A Day in the Life of…A Searchroom Archivist

By Alice Millard and Abigail Hartley

We are beginning a brand new blog project, which will continue over the next year or so on this page.  We hope to have each member of staff talk about their role in the Record Office to reveal what it is we do, and why we do what we do.  First up is Abigail, our Searchroom Archivist, who agreed to be the guinea pig for the series.  

Discussing the week to come before the public arrive

How does your day begin?

My day usually starts with me plopping down at my desk and checking emails (a universal morning task!).  I mostly sit in what is colloquially referred to as the ‘cage’, which, if you have visited our Record Office, you will understand where the nickname comes from.  It overlooks the volunteer work area of the Searchroom, though sometimes I can be found out front on the Supervisor desk.

First things first, I assign our emailed in enquiries to members of the Searchroom and Collections Management teams.  These enquiries can range from as quick as checking opening hours, to more in depth family history questions.  Some of these will eventually amount to a couple hours research into people, properties, or any other topic we can help with.  Each one of us in the Searchroom have our own areas of interest, and since I have started here three months ago, I find I particularly enjoy the military and family history enquiries (especially if they have difficult handwriting, every word you work through feels like a little victory).

Today (28th of May 2019) is the first day of the week we are open to the public (we are closed on Mondays, this allows the archive team time to host school visits, project meetings, cataloguing projects and so on).  The Searchroom team have a quick meeting every Tuesday morning before the public come in.  It’s a chance for us to update each other on anything we’ve been working on, potential researcher visits, and Record Office events.

Please tell us a little about your role…

Working Working 2
A photo of myself at the Supervisor Desk writing this very blog post. #SoMeta

Basically, I am the first point of contact when you email in.  I’m responsible for ensuring  our Record Office is as open to researchers and enquirers as can be, whilst helping us keep on top of matters such as copyright and restricted access items.  I can help point you in the right direction (for example, which District Council to look at when hunting for those ever elusive building alteration plans), do a little research, and help out in the Searchroom proper if it’s a little busy and we need all hands on deck. 

I also work jointly with our Research Assistant, Alice, when creating content for social media.  We hope to bring our most interesting and relevant records to the public’s attention, sometimes by riding on the coat-tails on hashtag trends that week, but we also pull from anything interesting that has cropped up in the Searchroom or drawing attention to upcoming events we have had a hand in planning or hosting.  Over the next few months I’ll also be getting more involved in outreach, such as talks and events. It is early days, but I’d like to write about the ARP records held at the Record Office.  They tell such fascinating stories. 

Essentially I do a little of everything, but I am based downstairs to provide immediate support to the public and the Searchroom team.

What particularly about your role do you enjoy?

How public facing the role is.  I really love the chance to work with researchers.  There’s a pretty great feeling of satisfaction when someone comes in looking for someone or something in particular, and you are able to give them the answer they need.  Oftentimes this can lead to more questions and those answers lead to more questions…  But it’s a genuine sort of joy for people who find the information they needed, whether it be local history, house history, family history, military history, research for a publication, internal enquiries and so on.  A sort of satisfaction of ‘Hey I did that.  I helped’.

What did you not expect yourself to be doing?

So far nothing too wild has cropped up in my day-to-day job.  Inevitably, research tends to pull you into chasms that you didn’t expect to go.  You can end up dealing with topics which are a bit heavier than you’d originally anticipated, especially regarding medical or children’s records, so you definitely have to take a step back at the end of the day.

What is the oddest situation you’ve been in?

There is no way I can answer this without either incriminating myself or some of the more eccentric enquiries we receive…  So let’s not talk about my probable Health and Safety violations overestimating my core strength and getting stuck balancing a box (or two) on my neck and chest in between two mobile shelving units.  That never happened.

Anything big on at the moment?

Tuesday Talk Setup
70+ chairs ready and waiting for tonight’s talk on the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day.  

In a couple of months I am going to get started on a larger cataloguing project, which I am really looking forward to.  One of my favourite moments as an archivist is when you arrive in the morning to a desk stacked high with records that are in some semblance of order, but not quite there yet.  I really enjoy getting stuck in and messing around with catalogue hierarchies and box lists and descriptions and constructing formulas on Excel.  Every archivist likes to have a project which at the end has everything neat and tidy and packaged away in boxes with nice descriptions and titles.  Ah, the dream.  Reality is inevitably more messy and the project will take several months, but the organised chaos of it all is just too attractive to pass on.

More immediately, we’ve got a Tuesday Talk tonight, as I am sure you will have seen us advertise across our social media on our Twitter and Facebook.  It’s a full house for Alan Readman’s presentation on the upcoming 75th Anniversary of D-Day.  A full house means lots of chairs, lots of teas and coffees, and lots of fascinating local history facts to digest!

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