When I was in my teens the film “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser came out. In it Rachel Weisz’s character whilst drunkenly assessing the turns her life has recently taken declares: “I am proud of what I am. […] I am….. a librarian”
This quickly became a kind of de facto motto for my small group of friends, our way of declaring that we might not be sporty, or the party-animals and cool kids and that we were ok with being thought of as the swots (this was way back before being a geek was cool). We even all took the chance to be school librarians when prefect allocation came up.
Later we went our separate ways to university and beyond; one of our group went to Aberystwyth to study Librarianship (although under which branch of information science I no longer remember) and I took the long slow road towards a doctorate. Being a librarian was something we did at school and I thought no more about it.
I have always been interested in a career in heritage. Mostly that has always been about working behind the scenes at museums and sites but more recently I have been thinking about archives.
Until quite recently I had never really thought about the difference between libraries and archives except that libraries have books (which sometimes you can take them away) and archives have original documents (which generally you can’t). I have only ever accessed letters and similar through libraries with archival holdings but when a job opportunity at a library came up at the same time as the possibility for volunteering at an archive I began to think about these things more carefully.
I didn’t get the job at the library in London – although I did enjoy the tour and the discussion of alternative cataloguing classification systems – but I have started volunteering at an Archive dedicated to Mills.
So far I have learnt the difference between smock mills and post mills, the usefulness of volunteer labour in donation record-keeping and the importance of context. It turns out that the really important distinction between archives and libraries is the notion of the preservation and curation of the context of the collection. I’m a long way from understanding the nuances yet but I am looking forward to seeing how getting into the depths of a collection changes my approaches to research.