Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Guest Post: A university placement student's time at WAAS (part 2)

Here is the second instalment of Emma Heatherley's post detailing her time at WAAS on a university work experience placement:

I spent a lot of time working with the User Services team on level two of The Hive, mainly on the 'Explore the Past' desk shadowing the Archivists and Archive Assistants as they carried out different roles associated with the Original Archive Area. These included: collecting and returning requested documents from the strongrooms to the general public (production); overseeing the Original Archive Area and fronting the desk- often issuing CARN (County Archive Research Network) tickets and library cards to members of the public. I learnt how to locate documents in the strongrooms, how to find the document when in the strongroom, the correct way to issue a document including how to weigh the box or object and how to return the document when the individual had finished. On my first day however I was inducted to the Original Archive Area the same way anyone else would be if they were entering the original archives for the first time; and included information on where to find aids to help with reading the documents including weights, pillows and gloves if needed to protect the document.



This is the part of the Archive Service that most of the general public will deal with when coming into the Original Archive Area, so I was around the public during this time a lot more than when I was down working with the collections team. It was interesting, however, to see the different types of people using the archive area for different kinds of research, including of course students researching for their dissertations.

Furthermore, while working with User Services I had the opportunity to help answer some enquiries that had been emailed or written in to the archive from people around the country (and even abroad) requesting copies of documents, or to find out if we did in fact keep certain collections in the archive. This is a service that the archive charges for because of the time needed to locate documents, and get copies if the search is successful; as I was answering the enquiries I was able to learn a little bit more about the charges than what I knew before, for example, the archive team will not charge for queries about collections they hold and to search their catalogues and indexes.

And finally I helped to produce a resource for the library staff including contact details and frequently asked questions about what the Archive and Archaeology teams do. Doing this helped me to get more background information on the structure of the archive and archaeology department that otherwise wouldn't have known, and the different teams involved in both areas that the public don’t often see or have contact with.

As I was starting my placement the archaeology department were heading a project on one of the local areas that I was lucky enough to be able to research on in my first few weeks. It was fascinating to look at some of the documents that I otherwise wouldn’t have used, for example about six 16th century wills that proved to be particularly hard to read. I was given books on the different letter forms that made it easier to decode some of the medieval words. I also got to look through the archival photographs, and pick out ones that could be used for the publication of the project.

It was from this project that I got to use the Self Service Area of the archive which I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do; and learnt how to use microfilm readers, and had a look through some of the hearth and land tax returns from the 17th and 18th century. 

While doing the project I learnt about the services that Archaeology provide, in particular the Historic Environment Record (HER) service. I spent an afternoon learning about the different records that they hold, and on that particular afternoon members of the general public were bringing in artefacts to be identified by the archaeologists; I happened to be there when one individual brought in a piece of Saxon gold that they had dug up.


I am really grateful to everyone at the Archive and Archaeology Service that let me come in and shadow or work with them over the 100 hours that I was there, and for letting me get involved with so many different projects over the time. They have given me great experience and a clear goal to head to at the end of my degree. 

If you would like more information on potential work experience placement with Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, please email archive@worcestershire.gov.uk

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