Live Love Archive is a new blog series which will feature colleagues across the Parliamentary Archives, giving you an insight into the moving parts that make up the Archives Team. When people think of Archivists, Information Managers and Cataloguers, many are unsure about what that means! This series will highlight how we interact with the archives, our users, the services we provide and our outreach work.
This blog article was written by Danielle Wiles, Archives Assistant (Graduate Trainee).
Walk this wayyyy
08:00 has arrived and as the music that carried me through my commute continues, I remove one earphone, swipe my credentials, and walk the winding route that takes me to the Parliamentary Archives floor. Sometimes, I look up and I’m taken aback by the grandeur I am surrounded by and often I think about my journey as a graduate trainee so far. By 08:10 I say hi to the other early birds in the office, boot up my laptop and begin my day. All days in the office start pretty much the same but ultimately every day after this point is different, so I’ll take you through the diverse aspects of my role as a Graduate Trainee Assistant Archivist in the Public Services and Outreach team.
Emails, Enthusiastic hellos and Enquiries
Emails emails emails, working in the Parliamentary Archives involves lots of communication across Parliament and oftentimes enthusiastic hellos once we eventually meet in person!
As a team, we receive thousands of enquiries a year which allow our users to engage with the records we hold. Enquires like our other tasks such as invigilating the search room is divided amongst the team. We help our users find records via our online catalogue, complete copy orders and book appointments in our search room through our new online system. Enquiries also involve our users requesting documents such as deposited papers that we don’t hold in the Victoria Tower and occasionally I’ll pop up to the Lords and Commons libraries to retrieve documents they hold.
Many records held by the Parliamentary Archives are housed at the Palace of Westminster in the Victoria Tower. I venture up the Tower, grab my fleece to brave the cool 16.5 degree temperature-controlled environment, whenever I need to count pages for a copying quote, select documents for different outreach projects, social media posts or potential blogs. Selecting documents begins with outlining what types of records I am looking for, for example this may be an original Act, a photograph or report. I then create an Excel spreadsheet, which displays the title, description, date, and location of the record so I can locate and then explore the records in the tower. This method stops me from skipping items when carrying out research.
Your Archive needs you!
As the trainee in my team one of my weekly tasks is to accession and catalogue documents. Accessioning is the process of transferring physical or digital records to the Parliamentary Archives whereas cataloguing is the creation of formal descriptions for our catalogue so that staff and users can find relevant archives. These two tasks are important as they help manage records which are given to the Parliamentary Archives, and they allow me to practice key fundamental practices that apply to all archives. Most importantly, these changes to our catalogue help ensure our records remain accessible.
Reach for the Stars
Outreach is another key area of my role and as a team we focus on building relationships with the local community and beyond! One way we engage with the public is via social media platforms. This includes posting about our collections on the Parliamentary Archives Twitter and Facebook and liaising with the House of Commons Comms team to share records on Instagram. We often discuss the history of each document and how they may relate to everyday life now. Recently, we worked together to highlight how technology has changed the way records are viewed, In the 1970s microfilm readers were often used, whereas now our imaging team take photographs and create PDFs for customers across the world to ensure our documents are accessible if visiting the Parliamentary Archives is not an option for a user. I have also had the chance to engage with the local community through school visits.
Additionally, I carry out research for VIPs from other countries, such as Ambassadors who come to visit the Speaker of the House. I first thoroughly search our catalogue to see if any obvious items would work with the brief, then I research the specific country and compare any key events or dates with the archives we hold. The next step is item selection; as a team, we select the best items to present during the VIP display and discuss how they will be displayed with our Conservation Technician. We want to ensure the items aren’t too fragile, can be moved to a display case, and our technician can make structures such as cradles to safely display them.
The Parliamentary Archives is vast, and my role allows me to engage with different teams, I have also had the chance to engage with the local community through school visits. I have been privileged to learn about how their core goals and how they contribute to the Archives as a whole.