We are the first fellows who have had the opportunity to apply to the new Professional Fellowship Scheme, a partnership between The National Archives and Research Libraries UK (RLUK), building on our Memorandum of Understanding. It is opportunity for up to four fellows each year to consider a question of professional practice and benefit from the experience of another organisation.
The fellowships started on 1 October, and we wanted to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves and the research we are starting to work on. The three projects are very different from each other but all address key research questions in archives today – exploring public engagement, education and access to digital materials.
Collections, audiences and impact: lessons from public history
I’ve been really interested in the potential to learn more from the academic discipline of public history for a long time. The last few years have been incredibly hectic in delivering a programme of accreditation, so this is a great opportunity to take a step back and explore a question in depth.
I’m working with York University to consider what we know about audiences who use archives, how we can improve what we know, and especially how we can understand more about the impact of engaging with archives for audiences that come to us without specific research questions in mind. I’ve started by reading into public history literature, and surveying archives and special collections about their current public engagement: how important it is to them, and what they know about its impact.
Next I’m going to focus in detail on the Borthwick Institute for Archives, where I am spending my placement in February, testing and developing guidance for archives based on my research so far.
Examining best practice of Archives and Libraries in making Medieval and Early Modern collections accessible in school-aged and first-year undergraduate education
My background as an English teacher coming into heritage education has given me a focus on the literacy aspects of archive material, and especially the access needs for younger students using older documents. My project explores best practice in providing medieval and early modern documents to school-age students and how archives can support their use.
I’m very happy to be partnering with Durham University’s 4Schools service at Palace Green Library, to explore how they use museum and archive materials in order to meet the needs of the students who attend their sessions. It’s an opportunity to exchange knowledge on different resource types.
I am currently looking into existing research on using documents in classrooms and education in a heritage setting, and will soon be conducting a survey to discover the needs of both teachers and students in the current school system.
Curating, mapping and presenting modern hybrid collections
As digital archivist at Leeds University Libraries, I’m responsible for developing the procedures we use to preserve the born digital archival material we receive. Much of this is material that forms part of a paper archive rather than purely digital. We have hybrid collections at Leeds which present problems to our workflows and cataloguing procedures, and I will be working on these to develop guidance documentation and policies for myself and colleagues here.
Part of the fellowship will involve a visit to The National Archives to see how my ideas map on to their collections, and discover what further problems might arise with other organisations’ more complicated or varied collections. The outcomes will be standardised and disseminated, making my findings, decisions and processes available to other institutions and the wider archive and digital preservation community.
I’ve started by looking at our depositing criteria and relationship with depositors and I’ll soon begin having conversations with researchers about ways they’d like to access collections.
All of our projects are fixed at one year, ending in September 2019. We hope to continue blogging about our progress and any interesting discoveries we make along the way.