People have been talking about ‘day-in-the-life’ blog posts to give everyone a better idea of the different kinds of work we all do and I thought I’d kick things off. For those that don’t know, I’m the trainee for the futureArch project and I’m going down the archiving, rather than librarian route. From what I’ve heard from some of the other trainees, my job is quite different, so hopefully people will find this quite interesting. I think the big difference is that I’m only in a reading room dealing with enquiries and visitors one morning a week and the rest of the time I’m in an office and only have to talk to my colleagues!
So anyway, here is a typical Thursday: I’m based in Osney but on Thursday mornings I go over to the Logic School in the Bodleian Quad as I’m being taught how to use EAD, the cataloguing programme. I’ve been given a small collection of Victorian letters to catalogue first, which thankfully is a pretty standard collection. EAD is pretty simple to use, once you get used to all the little quirks and rules, like when inserting the scope/content you have to also insert a paragraph element within it before you can start writing. If you don’t, EAD has a bit of a tantrum and starts highlighting everything in red. It’s also very fussy about punctuation and where you can and cannot have a comma. The hardest part (but also the most fun) is trying to read the signatures of all the correspondents and work out who they are so I can list them in the catalogue – there’s a lot of variation in the standard of handwriting. Thankfully most of them are famous enough to be in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or as a last resort, wikipedia. It can be frustrating (one letter was signed ‘H.H.’) but it’s very rewarding when you finally work out who they are (for anyone interested H.H. turned out to be Hugh Haweis).
I finish at the Bodleian at 1pm and get back over to Osney (for which I love the minibus). In the afternoon I get on with my ongoing struggle with the CD imaging programme. The futureArch project is looking at born-digital archives (computer files, emails, MP3s etc.) and trying to develop an infrastructure for preserving and archiving these. CD imaging is a form of forensic imaging whereby a programme examines a disk to see what’s there without disturbing any of the metadata. For instance, we don’t want to change the last modified date, so we can’t just open all the files normally to see what’s there, besides which not all files are compatible with PCs. The programme also harvests and creates other metadata, like MD5 hash values. These are unique identifiers, so you can easily see if a file actually is a duplicate, or just looks the same. The programme can also retrieve deleted files (though not always intact), but this brings up a whole set of issues over the morality of archiving files the owner doesn’t realise we have. The imager also produces a copy of all the files, which eventually will be preserved in our secure server. This means we’re not reliant on computers still having CD drives in fifty years time to be able to view the files – just look at Amstrads: a lot of disks still exist, but if you haven’t got the computer they’re pretty much useless and the data on them is lost.
Anyway, I have a set of disks to image and we have a robotic loader, so in theory I should be able to pile them up and set the loader to put each one in the machine, image it, take it out and put the next one in, but of course technology is never that simple! Most of the time the loader seems to get confused and tries to remove the disk without first opening the disk drive and then decides to sulk and stop working. It also can’t seem to work out when it’s run out of disks and will bring up an error message and again stop working. I was getting a bit worried I’d pressed the wrong button or something, but my manager assures me other people who use it also complain about it being temperamental. Maybe it just doesn’t like being left in a room by itself.
When I get too annoyed with the loader, or just need a break I move on to one of my other tasks, which is sorting out one of the boxed collections. It’s in one of the cages across the hall and when it was archived nobody properly went through it, so I get the exciting job of going through the boxes and removing any staples and paperclips left in there and removing papers from metal ring binders and folders and putting then into plain card ones. A lot of the metal has started to rust and it’s quite dirty work, but it makes a change to do something manual that doesn’t require much brain power and it gets me away from the computer screen for a while. I normally spend the afternoon alternating between the imaging and the box sorting and then comes home time!
There are other jobs I do on different days of the week, but that’s a pretty typical Thursday. It’d be great to hear what other people get up to and compare it.