Goodbye from a trainee

After nearly two years as a graduate trainee archivist, I’m flying the nest to complete my Master’s degree and be a fully-fledged archivist instead. I wanted share some thoughts about my preconceived notions about what exactly an archive is and what it does, and how I think now after working at Gloucestershire Archives.

Tools of the trade: Archival tape, scissors, pencil, labels, folder

Before I started working in an archive, here’s what I thought happened:

  • Everything vaguely ‘historical’ needs to be kept and preserved.
  • Everything in an archive should be digitised and put online so people can read them from home.
  • Archives are mainly used by and meant for historians and academics doing research.
  • If you are determined enough you can have everything in your archive tidily catalogued and put away during your time working there.
  • Looking for a document shouldn’t take too long.

Do you agree with any of these? Do these statements sound familiar to what you think? Here’s how things actually happen (from my trainee perspective):

  • If we kept everything ‘vaguely historical’ we’d have no room left on the planet for anything else (it’s not very eco-friendly!)
  • Even if you had all the time and money to do this, it still wouldn’t be useful for everything. Things can easily be missed in a digital scan and you’d need resources to transcribe all the material as well. Digital material also needs digital storage space – we’d have to pay to store something both physically and digitally, and digital preservation has lots of its own risks. Paper has been around in some form for hundreds of years but digital formats become obsolete in a few years.
  • Whilst historians do rely a lot on archives, all sorts of people use our search room. I’ve found lots of people come to use our documents to prove/disprove land boundaries or discover more about their family history.
  • If you go in with this mindset, you WILL become disheartened, which will make it difficult to do anything at all. Instead, you have to look at what you CAN DO, and break it down into manageable projects that will have the greatest impact on people. Eventually, it will all be catalogued, but by then they’ll be a completely new system anyway. And so on!
  • Erm, sure – if you only have 1 box in your collection! Gloucestershire archives have millions of records, in thousands of boxes, in nearly 20 strongrooms, and each strongroom has about 300 bays, and each bay has at least 6 shelves….you get the picture.

If you have any assumptions about archives, comment below – are they different to mine? It was amazing how much I didn’t know, and how wrong I was about pretty much everything.

My favourite thing about working here (apart from the best team you could wish for) is the eureka moment when a collection makes sense to you. As a colleague told me: ‘where is the material telling you it wants to go? What is it telling you about how it wants to be arranged?’ After sifting through a box of papers and material that has no previous arrangement, you start to see patterns and links which tell you the most logical way to arrange it, so that people will be able to search for and find it again. I feel like a gold-panner, sifting through until I find that golden nugget which explains what I’m looking at.

I’ve had the best time working here and will miss it immensely.

And for everyone I work with – you can use my trolleys now, they’re empty and waiting for new documents to carry!

-Laura Cassidy

Blue sign with black text reading: Collections management, graduate trainee, don't tap on the glass, they are easily startled!

Dog dribble, Spaghetti Bolognese and a council minute book: pure beauty?

Isn’t it funny how some people find certain things attractive, yet to somebody else, the exact same thing doesn’t do anything for them. Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder.

For example, some people would look at a growling, floppy-jowled, saliva-dripping bulldog flashing fangs as sharp as razorblades and would think it’s as cute as a new-born kitten.

But there are some people who would run away extremely fast because they believe they’ve just come across an evil beast from the deepest pit of doom.

I shall let you guess which category I fall into, but here’s a clue: I’m not a fan of dog dribble.

It’s the same with virtually anything – art, movies, sport, food. You name anything and someone will like it just as passionately as the next person dislikes it.

Spaghetti Bolognese for example. Some people’s eyes pop out of their heads with glee when they see it on a menu in a café or restaurant, whilst others cannot stand the awkwardly stringy, overly floppy, sauce-flinging laces of pasta that will just not stay on the blasted fork, spoon, chopsticks, fingers or whatever implement is chosen, without permanently staining everything within a half mile radius with the sauce of shame.

I shall let you guess which category I fall into, but here’s a clue: if you see a spag bol in front of me, it would be wise to give me half a mile of clearance.

There is one particular thing that I find rather good to look at that not many other people do though (although I’ve never really asked, so maybe people do?) and it’s this: a page of text.

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