Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Basecamp at The National Archives

We are delighted to announce a new member of staff, Jack Quinlan has joined the university team as part of The National Archives’ new Bridging the Digital Gap traineeship. Jack’s first blog for us delves into his experiences of travelling down to the National Archives for a three day intensive introduction to the world of archives:

Before I started working at Hull History Centre, I had no real idea how an archive operated. I knew they kept records, an odd photo or two, or maybe a map, but that was it. But now I have a much firmer grasp on the scope of archives and some of the challenges they face. Bridging the Digital Gap, an incentive to broaden the pool of talent available to the sector, has just started training their eight new trainees last week in a course held at The National Archives. The three day training event was an introduction to the traineeship and digital archiving as a whole.

Basecamp, as we called the training event, was a brilliant experience. I’ve never been to The National Archives before - an all too unassuming building nestled away among quiet houses, no tall buildings to mark its location over the city landscape, it just appears.

Entrance to TNA

I got to know my fellow trainees over a coffee icebreaker. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves, which host organization we were representing, and a little known fact about it. What became apparent over the day was just how diverse our individual skill sets are, though all following a similar line of “aptitude for technology”. Each trainee has worked with computers, data sets, or data processing in some official capacity - for myself I have a background in media production, video editing, and some experience in scientific data handling. Suffice to say we all had a lot to talk about.

The rest of the day included a contextual overview of the course, including module breakdown and what is expected of us on a bi-monthly rotation, speakers from different archive and digital departments on how the digital landscape is changing their position, and then an actual breakdown of what a digital archivist is expected to be able to do, and the roles they can fill. The first day can be best summarised as “Digital Archiving, what is it?”. For the second and third day we were a lot more active; we were given tours of the archive and repositories, delving into the history of The National Archives, how far back the archives go and just how the building came to be. We secured reading passes and had our first instance of requesting a specific piece of archived information, and had a look at the more hands on side of archives: the conservator.

Fabric patent book

“Restoring the past” is how conservation was first described to me, and was something we explored first hand at TNA; converging over a large open book, this was my first experience with something so old. A several centuries old patent record, filled to the seams with blackened fabric, faded sketches and diagrams. The cover, once tightly strapped in leather and metal stripes, was now slack, and falling apart, the leather flayed and metal rusted, the processes of preserving it would certainly be very long.

In another room, an experiment with light and parchment was underway, showing the degradation of different inks within certain conditions, and using a very high intensity light to speed up the process. In the same room, we got a demonstration of 3D printing, the uses of which became apparent, as while the demonstration was going on, a replica of certain rat was produced. Both of interest of digital archiving in some respects, and learning about them now will allow for an easier introductory period further down the road.

I joined the Hull History Centre team on October the 29th and only a week later I was hurtling my way down to London to visit the UK’s largest archive. Things were moving fast and even now each day I am presented with new challenges that I did not see myself undertaking a year ago. I don’t see this pace slowing down either, and I am thankful; looking forward to each week, learning new skills and even interesting subject matter, there are few positions which offer this.

Parchment estate plan

My expectations are high, there’s opportunity here and I want to make the most of it. I have taken an interest in digital archiving at a very interesting time, the landscape is changing and I am been trained at the forefront. By the end of my traineeship I imagine my perspective will have changed, but my determination will be just as strong as when I started.

Jack Quinlan, Bridging the Digital Gap Trainee

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