Category Archives: Archives


So.. the development officer at Mills Archive is keen to expand their internet presence by making their blog more active and keeping their social media accounts active.
As such she has asked me to write a few pieces and ideally to do so regularly.

Two thoughts occur to me: 1st – What on earth should I write about & 2nd – will this get me back into the habit of researching and writing regularly albeit in short bursts.

1: Broadly speaking I mostly input the details of books onto a pre-written form and then put the books onto shelves. I enjoy it but there is a limit to how exciting you can make it sound. Similarly, although I have been working on creating a classification system I don’t have any idea whether anyone else is interested in why I think some books should be considered similar to others – though I think at some point I will try and explain it…
This means that I need to come up with something else about the library that interests me and deserves a mention and that means looking at it from the perspective of ‘collections’. Two types of collection seem to be key – books donated by particular Mill experts (especially those that are legacies connected to archival collections) and books focused around particular specialist topics – so my next step is to pick 2 or 3 of these to write about and then do a little research around the topic.

2: For various reasons I have not been able to concentrate on writing for a while and I think my brain is turning to mush. Producing short (c.500-800 word) summaries on some things I know very little about has got to be good for my self-discipline right?
The plan is to combine writing 1 blog post a fortnight with reading 3 academic (peer-reviewed and within my research fields) journal articles and writing notes on them in the same time-period. Hopefully, this will get me back to thinking in a more academic mode and therefore able to write some of my research ideas down in something that looks more like a coherent paper itself…


I mentioned a little while ago that I had started volunteering at an archive so I thought I should say a little more about what I have been up to…

When I first started the team got me started digitising photographs. I worked on a collection related to the Holman Bros., a millwright company in Kent – mainly looking at their agricultural machinery – and on albums from the collection of the late Rex Wailes specifically connected to Essex mills. I learnt quite a lot about distinguishing different types of mills and a little bit about the internal machinery of windmills but it would be fair to say that I am not just not an expert but also that sadly large gear wheels often look very very similar to me and identifying the individual parts by name was very tricky.
I believe that digitising archival content in this way is a vital part of the role of a modern archive – not only does it allow the archivists to keep a more accurate record of what they have (because lets be honest there are still plenty of boxes marked e.g. “letters” or “photographs” without even vague indexes of the contents let alone detailed information – and I’m guessing that’s common particularly in large collections with limited volunteers and cash) but it also means that more material can be made accessible without people having to travel to the archive and/or original material being damaged. However, I have to admit that photos aren’t really where my interest lies – I am a texts kinda girl (even in Classics I often avoid the art history elements in favour of textual analysis).
This project was sort of a holding pattern within the Archive which is currently making the switch over to AToM as part of its accreditation process.. (I am really looking forward to seeing it in action but haven’t yet had the chance)

It is perhaps not surprising then that I have moved on to doing work in the library section of the archive. Mainly I have simply been inputting data from the backlog of books that hadn’t yet made it onto the system- however, I am also trying to help push forward a new cataloguing structure for the library and hopefully also suggest some helpful additions that will make it more user friendly on the internet as well as more searchable.
The problem is pretty much the same as any specialist library in that no standard system exists that goes into sufficient detail to divide the books  that are held and simultaneously many would normally be categorised as though they were completely unrelated. Therefore I have been trying to devise a structure that both connects and differentiates whilst remaining broadly user friendly.
This means that I had to work out was important to the average researcher and consider how to prioritise items at the intersections of different topics. Luckily I have had 2 helpful start-points; primarily 1 of the archive founders wanted the new system to be analogous to her home library in that it would be based around differentiating firstly power sources  and then processes and industries and as a secondary guide I had the existing lists of categories used for keywords and pamphlet collections. It also turns out that many of the archive users are localists who search for information about regions or counties and that my structure would have to make it easy to zoom into location within any topic.

Its undoubtedly been a challenge, and one made worse by some rather crippling anxiety of late, but hopefully soon we will see what happens when when we try putting it into practice.

She blinded me with Library Science

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.