Tag Archives: archives

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!

 

 

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:

1

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!

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. (http://www.oxfordarchives.org.uk/college%20archives.htm)

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

 

 

Library Trainee Day in the Life – Day 6

[I’m posting this on behalf of Sian, the trainee in the University Archives.]

 

It’s Day 6 of our ‘Library Trainee Day in the Life’ series and I’m going to confuse matters a bit as I’m not actually a library trainee – I’m the archives trainee. My name is Sian and I’m the Archives Assistant at Oxford University Archives. It’s the only archives trainee post currently offered at the University and it’s separate to the library trainee programme, although I’m allowed to tag along to their training sessions. It’s a one-year post, like the library traineeships, and I believe it will be advertised around March. What happens in archives? Well, let’s begin…

8:30-8:45 – The day begins

I arrive (a task in itself as our office is in the tower of the Bodleian Library, so my journey involves a trip up a worn stone spiral staircase) and turn on my computer. I check the phone messages and the diary but there’s nothing going on. I check our enquiries email account and find that there’s only one new enquiry. Rather disappointing, but not unsurprising. The number of enquiries we get seems to vary wildly for no particular reason – one week it’s incredibly busy, the next no one wants to know anything.

8:45-10:15 – Answering enquiries

I was in the middle of researching an enquiry when I left on Friday, so I start by finishing that off. It’s a bit of a tricky one so it takes me a while. It also involves some scanning, so that’s a trip down the stairs to use the library’s machines. The new enquiry, however, is a simple one. It’s one of our most common – ‘did this person attend the University?’ For pre-1891 students, there are published registers, whilst for students between 1891 and 1932 there is a card register in our office. I check it, the person’s not there (the usual result of such enquiries), I reply.

10:15-10:45 – Bits and bobs

I update our loans register and my to-do list before starting on this post. This is a good point to say more about what my job is. The University Archives is just one section of the Special Collections department at the University and we hold the administrative records of the University itself. So that’s things like some records of the departments, matriculation records, examination records, and so on. A lot of my emails involve redirecting people to the right place! Generally, my job involves answering enquiries (from both people within the University and external), making material available for readers, and sorting through new material and cataloguing it.

10:45-11:10 – Coffee break

Coffee and KitKat – just what’s needed by this point in a morning.

11:10-12:05 – More enquiries

We had another enquiry whilst at coffee, so I answer that. It’s another ‘this person went to the University, what can you tell me about it?’ question, but a little bit more complicated this time because it involves attempting to understand the University’s examination system. (Near impossible, if you’re wondering.) We also learn that the skeleton found in a car park is indeed Richard III – how exciting.

12:05-13:05 – The reading room

Next, I go and see what’s happening in Duke Humfrey, the reading room where archives material is read. I sign out some of our material that has been finished with and return to the office. (A two trip job.) My trip to the cupboard inspires me to do a bit of spring-cleaning, so I email a couple of readers who still have material out from before Christmas. There are also four heavy boxes that want bringing to the office for a bit, so I bring two of those up. It works up a good appetite for lunch.

13:05-13:25 – Transporting material

It’s nearly lunchtime but first I take some of the material I removed from Duke Humfrey back to storage. Whilst our office and some older material are in the tower of the Bodleian, the archives themselves are mainly stored in the basement of the Examination Schools. So returning items to storage involves putting as much as I can carry into a bag and walking down the High Street. Thankfully, today’s quite nice out (but material still had to go to and fro even in the recent snow…).

13:25-14:25 – Lunch.

14:25-15:50 – Even more enquiries and more transporting material

There was some excitement this afternoon as, on returning to the basement after lunch, it transpired that the power sockets in half of the rooms had stopped working. As this included the room with the computers, I was utterly lost. Usually, my return from lunch sees me logging on and checking emails. Today, though, I went straight to my filing (more on this joy later) whilst my boss sorted out the power issue.

Once power returned and the computers were usable, I looked up some locations and put away the material that I brought over before lunch. There had been a further enquiry following one of my replies this morning, so I researched that as best I could and replied again. Sometimes answering enquiries, like this one, ends up being far more difficult than it should be because I have to try and find the exact right words to explain what’s going on – there are a lot of assumptions about what words mean and a lot of confusion about what exactly was happening when, and it’s hard to try and get across exactly what it is an enquirer wants to know in a way that cannot be misunderstood (especially when I have a rather tenuous grasp of it all in the first place). But I rather enjoy grappling with it all.

15:50-17:00 – Sorting/cataloguing

I check my personal emails for things of archive-related interest and write most of this post. And then it’s filing time. (Technically, I believe I am cataloguing, but it feels a lot like filing.) We recently had an accession of a batch of academic staff files, so my current task is to make sure they’re in alphabetical order and to put them all in boxes, noting down their dates as I go. Once I’ve boxed them all, I’ll go back through them and give each file a reference code and add them to the catalogue. That won’t happen for a while, though – today, I reached the Os. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is not the most riveting task, so I have to find a way of entertaining myself while I work. There are not many perks to working alone in a basement, but one of the few is the ability to sing along to my iPod as much as I like. I take full advantage of this – there’s nothing like a rousing rendition of Do You Hear the People Sing? to brighten up an afternoon’s work.

17:00 – Home time

So with that final insight into the life of an archives assistant, it’s time for me to go home. This has been a pretty typical day – answering enquiries, doing some cataloguing, limited human interaction. I’m aware I may not have made it sound particularly spectacular, but I do enjoy my job and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. If you like extracting information, enjoy helping researchers, are rather organised, will feel great satisfaction at the sight of hundreds of beautifully boxed and labelled files, and don’t mind constantly having paper cuts, then archives could be the career for you!

Library Day in the Life Round 8: Wednesday

This is the third of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

Entrance to the Radcliffe Science Library8.45am: Arrive at the Radcliffe Science Library, switch on my computer and check emails.

9am: I’ll soon be joining the team staffing SOLO Live Help, our instant messaging service for helping users having problems with our SOLO (our online catalogue).  In preparation I start this morning by reading through the SOLO Live Help information pack I’ve been sent and request access to the wiki which has more information for staff.

9.30am: Meeting with the document supply supervisor.  This is one of a series of meetings that it was agreed in my progress meeting a couple of weeks ago I should have to find out about the work done in other sections of the library.  I find out how both incoming and outgoing inter-library loans are processed.  We end up having a long conversation about copyright and I borrow a couple of, thankfully short, books about copyright from her.  I’ve been thinking about copyright quite a lot recently and the more I look into it the more confusing it becomes.

10.25am: My request to access the wiki for SOLO Live Help has been approved, so I take a look at the information on there.

10.35am: Have a quick look through the books on copyright and note down a couple of useful-looking websites.

10.45am: Read through the minutes of a meeting I went to last week.

10.55am: Tea break.

11.20am: For the past couple of weeks I’ve been having problems logging on to computers in an office I sometimes need to use (due to certain software only being installed on those computers).  Someone from IT came last Friday and supposedly fixed the problem, so I go to test that I can log on, taking some reading on copyright with me in case it takes a while.

11.30am: Two error messages later and the computer is still trying to log me on.

11.40am: The computer is still trying to log on, so I decide to go and do something else and come back later to see if it gets there in the end.  I continue working on a LibGuide I am creating about reference management.

12pm: I return to see whether I’m logged on to the computer yet.  I am! But it took rather a long time and I have been logged on with a ‘temporary profile’, whatever that means.  I email the person from IT who I have been in contact with about the problem to report my logging on attempts and ask what the temporary profile means.

12.15pm: Back to working on the LibGuide.

1.30pm: Lunch

1.55pm: Leave to walk over to Osney where I need to be for this afternoon’s training session.

2pm: Most Wednesday afternoons all the graduate trainees in the Oxford libraries have a training session.  Today’s session was on archives and manuscripts and I found it particularly relevant to the work I am doing on the Druce Archive at the Sherardian Library (see Monday’s post).  The afternoon started with an overview of the work of special collections, and in particular Western manuscripts, at the Bodleian Library, including information on the kind of collections held, methods of acquisition and the stages of processing a collection requires.  We were then split in to three groups, and given three short talks on processing and cataloguing an archive, on the Saving Oxford Medicine Project and on digital archives.  I found it particularly interesting to hear about digital archives.  How to go about archiving a website wasn’t something I’d considered before!  Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable training session.

Library Day in the Life Round 8: Monday

This is the first of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

I found out a little while ago about a project called Library Day in the Life.  Twice a year people who work in libraries and library school students share with the world what they actually do through blog posts, twitter, photos, videos or in any other way they can think of.  I think it’s brilliant idea, so decided to participate in the next round.

Although I’m the Radcliffe Science Library trainee, I don’t actually spend all my week there as we have two satellite libraries where I also work.  My normal timetable is:

  • Monday – Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy
  • Tuesday – Alexander Library of Ornithology
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – Radcliffe Science Library (RSL)

So, here we go …

11am: Arrive at the Fielding-Druce Herbarium at the Department of Plant Sciences.  A herbarium is like a library with dried plant specimens instead of books, but this one also houses library material (i.e. books) and the library offices as well. The library and herbarium work together very closely.  My evening duty (5-7pm) at the RSL for this week is today, so I’m in a couple of hours later than usual.  I check my emails and book myself on to an Oxford University Computing Services course on copyright in the digital age for which booking has just opened.

11.15am:  I gather some stationery together and head up to the general reading room, which is on the other side of the building.  The reading room is accessible to department members via swipe card and not usually staffed, but this is where I spend most of my time when I’m at plant sciences as it is where the archive I’m working on is kept.

Druce Archive boxes

Druce Archive boxes

Throughout my year as a trainee I’m working on the archive of man called George Clarence Druce.  Druce was a botanist, pharmacist and strongly involved with Oxford City Council, becoming mayor in 1900.  He also seemed to keep almost every piece of paper he acquired!  My task for the year was to re-box the archive into conservation boxes and make a basic listing of what is in each box.  I completed the re-boxing stage last year and am now on to the description stage.

I start where I finished off last week – on box 12 (of about 150!).  This box contains material relating to Czecho-Slovakia (as it was then), mostly from a visit Druce made there in 1920 as part of a deputation of British journalists and includes correspondence, newspaper cuttings, tourist guides, photographs, postcards, maps, menus … As this box contains lots of unusual items and is not easily sorted into bundles, each item is described separately in the Excel spreadsheet I am using to list the contents of the archive.  I give each item a number, note down the name of anyone connected with the item and a year (if applicable), select a material type (e.g. letter, photograph, map, etc) write a general description and note down anything that might be a conservation issue.

12.25pm: Box 12 finished, on to box 14 (I’ll come back to box 13 later).  This box contains much more normal contents for this archive – four bundles, mainly of correspondence but also containing all sorts of other material, with each bundle containing material from one or two years.  For each bundle I remove any old string or wrappings (wrappings are kept separately in the box), go through the items checking the material type, look for anything particularly interesting and check for botanical specimens hidden inside letters.  Once recorded each bundle is tied up with conservation tape with a small slip of acid-free paper indicating the bundle number.  In this box I came across (among many other things):

  • a pamphlet containing a list of the rules of and a list of the members of the Pharmacy Club for 1914
  • a report of the Oxford Education Committee’s Higher Education sub-committee
  • term cards of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire (these crop up fairly frequently)
  • an invitation to the opening of the Radcliffe Infirmary and County Hospital’s new buildings
Workstation with computer, conservation box containing finished bundles, a bundle yet to be done, conservation tape etc

My workstation

1pm: Suddenly realise it is lunchtime, so pack up and head back down to the library offices to back up my mornings work onto the staff network drive before going to lunch.

2pm: Head back up to the reading room to carry on where I left off before lunch.

2.50pm: Help the librarian with photographing a page from a rare book for a researcher from Holland (the copy of the book the researcher has access to is missing pages).

3.10pm: Once we’ve finished the photographing we go to look for a suitable conservation box for some of the items in box 13 of the Druce archive.  Last week I had a quick look at the next few boxes to see what might be in store and when I looked in one of the envelopes in box 13 found it contained two penknives! We decided to store these separately from the rest of the archive, so they need their own box.  They will also need to be catalogued!

3.20pm: Having found a suitable box, I head back up to the reading room to finish off box 14.

3.40pm: Box 14 finished, seems like a good time for a tea break.

4pm: Start on the rest of the contents of box 13, which turns out to consist almost entirely of glass slides.  Very helpfully quite a lot of them have little labels saying what they are of.

4.45pm: Pack up the archive, go down to the library office to back up my work again and walk down the road to the RSL for my evening duty on the circulation desk.

5pm: Arrive at the RSL.  While on the circulation desk I issue books, return books, renew books, etc, but also tend to find time when it’s quiter to get other work done.  This evening I manage to deal with some emails, order books from our off-site storage facility for a visiting reader who is visiting the library next weekend and get a bit further with the LibGuide I’m creating on reference management.

7pm: End of the day.