Preservation and Interpretation – A trainees perspective

Since August 2013 I have been working at Gloucestershire Archives as a trainee archivist; and in September I moved to Liverpool to study for my Masters in Archives and Records Management, the professional qualification which will allow me to work as an archivist in the future.

For me, one of the joys (and challenges) of working in a county archive is the sheer variety of records which fall under your remit. The collections which we hold relate to anything and everything that concerns the historic county of Gloucestershire (which includes the more modern county of South Gloucestershire). This means that if you open one of the thousands of boxes of archival material in one of our strongrooms you could find letters, diaries, deeds (lots of deeds), minutes, financial ledgers, photographs, pamphlets, maps, drawings or plans to name but a few.

During my time at Gloucestershire Archives I have been introduced to many of the different tasks that make up the day to day life of an archivist. Cataloguing and listing records, cleaning and packaging them, ensuring that they are both accessible and safe. I have learnt that the balance between protecting the often fragile records from further harm, and ensuring that as many people, from as wide a group as possible, are able to see them is not always an easy one to strike.

However, when I work in the public searchroom supervising the use of our records I’m reminded of the importance of that balance. While for those of us who work here there is always something interesting to be found in our strongrooms, something new to be learnt from every item which we hold in our collections, in the searchroom I constantly see our collections being interpreted in ways which are beyond me. The elderly man in the background of a 1930s photograph who I might have skimmed over with a brief recognition of his impressive moustache becomes ‘Great Uncle Albert’ who lived in the same village all his life. A small bundle of ancient manorial records, whose age I marvelled at becomes the supporting evidence for an academic paper. A brief entry recording the withdrawal of a family from a parish becomes an indicator of social upheaval and a new way of life.

If I have learnt anything in the past year (and I hope I’ve learnt a lot) it is that the work which we do to preserve records is incredibly important, but that by making them available, allowing them to give new meaning to the past, we are doing something even more special.

Rose Brown

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