Trainee Thursday: Bridging the Digital Gap.

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In 2018, The National Archives launched the first cohort of Bridging the Digital Gap (BDG) trainees. The traineeship was developed to address a skills gap in the sector, but also to contribute to something more ambitious: the vision of a disruptive digital archive. Established archival practices have naturally been shaped by the physical records they aim to protect. Rather than digitally simulating these practices, The National Archives aims to “fundamentally rethink archival practice from first principles”. They intend to create a second-generation digital archive that is “digital by instinct and design”.

BDG trainees are effectively an embodiment of this disruption. None of the trainees are archivists; we have no practices to unpick. We all entered archives (some for the first time) with diverse backgrounds but two things in common: digital experience and an interest in archives. Everything we learn is built on the foundation that digital stewardship is an essential archival practice.[1] Even if an archive only holds physical records, the archivists are using computers to catalogue, engage users, and correspond with depositors. Whether you can read this blog in years to come will essentially depend on digital stewardship (including generous appraisal). We are all, to some degree, digital archivists. But Bridging the Digital Gap doesn’t just draw connections between archives and digital stewardship. It makes archiving instinctively digital; it collapses the gap by design.

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In October 2019, the second group of BDG trainees entered the archives. Four in London and four in Yorkshire. I am fortunate to count myself amongst this cohort, and I am doubly fortunate to be seconded to York. (How can you fail to feel blessed when your commute involves riverside cycles or medieval walls?) I studied English Literature at the University of York a few years ago and will always associate York with that period of growth. But Yorkshire was never just a backdrop to an academic experience. It unlocked it. Knotty paragraphs unravelled as I ran along the Ouse. Ideas landed on long rambles through fields. Dissertation panic dissolved in a euphoric cycle down Rosedale’s Chimney Bank and an agonising ride (on ancient/broken bikes) between Scarborough and Robin Hood’s Bay. I dived into Yorkshire and surfaced revived. I learnt that often all we need is an alternative perspective, an opportunity to engage with obstacles differently.

We are typically encouraged to conceive of technology (and most other things) in a binary and oppositional way. Paperbacks versus Paperwhite. Letters versus emails. Man versus robots. And yet, Kindle didn’t eradicate books, nor did Audible. They just enabled more people to read. Likewise, digital archives don’t threaten physical ones, they just consolidate their content and extend their reach. Technology, when used effectively, is exceptionally good at improving access: a fundamental archival principle.

Similarly, for the archive sector to be open and adaptable, it requires alternative access points. A master’s qualification might unlock entry for one person, whilst creating an insurmountable barrier for another. I glimpsed into the archival world when researching the Hogarth Press. But I couldn’t find a way into the workforce. I couldn’t afford a master’s in Archives and Record Management and I couldn’t see another way in. I started working as a freelance writer and learnt about SEO. I built rudimentary websites and tried teaching myself code. I stopped being fearful of digital technology (I am an old soul millennial) and recognised its potential. Two years later, I encountered this traineeship, and everything connected. I crossed the bridge into archives, and I brought my digital experience with me.

© City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd.
© your123 / Adobe Stock

In the following posts, I will be recounting my time as a BDG trainee and ruminating on the realm of digital archives. What I write will be informed by my secondment at Explore York Archives but not representative of Explore York itself. I’ll release my posts on Thursdays, for the sake of alliteration, but not every week. (Adaptability being a core principle of digital stewardship!) For now, I want to thank York for having me and The National Archives for reconnecting us. Of the many things I’ve learnt on this traineeship, one thing underlies them all: access and connection are vital. I am so grateful for being granted both.  

Frances Bell @inawildflower


[1] The terms digital preservation, curation, and stewardship tend to be used interchangeably. The Oxford English Dictionary defines preservation as “[keeping] in its original or existing state”, but digital records tend to require the migration from one format to another. Curation is useful because it draws attention to the activities of building and managing digital assets, but it lacks emphasis on future engagement. Digital stewardship encompasses both. The term draws from the environmental movement to embed the idea that archives collect, hold, and evolve records for future generations. This Library of Congress blog explores the overlapping terms, and I found it useful for deciding which one to use.

Bye Everyone!

The time has come for me to leave Explore so I thought I’d share a few of my favourite memories with you from the last 7 months. And what an incredible 7 months it’s been! I feel very privileged to have had the chance to work on the York: Gateway to History project- I’ve met so many wonderful people, from community groups and volunteers to researchers and colleagues.

I really feel like the project has had an invaluable impact both in terms of vastly enhancing the way the archives are stored and in terms of community engagement- and to have played a part in it has been brilliant. But enough of the soppy stuff- here are some of my personal highlights…

  1. Working with the community collections volunteers

Working with the 8 regular Thursday volunteers has been an absolute treat. We were lucky enough to get a wonderful mix of volunteers that all worked really well as a team. In total, they catalogued 5 large archive collections over a period of 6 months (wait for it- that’s 99 boxes, 203 volumes and 32 rolls in total!). They really were fantastic.

2. Watching the ‘York Panorama: What York Means To Us’ art installation come together

As an art-lover this had to have a place in my favourite memories didn’t it?! Since I started at Explore, I have watched the art installation slowly take shape- from the initial concept into a physical installation on the first floor landing at York Explore. It has been incredible to see how the brilliant Emily Harvey took people’s personal memories of York and turned them into a vibrant panorama that accurately depicts how York residents see their city.

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3. Normandy Veterans ‘film premiere’

Explore has done a lot of work with the York Normandy Veterans Association to help them create their own archive (NVA) through the York: Gateway to History project. Most of the work on the Veterans project had already been done by the time I arrived at Explore back in June, but I did some transcriptions from oral history interviews with the veterans and learned a lot about them (and just how inspirational- yet astonishingly modest- they are!). In December, we created a short film telling the story of the Veterans and their archive.

20160126_103618We invited the Veterans to Explore to have their very own ‘film premiere’. Watching the film conjured a mixture of emotions for them- joy, pride and even a few tears. To see what the project meant to the Veterans and to have the privilege of meeting them really was a once in a lifetime experience.

4. Voices of the Archives

My latest project was Voices of the Archives- a campaign to showcase some of our community collections from the viewpoint of the people who use them most- local community groups, researchers and volunteers. We’ve collected around 30 public responses to various archive collections and used them to create a booklet and 3 pop-up banners (now on the first floor landing at York Explore).

The Voices of the Archives banners

The Voices of the Archives banners

Watching the booklet and banners go from an idea, to a rough draft, to an initial design and finally into physical objects has been a really exciting process. The feedback we’ve received about the collections whilst doing the initial crowd-sourcing has demonstrated the value placed on the archives by our local community- and that’s what a lot of my work has been about; enhancing community engagement with the archives. To see the impact of the Gateway to History project in this way has been a really great way to end my time at Explore.

The final Voices of the Archives booklets!

The final Voices of the Archives booklets!

So there you have it- four of my favourite memories from the past 7 months. I could go on and mention the York Scouts Open Weekend, creating a display of the Poppleton History Society’s archive at Poppleton Library, presenting at my first Gateway to Your Archives workshop… and so much more- but if I did that you’d still be reading this in a week’s time!

So that’s it from me on the blog. To all of you I have met through the Gateway project- thank you for making it such a wonderful project to work on. I leave Explore with lots of happy memories. Goodbye to you all!

The archives team at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

The fabulous archives team (and a few lovely extras!) at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

 

Introducing ‘Voices of the Archives’…

I’m afraid I’ve been reasonably quiet on the blog over the past month, but I’ve been working away on our Voices of the Archives campaign. And what an exciting project it’s been!

Picture4It all started off with an idea to promote some of our community archive collections- but we didn’t want to show you the collections from our point of view. We wanted the people who use them most to tell us their thoughts, and so we contacted local community groups, researchers and volunteers and asked them to tell us what various collections meant to them. The responses we’ve received have been wonderful, and from such a fantastic range of archive-users.

We’ve collected all of the responses together and compiled them into 3 pop-up banners and a booklet…

Voices of the Archives pop-up banners on the first floor landing at York Explore

Voices of the Archives pop-up banners on the first floor landing at York Explore

There was a lot of excitement in the office at York Explore yesterday as the banners arrived from the printers. I’m pleased to say they’re now up and ready for you to view on the first floor landing- so why not pop in and take a peek?!

One set of the banners will remain at York Explore throughout 2016, and another set will be touring the branch libraries- so keep your eyes peeled!

A sneak peek at our Voices of the Archives booklet!

A sneak peek at our Voices of the Archives booklet!

I’m sure there will be lots more excitement later on this week when our Voices of the Archives booklets arrive hot off the press!

For those of you reading this blog post who have contributed to Voices of the Archives, I just want to say a huge THANK YOU! Without your input we would not have been able to create such a fantastic resource. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed creating it!

Our Art Installation has Landed!!

It’s been an exciting week here at Explore York Libraries and Archives! On Friday night, it was our community celebration event to mark the end of our Heritage Lottery Funded York: Gateway to History project. Not only that, it was also the launch of our fabulous new public art installation! The piece was produced by community artist Emily Harvey, and is now in place on the first floor landing here at Explore.

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‘York Panorama: What York Means To Us’

Titled ‘York Panorama: What York Means To Us’, the installation was inspired by over 600 responses to the question ‘What Should York Remember?’ that we have put to York’s public throughout 2015. Since being installed at the start of last week, the piece has been covered by pop-up banners, so Friday night was also the first chance any staff at Explore had to take a step back and see it in its entirety. And what can I say- we’re delighted with it!

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Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture

Not only does the artwork offer a panorama of the city, it also contains people’s personal memories of York within each individual panel that makes up the panorama. For example, a rowing club are making their way down the river, a graduate is receiving her scroll, and there is even a lady being proposed to on the City Walls!

The installation really gives you a feel for not only the history of York, but what it means to individual people. And the artwork is not just something for you to look at! It has been designed as an interactive piece that you can touch as well. You’ll even find some Braille included.

But enough of me raving about it- why not pop into Explore York and have a look for yourself…?! For those of you that don’t know, we’re located right in the centre of York in Library Square, just off Museum Street- so why not pop in and take a break from all that Christmas shopping?!

Digging for gold in our community collections: Round Three!

Yep- it’s time for another one of these posts where I pick out some of our lovely community collections to show you again.
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This time, I’ve chosen to tell you about a collection that is very special to me, as it was the first-ever collection that I catalogued! It is the York Penitentiary Society collection (PEN). And just in case you’re thinking ‘what is ‘penitentiary’’? like I was when I was first handed this collection, fear not- I will explain! The York Penitentiary Society was established in 1822 with the aim of reforming girls who were thought to have ‘sinned’ through work and religious instruction. To give you a bit more of a flavour of what the society was all about, here are their rules and an agreement that girls had to sign before entering the Penitentiary:


It seems that those signing the agreement promised to remain in the Penitentiary home for two years, and abide by some very strict rules!

 
Another personal highlight amongst the collections I have worked with is a bundle of letters written by artist William Powell Frith to his sister, Jennie. These feature in the Raine family collection (JAR). Frith was a Victorian artist, who painted wonderful scenes of Victorian life. A favourite of mine is the Railway Station (1862), which- as hinted at by its title- depicts a station platform scene at London’s Paddington Station. Amongst the bustling platform are a bridge and groom presumably setting off on their honeymoon, a thief being arrested by the police, and even the artist himself surrounded by his family.

Anyway, enough of me going off on a tangent! What makes these letters so fantastic is the way in which they really give you an insight into the life of the artist behind the paintings. He writes of exhibitions, his progress on painting and even more mundane aspects of life. These little treasures are well worth a read!

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

A collection I have catalogued more recently that caught my eye was the Allen family collection. The Allens were clearly keen history researchers, and their collection contains these lovely volumes…


They contain detailed notes on ‘antique and armourial collections’, and beautiful sketches accompany them. What a fantastic way of combining artistic talent with historical research! This lovely collection will be searchable on Explore’s online catalogue from next week onwards.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little snippet of our community collections. Once again, if you have any particular favourites from our community collections then please let us know about it! Tweet us @YorkArchivesUK using #voicesofthearchives, or drop me an email at jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk.

Digging for gold in our community collections: Round Two!

Just like last week’s blog post, this post focuses on some individual items from our wonderful community archive collections (and yes, I am biased- but I hope you’ll soon see why I think they’re so wonderful!). Don’t forget- you can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version of them!
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A collection I’ve been focusing on a lot at the moment is the York Scouts collection (BSA). It is a lovely collection and features lots of camp log books, like the one pictured below. These detail excursions, activities Scout members took part in, and even what food they ate! This one in particular features this little hand-drawn camp map…

BSA

A Scouts log book, complete with this colourful hand-drawn map! (BSA)

You may have heard us mention the York Cemetery Company collection (CEM) in previous posts, as it’s a collection that our volunteers worked away at earlier this year. It is predominantly made up of bulky volumes, but the volume I want to show you is one that particularly stood out…

This volume, titled ‘Designs for Sepulchural Monuments’, contains plenty of intricate drawings of gravestone designs. Whilst cemeteries may not be the nicest topic, this volume certainly sheds some light on what it is like to design and produce gravestones.
More favourites of mine are these photographs, taken from the Cundall family collection (CPP). They show women (some presumably from the Cundall family) climbing a glacier in the Swiss Alps.

What I love most about this photo is how the women are dressed- in skirts and shoes that look rather impractical (and chilly!) for climbing, let alone climbing a glacier! Whilst the collection provides no background information on this particular photograph, I like to imagine the back story behind it; were this women climbing the glacier for a cause, or just as a fun holiday excursion?

Those are my highlights for this week! I’ve decided to make blogs posts showcasing what I like to call community collections ‘gems’ a regular thing, so expect to see similar posts over the next few months!Picture2

If you’ve come across something from our community collections that you think is particularly special, whether you’ve seen it in our Archives Reading Room or on our social media sites, we’d like to hear about it! Tweet us @YorkArchivesUK using #voicesofthearchives or email me at jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk. Don’t forget- you can head over to our Pinterest page to see more community collections, or even book into our Reading Room and take a look for yourself!

Digging for gold in our community collections…

Working with Explore’s diverse community collections is fantastic. We manage collections not only from local community groups, but from families, individuals and businesses too. No collection is the same, and that is what makes them so special.

What is even more exciting is when you come across an item in a collection that really stands out. Cataloguing a collection can be, admittedly, a fairly monotonous task but finding hidden gems is what makes it so exciting. It’s like we’re digging for gold, and when we find it we can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Showing off our community collections on our Pinterest board... https://www.pinterest.com/yorkexplore/

Showing off our community collections on our Pinterest board… https://www.pinterest.com/yorkexplore/

This blog post does exactly that. I’ve picked out some of my personal favourites from our community collections, and I hope you’ll see why!

Firstly, I’ll start with the Gray family newspapers (GRF/4/4/7). These special finds were mostly created by children of the Gray family, and include lovely colourful drawings that enhance stories of local and family news. What an adorable way of keeping the whole family in the loop! (Don’t forget- you can click on the images to see a larger version!)

Another ‘gem’ is the ‘first astronomical journal’ (GPP/3) found in the Goodricke and Piggott collection, which tells of exciting astronomical sightings! Detailed illustrations and diagrams have often been included to further explain the sightings, like this one below:

First Astronomical Journal (GPP/3)

First Astronomical Journal (GPP/3)

Find out more about the Goodricke and Piggott collection on Francesca’s blog post, or by checking out our online catalogue.

For an art-lover like me, the Knowles collection (KNO) is naturally one of my favourites. J. W. Knowles was a stained glass window manufacturer, and the collection contains lots of artwork for window designs, like those shown here:

Want to see more of our community collections highlights? We’ll be starting up a #voicesofthearchives Twitter campaign this week to get you talking about our beautiful community collections. Follow us on Twitter @YorkArchivesUK and keep an eye out for photos of collection highlights, and don’t forget to share your thoughts!

If you can’t wait until then- head over to our Pinterest page. Don’t forget- you can search for any of these items on our online catalogue and book into Explore’s Reading Room to take a look for yourself.