Guest Post: A university placement student’s time at WAAS (part 1)

  • 3rd November 2014

Over the last few weeks Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has had the pleasure of hosting a 100 hour work experience placement for Emma Heatherley, a student from Newman University, Birmingham. During her time here Emma had the chance to get an insight into the wide range of roles that take place behind the scenes in our service. Here, Emma has written more about her experiences: 

On my first day of work experience I was guided around the building, including the strongrooms and some of the precious documents in them, such as William Shakespeare’s marriage bond to Anne Hathaway dated 1582, and given relevant safety talks. I was then allowed to spend time with Rhonda, the Conservator, during the afternoon. For the rest of my 100 hours, I worked one day a week here learning how to clean and repair documents, and even worked on a collection that had come into the Archive that was in bad shape and needed repair before it could be catalogued and used by the general public.

Some of the pages in these books were loose, torn and very fragile; so Rhonda showed me how to repair these using a Japanese tissue paper that can be pasted to the pages to strengthen, secure, or help to stitch them back to the covers, (some of these were also in a bad state and also needed to be conserved in the same way), in their original order. I also learnt that it is important to remove some of the metal pins and staples that had originally been used to hold some of the loose sheets of paper into the book. It was possible to see where they had started to rust and degrade the paper or make holes that also needed to be repaired. 

Under the supervision of Rhonda I carried on helping to repair some of the volumes in the collection, and gained skills and knowledge on an area that I really didn’t know a lot about when I first entered the conservation room in my first week. To me this has been invaluable experience in an area that I don’t think many people are aware of, and I am entirely grateful for being allowed to handle some of these fragile volumes, that were full of fascinating documents and information on the history of Worcestershire, and also the opportunity to have access to the conservation area and to Rhonda who had the knowledge and patience to show me how to help restore these volumes so they can be used by the public.

A few weeks into my placement I was lucky to be given the opportunity to work with John and Jonathan in Digitisation, helping on a project to digitise slides that had been sent in from another archive in the country who were paying for this part of their collection to be digitised. 

Digitisation is important for a few reasons: firstly it helps to protect the documents that are being digitised by producing electronic copies, therefore unless the originals are specifically requested they are not being handled as often which could lead to damage or further degrading of the document especially if it was particularly old or even damaged in the first place. And secondly, as technology moves on some of the technologies that were previously used to house and view these documents become obsolete, such as slide viewers and floppy disks, meaning there is a need to keep upgrading to ensure that no information is lost. Furthermore, if documents can be digitised and put onto computers the information that people require is more readily available quicker than it has been before. 

Again this is also another area that I previously had no experience in before the placement began, so when I started to work on the project I had very little knowledge of the programmes and technology that was used. Although after explanation and demonstration by John I was let loose on the slides and after a couple of weeks I had managed to digitise and edit hundreds of tiny slides into photographs viewable on the computer, that will be returned to the archive that sent them to The Hive.

Digitisation is a relatively new field that has grown with developing technology, and was one that I was not aware of beforehand; as an indication of how much work there is to be done to completely digitise the collections just in Worcester it would take two people working all day, every day of the year a total of nearly 800 years to complete. I can honestly say that this was part of my placement that I particularly enjoyed because it really was something entirely different and new to what I expected when I first approached the archive about a placement.

To read the second and final instalment of Emma’s post check back here on the Blog tomorrow!

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