Thursday, 19 November 2015

The National Archives - Base Camp Week

This last week I had the privilege of attending my Base Camp week as a part of my Transforming Archives Traineeship, it was held at The National Archives in Kew where I met with eighteen of the other trainees from all over the UK

The National Archives


The National ArchivesThe first thing that struck me about The National Archives was the sheer scale, it dwarfs anything I am used to in almost every from way staffing to physical space. As a result there are some aspects of work that TNA does quite differently, the most obvious of which was an electronic tracking system that they utilise. A request to see a particular record is tracked every step of the way, with it being checked in and out of every location using a barcode scanner. That way if for some reason an item is out in limbo they can bring up the system and check the last place that it had been seen.
The employees also used small vehicles in order to move documents around because of the number of requests and the distance needed to travel, these were either small flatbed trucks or in the case of some areas they had newly acquired electric trikes. This was incredibly surreal to see people riding around on.


Trike

Strange to see archivists riding around on these!
Picture courtesy of  @Jessabellion
The storerooms themselves were on a whole other scale in comparison, I'm pretty certain the Hull History Centre archive could have fit into a third of one floor and the TNA had over four floors worth. There was even one room that was closed even to other archivists except for a handful with select permission. This is where some of the rarest documents that the TNA holds were kept, including the Jack the Rippers letters and five copies of the American Declaration of Independence.


Basic Archive Skills Training/Skills for the Future
Contents of restricted archive
Wasn't allowed inside but these are pictures of some of the
documents inside the strongroom.
A lot of our time was spent covering the kind of skills and roles in a modern archive workplace. This was covered in a variety of ways from having a session where we got to meet a number of the different employees at TNA all from different areas to a more academic lecture on various archival skills (accessioning, archival description, etc.).

There was also quite a large focus on making sure that you are continuing to improve your skills, we has talks about the CAIS modules, Basic Archive Skills Training by the Archive-Skills Consultancy and also from Skills for the Future itself. This seems to rapidly be becoming a focal point in archives that the skills required are varied and need constant updating, often in areas that are not immediately obvious. The whole purpose behind Skills for the Future is trying to get people interested in archives from a non-traditional background to gain new insight and points of view. As one of my fellow cohort’s jokingly tweeted if there’s anything to take away from basecamp week it is to be always developing your skills, and also archivists love cake!


London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) – No Colour Bar
I was also given the opportunity to attend the London Metropolitan Archive and discuss their various outreach programmes. I was very interesting to see how another archive has approach the problem of getting people to use the services. LMA have definitely gone above and beyond with an absolutely full calendar and activities from teaching sessions to a book club. A defining aspect of each teaching sessions is that they are always tailor made for the class attending with archives relevant to their age group and school being brought out.

No Colour Bar Exhibition
No Colour Bar exhibition at the
Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Picture courtesy of @mm_archives
I was also hugely impressed that the LMA has worked with the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Friends of the Huntley Archives to use the archives that they have on the Huntleys and the Bogle L’Ouverture press and bookshop to help produce the No Colour Bar exhibition. This included a reproduction of the bookshop and copies of the original letters and photographs digitised and put on display. It was very interesting to see how closely the archive had worked with the Gallery in order to help promote the event and make the archives feel like a part of the display. I definitely recommend the exhibition!

Overall it was a fantastic week, both educational and incredibly enjoyable. It was great to meet all the other Cohorts again after the very brief introduction during DCDC15 as well as meeting the Opening Up Scotland’s Archives trainees for the first time. I don’t believe that I am the only trainee writing about my experiences during Base Camp week so if you follow the hashtags #TransformingArchives or #Skillsforthefuture then you should see the other blog posts when they go up.

David Heelas
Transforming Archives Trainee

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