Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Basecamp Week

The National Archives building, Kew, Richmond
Earlier this month we travelled down to The National Archives, near Kew Gardens. This is the official home of the UK government archives and holds over 11 million records in its collection, from 10th Century manuscripts to copies of government websites, and just about every kind of document and record in between.

The basecamp was the first opportunity to meet all of our Transforming Archives cohort in one place as our host archives are spread all over England and Scotland. Getting to know the trainees over many coffee breaks and dinners brought home just how diverse a group we are – our backgrounds range from photography to maritime engineering to TV production, all now bringing these skills to the archive sector.

In the National Archive reading rooms,
even the reference directories are historical documents.
The training week consisted of five days of talks and workshops from National Archive curators on the theory behind acquiring and maintaining a collection, and conversations with archivists willing to share their experiences on recent projects. 

Mixed in amongst the professional skills development was plenty of advice and support for personal development coaching that will help our careers long after the traineeship is over.

Behind the scenes in the
National Theatre props department
We were also able to visit other archives around the city to see how they cope with the specific challenges faced by their collections and their circumstances. Our first visit was to The National Theatre Archive – a small collection, but one that comes with its own special challenges. A large chunk of the archive is made of bulky props, posters and stage models which need specialist care and which don’t fit into a “normal” archive structure. The National Theatre Archive also holds a vast collection of audio-visual recordings stored on all kinds of film reels, cassettes, DVDs and video files. Digitising and cataloguing these collections is a continuously transforming process as hardware and software change or become obsolete; talking to the archivists (including Pavel, one of last year’s Transforming Archives trainees!) we better understood the problems the archive faces to preserve these materials in the best and longest-lasting formats.

Samuel Rolle’s account of the Great Fire of London, written in 1667.
The next day included a visit to the London Guildhall Library, probably the oldest civic library in the UK. Its collection is dedicated to the history of the city as well as its legal and business records.

The Guildhall also houses the new City of London Police Museum, which was set up after the closure of the City of London Police’s own small museum. We spoke to the librarian and manager at the Guildhall Library that put the exhibition together, and who explained the process of creating the exhibition with limited space and limited time. They showed us the results of a collaboration with the nearby design school to create 3D replicas of weapons that the police would not normally allow on public display.

An introduction to reading medieval manuscripts.
Probably the biggest advantage of the basecamp was that we could see first-hand the work going on in archives much different to the Hull History Centre – from small, focused institutions like the National Theatre Archive to the vast public repositories of the National Archives. 

Big or small, the recurring theme amongst every archive we visited was the drive to make their collections accessible to the public through direct outreach and through digitising the records.

It was really great to meet all the archivists, record managers and curators at The National Archives and to speak with them about both upcoming projects at the Hull History Centre, and our future careers in the archives sector.

This basecamp has given us plenty of new ideas and approaches which we can use at the Hull History Centre, and to see where we can take the centre’s collections in the future. We can’t wait to meet up with the cohort again at the Edinburgh basecamp in March 2017!

Tom Dealey and Francisco Castanon
Transforming Archives trainees

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