It’s now eight months since I started my Transforming Archives Traineeship based at Archives+ at Central Library in Manchester. In that time I have acquired a wealth of hands-on experience and also been able to transfer and develop my existing skills in order to create a really strong foundation for securing future work in the archives and heritage sector.
My background is in people management in the travel industry, photography, and teaching adults, so the chance of being able to secure a job in the archives and heritage sector seemed like a remote possibility. I had been interested in working at Archives+ since the reopening of Central Library in 2014 and so I became a volunteer for them, for events and small projects. When I found out about the traineeship I could see that it was exactly what I needed to help me break into the sector. Volunteering proved particularly useful as I was able to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the organisation during the application process.
My particular specialisms for the traineeship are outreach and engagement, and digitisation and digital preservation; Archives+ has been an ideal host organisation for both. Archives+ is a partnership of archive and local history organisations that actively engages with a broad scope of audiences to provide a range of archives and heritage services in the heart of Manchester.
I particularly enjoy being involved in creating access to archives. This is enabled through events, workshops, screenings and a unique, permanent, interactive digital exhibition space.
Creating access to archives
One aspect of my role is researching and creating content for the interactive digital exhibition which is a free, drop-in exhibition that appeals to both Manchester residents and tourists. This is particularly exciting for me as I have a keen interest in Manchester histories, and it means I can also make use of my photography and digital imaging skills.
Using the archives catalogue I identify documents and photographic archives, held within the Central Library strong rooms, that help to tell different stories about the people of Manchester. Once I have physically located them I have a choice of digitisation processes, depending upon the source and its condition: for books and bound volumes I use a BookEye Scanner, which has a book cradle to protect the spine of the book; for photographs, negatives and small documents I use flatbed scanners; and for larger or delicate documents I use a DSLR camera.
Once I have researched and put the story together, using the original archives and additional published sources (of which there is a huge collection in the local studies section) I create access to it in several ways: the story and accompanying digitised images, film or sound archives are added to the interactive digital exhibition for visitors to Central Library; the newly digitised content is uploaded to the internet with access available through Flickr and SoundCloud (and at a later date the Local Images Collection); and for some stories I write a post for our Archives+ blog.
To promote this further I use social media, targeting local history groups on Facebook and using hashtags to attract interest on Twitter and Instagram. Being able to create and promote access to archives not seen before has been particularly enjoyable for me. The online communities love to hear new stories about the city and to see old photographs and documents that hadn’t been available online before.
Project work: memory boxes for reminiscence therapy
The traineeship has enabled me to attend many training courses on a wide range of subjects connected to the sector and my specialisms. There are many different types out outreach activity, and on one course I learned how archives can be used for reminiscence therapy sessions to trigger memories and discussion among groups of people with dementia. Accessing memories and sharing them can help to reduce anxiety, caused by dementia, and bring about positive feelings of wellbeing that last longer than the session itself.
Further research into reminiscence therapy took me on a trip to Salford Museum, which already has a memory box service for their area, and to Friends of Clayton Hall who have a ‘memory room’ full of objects but wanted some old photographs of Clayton to add to their sessions. I am now in the process of putting together a range of memory boxes, using resources from the Manchester archives, that day care centres, community groups, hospitals and care homes will be able to borrow.
Each box will be themed according to a geographical area of Manchester or a subject, such as swimming, sports, holidays and cinemas. The contents of the memory boxes will include old photographs, oral histories, sound archives and local film clips. There are already a number of organisations who are keen to make use of the memory boxes, including a dementia swimming group and a local community centre who are setting up a drop-in dementia cafe.
Experience and moving on
The traineeship has enabled me to experience a wide range of heritage and archive based activities which includes organising, running or taking part in engagement sessions; conducting, transcribing and documenting oral history interviews; cataloguing, storage and retrieval; digitisation of prints, negatives, slides, documents, books and sounds; supervising and training volunteers; and outreach methods, exhibition creation and storytelling.
I’ve loved all of it, especially making and sharing exciting discoveries in new collections, and I am now looking for new opportunities in all aspects of Manchester-based archives. Helping different groups of people to explore their heritage and enjoy them through a variety of routes and activities has been especially rewarding, so roles that include some aspect of outreach and engagement will be particularly interesting to me.