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Posts Tagged ‘archives’

[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!

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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.

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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.

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