Transforming Archives 2015
Firstly let me introduce myself, and then I’ll tell you about what I’ve been up to over the last couple of weeks. My name is Jessica Smith and I've just started a year-long 'Transforming Archives' traineeship (part of the Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future programme), through the National Archives (TNA), but based here at the History Centre. I’ve taken over from the previous trainee Matt, who I know did great work, and wrote quite a few blogs while he was here! The focus of my traineeship is Outreach and Engagement, and Collection Development. Large parts of my year will involve training (unsurprisingly), in a lot of aspects of archives management, both in-house training and some offsite courses. I'll also be undertaking an undergraduate module in Archives Outreach and Engagement through the University of Dundee, as well working here at the History Centre on whatever tasks they give me to do, so there’s a lot to keep me busy! The two projects I’ll be mainly working on are Lacock Unlocked (continuing where Matt left off) and the Wiltshire at War project; both of which are incredibly interesting and I look forward to getting stuck into them. If you don't know what the projects are, I highly recommend you follow the links and find out, you won't be disappointed!
My First Day
My first day at the History Centre was Friday 6th November, and as I walked in for the first time since my interview I was incredibly nervous, but I received a lovely welcome from Jan on reception, and then Claire, my trainer and Principle Archivist here. Claire gave me a great tour of the building, and I was struck by the number of different departments: archives, local studies, archaeology, museum advisory, conservation, Buildings Record, and business support, amazing. I was very impressed with the building itself, purpose built and state of the art, nothing like my previous (albeit limited) experience of archive strong rooms. I was particularly happy to discover that if there is a fire, although the strong rooms will lock, the powder released to put out the fire (so as not to damage the records) is not harmful to humans (phew)! As I was taken around I was introduced to many of the different people who work here, all of which I remember the faces of, but am struggling a bit with the amount of names. I'm sure I'll pick them up quickly enough though, and each person I was introduced to was incredibly welcoming and put me at ease immediately, which always helps.
My tour ended in what seems like the unofficial hub of the history Centre, the staffroom, and I was introduced to the complex system of the tea, coffee, sugar and milk supply, which means that everyone pays their share (quite right too), though I'm still not quite sure how the milk one works! Claire then spent time explaining some of what I'll be doing over the next year and going through a few workplace policies etc.; later I had a meeting with Terry, the Archives and Local Studies Manager, who explained the staffing structure at the History Centre, and spoke some more about my year to come. I finished off the day browsing the websites for Lacock Unlocked and Wiltshire at War, to try and help familiarise myself the projects.
To The National Archives!
Twelve of the thirteen Transforming Archives trainees (plus six lovely trainees from Opening Up Scotland’s Archives) descended on TNA in London for what they called 'base camp week’ from 9th-13th of November. The week started off with a ‘speed-dating’ session to meet some of the TNA staff and get a taste of the work they do there, a sightly chaotic, but fun and useful experience. On November 11th, we were able to attend a brief but heartfelt Armistice Day ceremony inside TNA reception area, where a poem was read, along with names of the fallen, and wreaths were laid under the war memorial plaques. We had a busy rest of the week involving lectures, presentations, workshops, archive skills training, a tour of TNA, a trip to London metropolitan Archives (including a visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery to see a (highly recommended) exhibition they put on, with the Friends of the Huntley Archives, called 'No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990'), and an introduction to organisational and personal coaching. We were also introduced to the Explore Your Archive campaign, which is a campaign which aims to show the potential of archives to bring communities together, and tell amazing stories, which I couldn't agree with more.
Back to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre!
After a couple of days holiday I was back at the History Centre on Wednesday 18th November. It was quite strange being back again, as I'd only been there for one day and then had eleven days away, so it almost felt a bit like my first day again. Once more everyone I encountered was friendly and welcoming, so (despite my cold) I felt much better about starting back again. First thing on Wednesday I had a brief training session in Paleography (reading old handwriting), it was quite tricky, but I think I started to get the hang of it at the end. I've had a good go at the practice paragraph that Claire gave as homework, but I am stuck on a couple of odd looking symbols. Since then I've been searching through the catalogues and accessions folders for any sound recordings on tape or CD and putting my findings into a spreadsheet, so they can be assessed for possible digitisation. I have finished the original searches, and now need to dive into the strongrooms to check the format of some of the recordings, and the extent of others. I have various training sessions booked into my calendar, and I am looking forward to induction sessions with various History Centre staff.
I am truly excited about my upcoming year here at the History Centre, I plan on exploring the archives as much as I can, and I encourage you to do so too!
I'd like to wrap this up with some thoughts about cake, I tweeted this at the end of my week at TNA, and I still very much stand by my statement (going by the amount of cake in the History Centre staffroom):