Transforming archives: Archives+, Manchester

Archives+, Manchester, exhibition space

Archives+, Manchester, exhibition space

For the past nine months, I have been the Transforming Archives trainee at Archives+ in Manchester, with the focus of my traineeship being digitisation, digital and community engagement.

My interest in archives came from my work with arts and social justice organisation, Homotopia. It was here I was given the opportunity to work with the personal archive of trans pioneer, April Ashley, which gave me an understanding of how a personal archive can help illustrate and contextualise much wider social issues – in this case the issue of transgender rights in the UK. Housed in Manchester Central Library, Archives+ places a strong focus on sharing the previously untold stories of Manchester and its communities through archives and digital exhibition. And they are constantly looking for new, innovative ways to diversify their service users, which is what attracted me to this particular role.

A big part of my role has been to select and digitise appropriate archive material in order to keep the content in the exhibition space refreshed and relevant to Manchester’s cultural calendar, for example, finding and digitising programmes and photographs to coincide with the launch of this year’s Manchester International Festival. The eclectic nature of Manchester’s cultural calendar has given me the opportunity to digitise a wide variety of materials, including Black Letter Ballads, manuscripts, maps, books and photographs. The variety of the material has also allowed me to practice a number of digitisation techniques, as they have required the use of a wide range of equipment. Once the material is digitised I have also worked closely with the digital access officer in order to add the content into the exhibition using the Archives+ content management system.

Given the size and diversity of the collections held at Archives+ I have had the opportunity to work on a number of exciting projects and events. An example of this is during LGBT history month. Central Library and Archives+ programmed a number of events throughout the month, including co-hosting the first ever national festival of LGBT history. During the first few months of my traineeship I had been working on the recently accessioned LGF (Lesbian and Gay Foundation) collection and during LGBT history month I was given the opportunity to collaborate with the North West Film Archive and run a film night showcasing some of the new material that was now available.

I have also had the opportunity to work with the outreach officers, shadowing and assisting at their events and workshops. There are two outreach officers and their events are predominantly aimed at young families, primary school groups, and 16-25 year olds. I had previous experience of planning and working on events but I had never worked with these age groups. So it was a chance for me to adapt and build on the skills and knowledge of events I already had and it has given me the confidence to know I could successfully work with these age groups in the future.

My interests, both during my undergraduate degree and within my professional roles, have always been linked in some way to exploring the history of diverse communities and finding new ways to tell their stories. Working at Archives+ I have been encouraged to explore these interests and have been given the freedom to search their archives and local studies collections to find any new or interesting stories to add to the exhibition. As long as they were Manchester related of course!

My time at Archives+ has been a great opportunity for me to learn new skills and gain further experience in the heritage sector. I am sure these skills and the ones I will gain over the following months of my traineeship will help me in my future academic and professional work.

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