Database Spotlight: Victorian Popular Culture

The A-Z database list on SOLO can take you to many weird and wonderful places. Each database provides a window into a new personality. Will I be the person who knows an uncanny amount about Early Zoological Literature[1]? Or perhaps seleucid coinage[2]? It seems that even just a little light reading in these databases would get me ahead of the pack – though perhaps Oxford is a city in which that is not reliably the case…

As tempting as these avenues of identity re-invention are, I have a feeling that I would have to somewhat crowbar these topics into conversation. Talking a lot about coins is something that is a little less charming when you’re the one who brought them up… Perhaps, I thought, it might be sensible to choose something a little more mainstream. So, this month I decided not to start a new chapter of my persona, but revisit an old one. The topic I’ve selected for this month indulges a subject I was obsessed with as a child, and the database itself is one that finds the perfect balance between accessible and delightfully specific: the database of Victorian Popular Culture. A sprawling resource with countless entries, this database is still extremely navigable and filled to the brim with treasures.


Arriving at the Database

When first opening the database of Victorian Popular Culture, you are greeting by a well laid-out menu. The initial drop down tab is arranged into the sections:

‘Introduction’ to give users a sense of what they can do with the resource

‘Browse documents’ for broad umbrellas of research topics

‘Explore’ for the researcher just dipping their toe into Victorian waters (ideally they’d also be wearing a very fetching Victorian bathing suit to boot)

‘Visual sources’ for photographs, plates, cinema footage – the list goes on

‘Help’ – for a more detialed guide of how to make the most of the database and further information


Screen cap of the home page of Victorian Popular Culture, with the drop down menu open
The drop down menu will take you wherever you want to go!


Having a Browse

While all the headings in the ‘Browse Documents’ section looked tempting, I decided to look into Circuses. Once in the item list, I was met with even more (delightfully organised) drop down boxes. Not unlike SOLO or the Ashmolean Database (our previous database spotlight), here you can select the item type you’re looking for. Perhaps it’s ephemera, or playbills. At this stage you can also filter by the Library/Archive that holds the item. This is a great feature for those that wish to find items they can visit in person.


Screen cap of list of items with thumbnails by each entry


Deciding not to filter the results at this stage, I began scrolling through the items. With thumbnail images of each item, you get a pretty clear idea of the sort of thing you’ll be looking at when you select an item. As I scrolled, enjoying snapshots of photographs and sheetmusic, my eye was caught by a diving figure of gold foiling on the cover of Acrobats and Mountebanks by Hugues Le Roux (1890)[3].


Gold foiling of an acbrobat mid-flip on a dark blue back ground
An eye-catching front cover!

Acrobats and Mountebanks

Clicking into the item took me to the catalogue page with publication information and item type. For example, here I learnt that this text is kept as part of the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield[4]. If I absolutely had to get trapped in an archive overnight, due to what I’m sure would be very legitimate and even likely circumstances, I could do worse than this one. (These are the kinds of scenarios you begin to ponder when you become a library graduate trainee…). If one database just isn’t enough, treat yourself to a browse of the NFCA and find materials on illusions, menageries, pleasure gardens and fairground rides[5].

The text of Acrobats and Mountebanks was digitized and I had the option of browsing the whole text page by page or navigating by chapter. I was struck by the high quality of the images, so entered into the world of the Victorian circus without a particular destination in mind. Weaving through the acts and attractions described in the book I could feel the the ghost of the author’s excitement; gorgeous illustrations throughout the text draw you into a world where horse drawn carriages carry ladies in smart dresses to the fair (p. 38), where ‘everyone is come for amusement and intends to get it’ (p. 39). In the preface it is promised that the reader will be led to ‘the threshold of an unknown world’ (p. vi) and I felt a little like someone about to attend the circus myself.



Further into the book, in the chapter titled The Private Circus, Le Roux writes of a certain number of people for whom simply attending the Circus was not enough. So allured were they by the world of the trapeze artist and conjurer that they would seek out and enter a very particular tent. It seems that during this period, it was possible for the circus itself to be a place that would not only dazzle spectators with the art of acrobatics, but teach them how to perform it themselves. With a suitably mythical turn of phrase, the transition from circus-goer to circus performer is described by Le Roux as a ‘metamorphosis’ (p. 308).

One such individual who engaged in this act of transfiguration was Lieutenant Viaud. A man of many military and literary achievements[6], he gains another string to his bow with his acrobatic endeavours:

‘One feels that in him exists that spring of elasticity which raises a body from the soil and wrests it from the laws of gravitation’ (p. 309).

Despite finding this text through such an ordered sequence of tabs, drop down menus and chapter links, the quality of the digitized images and the ease of navigation within the database made for an immersive reading experience. I was as drawn into the world of the Victorian circus as Lieutenant Viaud, though my forward roll may yet leave something to be desired.


London Low Life

Closing the flap of the circus tent for now, let’s creep a little further into to the back streets of Victorian London with a dictionary of slang[7]. This extensive resource can be found on the ‘London Low Life’ a sister page of the Victorian Popular Culture database. Here is where you can find all things ‘street culture, social reform and the Victorian underworld’. After the bright lights of the circus a little shadiness might do us good.


Screen cap showing entries under the letter 'A' in the London slang dictionary
This dictionary can be browsed in alphabetical order and similarly defined phrases are grouped together for ease of navigation!


Scanning through the entries, a few favourites jumped out. I particularly enjoyed ‘a pig’s whisper’ (a grunt) ‘a bantling’ (a young child) and ‘knights of the rainbow’ (waiters, footmen, lacqueys). Having topped up my slang vocabulary, I thought I would round off my venture into the world of databases with a hop across to the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED.


Oxford English Dictionary Online

Available through SOLO, the OED is an incredible resource: ‘the definitive record of the English language’[8], no less.

The OED serves as a guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words— including those that have dropped out of use – from across the English-speaking world.

Every entry has example quotations from across the period the word is/was used in, from literary examples to specialist periodicals, film scripts to cookery books.


Screen cap of OED entry for bantling
Entry for ‘bantling’


As you can see in the red text on the top right of this page from the OED, this entry has not been fully updated. The entries in the OED undergo constant revisions to stay up to date, each revision ‘subtly adjusting our image of the English language’[9].My deep dive into the word ‘bantling’ shows off some of its uses over time, both literal and figurative.

I hope this mini excursion goes some way to show how different databases, available both through SOLO and online, can work together to provide richer detail for whatever it is you’re researching. In my exploration into the world of Victorian circuses, I dipped into the database of Victorian Popular Culture, the National Fairground Archive and the Oxford English Dictionary. Knowledge breeds knowledge! So many potential rabbit holes showed themselves on this digital journey, and I can’t wait to keep digging – right after I’ve perfected my acrobatic routine.





[3] Don’t have a SOLO log in? No problem! View the book here instead





[8] In a recent bid for my heart, it seems, the OED published their word for 2022: ‘Goblin mode is our 2022 Word of the Year, recognising our desire, particularly as we emerged from the pandemic, to engage in ‘unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy’ behaviour that typically ‘rejects social norms or expectations’.’ Powerful stuff.


UKWA Conference 2021

I was recently able to attend the third annual UK Web Archive (UKWA) Conference, which took place over Zoom on November 18th. I found it really interesting, and since it’s a topic which hasn’t come up too often in day-to-day library work, I thought I’d turn my notes into a blog post. UKWA is a partnership between the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries, which are permitted to take a copy of any UK digitally published resources under the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations 2013. This is done through a combination of annual “capturing” of all .uk websites, ongoing “crawls” of certain sites and subjects, and the rapid formation of collections in response to current events. These copies are then preserved in perpetuity and made available on Legal Deposit Library premises. Captured sources range from official publications to social media posts, and sites can be nominated via an online form. However, it is not technically possible to capture everything – for example, Facebook currently cannot be harvested, and Twitter can only be captured through manual intervention. The conference featured presentations about a range of recent collections and projects, offering a broad insight into UKWA’s work over the last couple of years.

The first guest speaker was Joe Marshall, Associate Directions of Collections Management at the National Library of Scotland. He spoke about the Archive of Tomorrow, a new collaborative collection focusing on the impact of Covid-19. The collection aims to tell both the official and unofficial story of the pandemic, featuring government guidance, public dissent, and consequences for communities and industries. An interesting point here was the issue of metadata: as the project intends to avoid retrospectively labelling anything as ‘true’, ‘false’, or similar, there is a small possibility of someone encountering the collection and mistaking old captures for current guidance. However, this neutral attitude towards a huge breadth of content is crucial to the collection’s sense of completeness: to select and record an “official” version of the pandemic would not tell the full story. The Archive of Tomorrow is an ongoing project, and is currently recruiting web archivists across the Legal Deposit Libraries to continue curating and preserving the pandemic.

After a short break, the next two talks focused on specific collections within the UKWA. Nicole Bingham, Lead Curator of Web Archiving at the British Library, spoke about the Covid-19 collection, which can be found as a subsection of the pre-existing ‘Pandemic Outbreaks’ collection. There are obvious challenges in attempting to record global events through UK-centric sources, and so this talk also featured UKWA’s collaborative work with the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) Content Development Group, a partnership which enables researchers to combine and compare the Covid-19 collections of various national web archives.

Saskia Huc-Hepher and Xiao Ma then spoke about two diaspora collections focusing on French and Chinese speakers in London. Their presentation discussed archives in a more theoretical sense, exploring how the concept of a “community web archive” might be conceptualised differently according to varying connotations of the term “community” within the relevant groups. They also highlighted the importance of including these “microarchives” as a way of broadening UKWA’s scope beyond an Anglophone-centric perspective.

The next presentation was from Teagan Pyke, a PhD researcher currently working on the preservation of New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) entries. The NMWP is a competition for pieces of writing which cannot be expressed through “old media” alone; shortlisted entries from 2020 include several different styles of games and interactive webpages. Like the earlier talk from Joe Marshall, Teagan’s work involves the idea of completeness, focusing on the criteria for attaining a “good capture” of these works. Some of these factors are purely technical, such as attempting to ensure that links follow through correctly, while others are more abstract; Teagan determined that if some element of the work’s narrative, themes, or atmosphere were missing from the capture, it had not been preserved in full.

The final speaker was Tom Storrar, Head of the UK Government Web Archive (UKGWA). The UKGWA comprises captures from over 800 government-related websites and social media accounts, and, unlike much of the rest of the archive, can be accessed outside of the Legal Deposit Libraries. One project which stood out from UKGWA’s work in the last year was the EU Exit Web Archive. As the National Archives are responsible for publishing legislation, a decision was taken to capture all content published on Eur-Lex (the European legislation website) ahead of 11pm on December 31st, 2020. The result is, as described on the archive itself, “a comprehensive and official UK reference point for EU law as it stood at the end of the implementation period.” Future UKGWA plans include continuing to capture the government’s response to Covid-19, the integration of Instagram archives into public services, and generally improving the archive’s functionality as a research resource.

The conference was hosted by Jason Webber, Engagement Manager at UKWA, who also gave two talks during the morning. The first was a basic introduction to UKWA, while the second demonstrated how to access and navigate the available resources. As someone new to web archiving in general, I particularly appreciated this extra context to the various presentation topics, and found the conference as a whole to be a fascinating introduction to the area. As well as the annual conference, the UKWA also runs online training for staff and readers at Legal Deposit Libraries, and I would certainly recommend keeping an eye out for upcoming sessions.

Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

Further reading & links

Hands on with the Special Collections: a Trainee’s experience

The aspect of the St John’s Library traineeship I perhaps most looked forward to was getting involved with the manuscripts and early printed books. Here are four of the Special Collections tasks I’ve been working on over my first couple of months, and a look at what’s coming next!

1. “Book first aid”

Before: the loose coverboard of an early printed book; after: the same book’s fore edge, now secured with two cotton tapes

Although many colleges with historic collections work with the Oxford Conservation Consortium to preserve and repair their items, in-house we perform “book first aid” to minimize further damage. I found that the front board of this bound volume of tracts had detached. The aim of the “first aid” tying is to prevent damage to the page block, and keep the parts of the volume together. When tying, it’s important to put the knots on the fore edge side (pages) to avoid them pressing into the spine. Another consideration is choosing a cotton tape of a similar shade to achieve a discreet look. Previously, we only stocked cream tape, so one of my tasks over the students’ Christmas vacation will be to replace individual cream tapes with pairs of tonal tapes on our many taped volumes.

2. Invigilating of readers

The Caxton volume on the foam rest arrangement the Librarian and I settled upon

Invigilating readers feels like a bit of a role reversal for me, as a former history student. When a researcher scheduled a visit to study our 15th century Caxton volumes, I was asked to invigilate for the first time. The Librarian and I allotted an hour to find the material and pre-prepare the best book rest set up to avoid damaging the volumes. Once the reader arrives, there are a couple of forms to fill in. Having now invigilated several times, my initial nerves have vanished, but I am still careful not to let the manuscript or book out of my sight.

3. Finding aids

One of the twelve bays of early printed books I compiled a finding aid for

Since the renovations started on our early modern libraries, the historic collections have been moved into storage in the new building. One of my first ongoing projects was creating a shelf guide for one of the basement stores to act as a finding aid. Excitingly, I was also given license to examine any books which particularly intrigued me. This was to help with task 4, although if I’d stopped to read all of the interesting ones, I’d still be in the basement right now!

4. Creating Twitter content

Left: Dom’s top tweet; right: my top tweet

St John’s Library has a Twitter account dedicated to our Special Collections (go on, give us a follow at @StJohnsOxLib). Whenever I’m down in the store room, I keep my eyes peeled for Tweetable content. Usually, I hunt for intriguing bookplates, marginalia, or images which will make eye-catching photos, and then write up a brief explanation. Creating the most engaged-with content has become a bit of a friendly competition between myself and the Senior Library Assistant (Former trainee, Dom Hewett, English Faculty Library | Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees). Creating twitter content is fun because it’s hard to predict what will take off. That being said, we are both hoping that by tracking the Twitter analytics more closely, we’ll get better at that part.

5. What’s next?

St John’s Library operates a Special Collections blog, as well as a Twitter. Currently, I am researching for a new blog post, featuring one of the manuscripts and one of the pamphlets from our early modern collection. These items captured my attention because they are two very different forms of autobiographical writing by executed female criminals, so I feel lucky to be able to pursue my interest in them further, whilst hopefully creating content others can enjoy too. If you are interested in finding out more about the Special Collections at St John’s, or are eager to apply for a traineeship here, check out the blog at St John’s College Library, Oxford (

Sometimes following up intriguing catalogue entries leads to questions like: “This doesn’t look like real blood to you does it?”

So far, I’ve found working with the Special Collections to be incredibly rewarding. When working with early printed books and manuscripts, taking care is dramatically prioritized over acting quickly. However, working with Special Collections is not just about hiding books in the basement – and it’s fascinating to meet the visiting researchers to hear about how the items they consult will shape their scholarship. In the future, I hope to continue developing my Special Collections skills, particularly in terms of making material available to wider audiences in person, for example through exhibitions and visitor sessions (when the pandemic permits!).

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.