Guest post: Volunteering in Special Collections and Archives

This guest post comes from Julie Ryan, who spent one month volunteering with us this summer, in order to gain the experience necessary to be accepted on a postgraduate vocational qualification in archives administration:

‘Owing to work commitments, and my own indecision, I only emailed SCOLAR about a month in advance of the particular 4-week period I was available to work. I was pleasantly surprised when Alison emailed me back with details of a project she would like some help on, and suggested meeting to discuss it further. It was really useful to know the details of what I would be doing in advance, as I could see how relevant to the course it would be, and also I felt more prepared for my first day. The project’s aim was to bring together all of the information about past students and put it into one resource. My first job was to transcribe records from the University’s matriculation book, working with an initial five year sample. These records also contained the name, address and occupation of the student’s parents, which was particularly interesting to see.

matbook

This was my first experience of transcribing, and being involved with making a secondary resource gave me a good insight into the problems that can occur with them. I saw how easy it was to read one word as another, or to not be able to read some things at all. Alison advised me to use the internet, for example Google maps, to double check that what I was transcribing made sense. In particular, the rural, Welsh place names could be difficult. Once these records had been transcribed, I then added the student number, which had been assigned at matriculation, to other data such as examination results, graduation, attendance. All of these documents were then imported into one spreadsheet. It is now possible to easily bring up all of the data about a particular student. Of particular interest is the data on parents’ addresses and occupations, in terms of what it tells us about the geographic spread of students and their socio-economic backgrounds.

matbook - occ

I really valued being able to be part of one project from start to finish, rather than doing small parts of a project and never getting the satisfaction of seeing it complete. I also appreciated the freedom I was given at this placement. I felt involved right from the beginning, and although Alison was always around if I needed her help, it was good to be given space to make my own choices.

This placement has given me experience of transcribing and digitisation, which are directly relevant to the course I am going to do. It has also given me an insight in to the work that an archivist does, as I have been working from a desk in Alison’s office, and so been able to see what she does from day-to-day. I also had the added bonus of listening in on a talk about book binding, and spending a day looking through old photographs and picking some to be used for a social media campaign. This placement has been great preparation for an MA course in Archive Administration, but it has also been good fun to be part of interesting project, and experience what it would be like to be an archivist.’

 

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