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.