A Day in the Life…

Working in the archives

A Day in the Life... of Head of Digitisation & Public Services

10.00 – a bit of time to check emails – the department receives well over 3,000 enquiries from members of the public a year and then there are all the day-to-day ones to deal with.  At the moment we are well into the process of planning the move to the new Library of Birmingham so there’s a fair bit of work planning everything that needs to be done.

10.30 – meeting with Jean, one of our IT people, to talk about testing out a new system we are having made to manage our digital images. We’re still in the testing and planning phase so we need to work out how to make sure the system does everything it’s supposed to. The digital images will be the ones which the public will eventually be able to browse via the internet, or access in the department as well as all the archive collections we have that are so-called “born digital” – digital photographs, word processed documents etc.  Just as we preserve and make available parchment deeds, old photographs, maps, letters and diaries so we will be looking after blogs, websites, digital plans, spreadsheets etc.  The new Library of Birmingham really is going to be a library for the twenty first century.

1 – 2.00  – time to start the public service element to the day.  The Archives searchroom doesn’t open until 2pm but there is plenty to do retrieving documents (we strongly recommend people order in advance of a visit), putting away material from the morning session, allocating seating and generally getting ready.

2 – 5.00  – working as Duty Archivist in the Archives searchroom.  The main purpose of this role is that to ensure that there is a professionally qualified member of staff on duty for any questions or queries that arise. All the staff here know the collections so it’s not so much for answering questions about subjects and resources – this is a team effort. It’s more to make decisions over copyright, conservation issues (is a document too fragile to handle or copy), access conditions (does it contain sensitive personal data) etc.  Sometimes I even get to practice my palaeography…

Not today however; we have a wide range of researchers in and I am called upon to locate an eighteenth century alehouse licence register (which I manage with thanks to all the hard work of the cataloguing team), suggest sources for a history of community arts organisations and give advice on whether or not a researcher needs permission to obtain copies of material from a collections relating to political activist (they do).

I think the variety is what I enjoy most about the job – you never know what you’re going to be asked next!

Rachel MacGregor
Senior Archivist (Digitisation and Public Services)

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