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



Bodleian Libraries Imaging Studio

On Thursday I joined a tour of the imaging studio at Osney. The tour was led by James Allan, Head of Imaging Services at the Bodleian.

The studio was established in the late nineteenth century by Oxford University Press, and was taken over by the University in the 1970s. It has recently moved to Osney, where it will remain until the refurbishment of the New Bodleian is completed in 2014.

The imaging services team produce digital and print copies of resources held by the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries. They provide services for individuals and institutions both inside and outside the University, and have also been involved in larger projects, such as the production of digital images of the Bodleian’s Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. The team is also responsible for negotiating copyright permissions for the images that they produce.

Imaging Services is currently part of Special Collections at the Bodleian, and much of the material that the team work with is drawn from these collections; during the tour, we saw a fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript being photographed.

A variety of equipment is used in the studio, from a bitonal scanner to a high resolution (39 megapixel) digital camera. Post-production software is used to clean-up images. Most impressive was the cradle designed to hold a book as its pages are photographed. This features a vacuum bar which applies gentle suction to the back of a page, holding it in place whilst a photograph is taken.

The imaging technology used by the team is constantly evolving. However, new copies of items cannot be made every time the technology moves forward: funding is not available to do this, and the materials involved are often too fragile to withstand frequent handling. Difficult decisions must therefore be taken about when it is best to photograph or scan items in order to produce images that will remain useful for some years to come.

The team maintains an archive of images of material held by the Bodleian, which includes an extensive collection of photographic plates dating back to the 1950s; there are also large microfilm and digital collections. Images from the archive are often used to fulfil requests to view items that are too fragile to be handled or copied again. The digital archive is not yet accessible online, but there are plans to make this possible in the future.

My thanks go to James Allan for the very informative tour. More information about the services provided by his team can be found on the Bodleian website.