The post of Assistant Archivist in the University Archives & Special Collections was created by the University to focus on opening up the collections for use by our academics and students – with the HLF project enabling the service to reach far beyond our own campus. My name is Lindsay Ince and I was appointed to the post last September. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on my first four months in post; what I’ve been doing as we prepare for the move and what the future holds for this role.
Perhaps the first job when starting work in a new service is to get to grips with what kind of collections it has, and how to find your way around them! We had over 500 enquiries in 2013 and a good understanding of the collections is an essential tool to tackle them! Knowledge about collections is something that takes time to develop, but you have to start somewhere, and the inbox is as good a place as any! Four months in I feel I’ve got quite a good overview of our collections, which is partly due to the variety of enquires we receive, but also by asking colleagues a *lot* of questions, looking at previous research, and discovering previously created lists made by volunteers. I’ve been lucky that two major outreach events have taken place since I started, the JH Whitley lecture in October and the Rugby League Heritage Day in November. Both of these were great opportunities to get to know these collections better. [Lindsay arranged for the Whitley exhibition to be extended during Explore your archives week. Ed.]
Another way to learn about collections is to catalogue them! My first project is cataloguing the institutional records of the University in its various incarnations. While the prospect of any big cataloguing project is quite exciting and daunting, professionally we’re taking a new approach to cataloguing our collections and this project will help assess how well it works. We’re using a functional arrangement strategy, which is much more aligned to records management field, but allows us to take account of the university’s various organisational and departmental changes that have taken place over the years. We’re also employing a technique called ‘More Product, Less Process’, which means we won’t (in most cases) catalogue down to item level. As a user our catalogues will look much the same, but it will save us a lot of time and allow us to get through more cataloguing, which means more searchable material for you, our users!
So you might expect me to talk about enquiries and cataloguing. They are the bedrock of any Archivist’s role. I’m also lucky that working here means I also do a lot of outreach work. I’ve taken over giving the ‘Introduction to Archive Research’ talks and Palaeography (understanding old handwriting) training, and a new project is developing more ‘University Links’. Basically, this means getting more archive material into university courses and more university students and academics into the archive!
So we’re developing relationships amongst the staff teams and students at all levels of study and trying things out to see how they work. If you have any ideas we’d love to hear them! We’d also like to expand our work with non-traditional departments; we’re not at all sniffy about how our material inspires you, as long as it does! So if you’re an Art student looking for some 19th century illustrations as the basis for 21st century re-interpretation, or a Computing student wanting to design a heritage based app, we’d love to work with you! We’re really behind the university’s commitment to research and enterprise and its personally meant I’ve met lots of incredibly interesting people over the last few months doing inspiring things, which is exactly what we want to do when we have the space to in Autumn 2014!
So what does the future hold for Hud’s new Assistant Archivist? Well, some of the things on my to-do list include cataloguing more of our institutional history, working on the digital preservation of born-digital collections, developing more ‘University Links’ ideas and encouraging more students and academics to use our material in their publications, managing student placements and volunteers, organising and researching exhibitions and working with colleagues to design interesting and engaging outreach events for local audiences to engage with our collections. And that’s just 2014!