival box to thick leather-bound volumes, to microfilm and even digital formats.

A Register of Congregations and Convocations, with a record of Queen Elizabeth's 1592 visit to Oxford
A Register of Congregations and Convocations, with a record of Queen Elizabeth’s 1592 visit to Oxford (a chance to test my palaeography skills)

As I then usually have to bring the document(s) over to the reading rooms in the Weston Library, it also means I get to know the weight of each item quite well!

Finally, creating posts for our Twitter account (@OUArchives) is an excuse to explore those parts of the collections which are less ‘in demand’ and show them off to people who might never otherwise come in contact with the Archives.

This combination of diverse duties has allowed me to feel like I know the collections rather well by now.  This is something that gives me quite a lot of satisfaction.  In fact, one of the reasons this career appeals to me is how archivists often have a seemingly supernatural ability to answer questions about very obscure particulars of one tiny aspect of human history.  (I’m definitely not there yet – but, perhaps, one day…)

In addition to all that, my Wednesday afternoons are usually taken up with varied training sessions (which the Bodleian Staff Development organises for our cohort) and I also attend a palaeography class on Mondays.  As you can see, I have been learning a lot, and I am definitely looking forward to the second half of my traineeship here.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Moving to the Weston Library

It was a bit hectic being one of the first Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, starting our funded course, and preparing for the move to the Weston; but now that we’ve started a new year I thought it would be a good time to have a look back at the first few months of my traineeship (now that I feel like an old hand!).

Though we attend many of the same skills and development workshops as the Library Trainees, our traineeship focuses on the archives sector, and more specifically, on providing practical experience with the digital curation skills necessary in our technologically driven age. The Bodleian Libraries is supported in their Developing the Next Generation Archivist project through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme.

You’ve probably already seen my colleague’s post about what a week in the life of our traineeship is like, so I guess I’ll talk a bit about the challenges and opportunities that have come up for us. We started both the traineeship and the first Study School for our distance learning course in Archives Administration in September. It was quite funny that because we worked together and were in the same programme people assumed we’d known each other for years when in actuality I’d only met Harriet a week ago!

The Study School was a great introduction to archival theory but when we returned to Oxford we jumped straight into the intensely practical application of packing up our department for the move to the newly refurbished Weston Library. The logistics involved in moving our sensitive collections was eye-opening though it went surprisingly smoothly except for some of our computer equipment which came out a bit worse for wear.

An office with a view. The Sheldonian Theatre in snow.
An office with a view. The Sheldonian Theatre in snow.

Once we settled into our new open plan offices (with the amazing view!) it was really good to have all of Special Collections under one roof (except when you’re queuing for the kettle on your tea break). I really enjoy the variety and flexibility we have as trainees to work on the different aspects of archiving (especially with born-digital content); and once a week I even get to see readers when I work in the David Reading Room!

An Introduction to the Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist Programme

The position of Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist within the Special Collections department of the Bodleian Libraries was a new role developed in 2014. It combines archival work with study towards a postgraduate diploma in Archives Administration.

There are currently two Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, myself (Harriet) and Emily. A typical week for us involves:

  • Updating the Bodleian’s Collections Management Database with information from our twentieth-century accessions registers
  • Assisting the Oxfam archivists with the appraisal and cataloguing of Oxfam’s communications work
  • Invigilating in the Charles Wendell David Reading Room, where Oriental manuscripts and Commonwealth and African Archives are consulted
  • Listing, arranging, repackaging and cataloguing small collections
  • Seeking permissions for, and archiving, web sites which relate to the Bodleian’s collecting focuses
  • Working on our joint development project of improving and enhancing the Bodleian’s Collections Management Database. This involves working with a software developer to implement the necessary changes identified through consulting different users

In addition to this, we also have an afternoon a week dedicated to our studies. We use this time to work on our assignments through reading pertinent professional literature and producing reports and essays at determined intervals. As a result, we will finish our two-year contract here as qualified Archivists.

As we continue, we will also soon be involved in capturing digital collection material into the Bodleian’s Electronic Archives and Manuscripts digital repository. This will include such tasks as digitising and processing audio-visual material and ingesting and weeding data stored on deposited hardware.

For me, the best aspect of the traineeship is the variety of work we are able to do. We also have the opportunity to shape our time here to reflect the skills we wish to develop, and this has led to me assisting with certain outreach initiatives which I have really enjoyed. Furthermore, conferences, training and the Graduate Trainee sessions have introduced us to the processes and initiatives of the Bodleian, the University and the wider professional community, and helped us contextualise our work within the information management sector, as well as providing us with an understanding of the careers and opportunities available outside of and beyond the traineeship. As a result, I have been able to consider what I might like to focus on in the future, and can already see how valuable my experiences here will be when I begin my career as a professional Archivist.

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.

Day in the Life – Archives Assistant (Emma Harrold, Oxford University Archives)

8.30-10.45: Enquiries

I start the day by reading emails and printing new enquiries. The amount of enquiries we receive varies and there can be anything from none to seven or eight in a day. Some enquiries can be answered quickly, whereas others can take hours of research into our records to answer. The University Archives holds the administrative records of the central University and these records date from 1214 to the present day.   The colleges in Oxford also maintain their own archives, and this means we sometimes refer enquirers to individual colleges for certain information as well. (

Enquiries are related to various aspects of the University, such as the examination systems at different times in the University’s history, past syllabus’ and requirements for degrees, information relating to departments, University buildings and ceremonial and non-ceremonial events. One of the most frequent enquiries we receive is regarding past members of the University, often from a descendent of that person or researchers looking into prominent figures who had previously been educated at Oxford. For past members up until 1891 we hold printed volumes, and between 1891 and 1932 we have a card register. The sort of information we have, dependent on when a person was at the University, can include their college, matriculation date, some biographical information, degrees and any University scholarships or prizes.

At the moment, including one of today’s enquiries, we have a lot of interest in members of the University who served in the First World War due to the centenary. For this I check the printed volume we hold which includes information about members of the University who served in the war, such as when they joined up and where they served.

10.45-11.10 Break

11.10-11.45 Imaging Request

Today, along with a couple of past members enquiries, we also had a request from Imaging Services. An enquirer has ordered photographic copies of some of our material, and this is done through the Imaging Services department based in Osney. To complete this request, I locate and extract the relevant items, package and label it and will send it out with the courier in the morning. I also update our loans register, which keeps a record of all the material being loaned to different departments.

11.45-13.30 Duke Humfrey’s Library

Part of my role is also to make our records accessible to readers. Material from the University Archives is viewed in Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian Library. Our material is stored in the Lower and Upper Archive Rooms (in the tower of the Bodleian Library), the Examination Schools and also out in the Bodleian Storage Facility in Swindon. When readers request to view items, I then either order it back from BSF using Aleph, or find and carry it to Duke Humfrey from the Exam Schools or the tower. This week a reader has ordered quite a lot of material to view, which means several trips back and forth from the Schools to Duke Humfrey to carry it all up.

13.30-14.30 Lunch

14.30-17.00 Cataloguing

In the afternoons, if all the enquiries are finished and no more material needs to be moved up to Duke Humfrey’s Library for readers, I usually work down in the archives in the Exam Schools. There I have been cataloguing new accessions to the Archives. The first collection I worked on was a series of graduate student files, which we accession every year, and involved making sure they were organised alphabetically, checking they were in the right series (ie. the right year), boxing and labelling them. Now I have finished that I am working on some files from the Events Office, which relate to non-ceremonial events in the University. This includes appraising, describing, labelling/boxing and allocating reference codes to the files and then adding this information to the existing Events Office catalogue. Once finished, it will be moved to spare shelving in the Archives and its permanent location added to our location lists so it can be found in future.

17.00 Finish



Emma Harrold, University Archives


Hi, I’m the new Archives Assistant in the Oxford University Archives. I’m not technically a library trainee but just here for a year and also hoping to tag along to some of the training!

Before I came to Oxford I did my BA in History at the University of Chester, and my MA at Manchester University as well as volunteering at Chethams Library and working as a Libraries and Archives Trainee at Stockport Local Heritage Library. I’m hoping to do the postgraduate course to qualify as an Archivist after my year here.

Luckily for me Sian, last years Archives Assistant, was here for my first week and so I was able to shadow her and learn the basics. I am mainly based in the tower of the Bodleian Library, where we have been responding to email enquiries, and then taking material to Duke Humfrey’s Library (where the Archives material is viewed) as well as spending some time down in the basement of the Examination Schools where some of the Archives are kept.

So far I have began to understand that there are two things plentiful in this job: 1. Information to be learnt (every preconception I had of Oxford University administration has quickly gone out of the window ) and 2. Stairs (working in both the basement of the Examination Schools and the tower of the Bodleian involves alot of climbing of stairs, especially the spiral staircase up to the office. I am hoping I will get used to this!)