I am currently based at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, as a Transforming Archives Trainee, focusing on digitisation. For the past eight months, I have digitised and described a wide variety of material, from glass plate negatives to deeds with wax seals.
Two years ago, I was in Australia and I found an Australian job posting for a Digitisation Assistant. Upon reading the requirements I realised that ‘I can do that!’ and promptly applied. My photography degree and Photoshop skills gave me an edge on some of the other applicants and I spent six months digitising theses at the University of Queensland before coming back to England. I arrived home with a new career path and searched the web constantly for digitisation positions; I made contacts with various organisations via phone and email until I applied for the traineeship with the National (and Cheshire) Archives. Luckily, I got an interview and was granted the traineeship.
At this point I had gained a few months volunteer archive experience of assessing theatre posters for the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver, but no real training in storage or handling of documents. The single room of boxes at the theatre didn’t prepare me for the rabbit warren that is Cheshire Archive and Local Studies.
Putting digitisation to work
The first six months of my traineeship were spent with Local Studies, cataloguing photographic material to archival standards while digitising items of importance as well as damaged or deteriorating items. As a lot of this collection had not been catalogued; I only had basic details to work with when building a picture of the contents of a box. This sometimes brought about amazing and rare finds. Usually it brought pictures of trains. I know a lot more about trains and rail stations (both past and present) than I did eight months ago!
Some boxes had poorly packaged material so I learnt a variety of ways in which to quickly rectify this. The 35mm slides went into hanging archival sleeves whilst glass plate negatives were placed into four-flap envelopes or other enclosures to protect them from smashing together and breaking. I have been given the freedom to make my own decisions on this project which is something I appreciate and have learnt greatly from.
My second six months at Cheshire Archives is ongoing, and has included me digitising medieval deeds. This is a part of my larger project to describe the deeds via volunteer support. As the deeds are in Latin, it requires people with specialised skills to interpret them. Digitisation gives possibility for off-site transcription and access and helps in securing the relevant volunteers across the globe to carry out this task. This project is still in its planning phase but hopefully will be a success.
Working with members of staff at the archives, I have been given training in handling a variety of documents and in packaging, and given an overview of how the search room operates (as well as being supported in my day to day tasks). In return, I have been able to give advice on using Adobe Photoshop. I have also mounted prints for sale at events; written user guides for all our photographic hardware and software; photographed Chester Christmas Markets for Cheshire Image Bank; provided material for and analysed social media interactions and assisted in improving the reprographics workflow.
During my traineeship, I have been privileged enough to be able to go on a number of short training courses to support my current role and future career. All trainees took part in two longer events- one at The National Archives in London and one at General Register House in Edinburgh. Here we were able to meet each other and discuss our individual concerns, successes and also eat a lot of cake (and deep fried Mars bars).
Into the future…
I am looking forward to participating in a number of future training events which I have lined up. The main one of these is the triennial conference of ICON (The Institute of Conservation) where I intend to learn more about photographic and paper conservation. I intend to use the conference to find out about further training in this area.
Come October and the end of my traineeship, I am looking to continue with a career in digitisation. Digitisation has helped me to understand why I am so drawn to photographs. It isn’t just love of the images, but love of the objects. Hopefully, these objects will be handled less and therefore be around for a lot longer as a result of my digitisation efforts and continuing conservation knowledge.
Find out how to apply to join the Transforming Archives programme.