My experiences as the intern at Shropshire Archives
I joined Shropshire Archives just over three years ago in November 2017 as the new intern. As a history graduate, a career in archives suited me perfectly (I wasn’t keen on the other option a lot of history graduates take of becoming a teacher!) and this job provided me with the ideal introduction to it.
One of the great things about my job is that it varies so much. I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to gain experience in a lot of different areas of the archive and no one day is ever the same. We have a huge range of fascinating historic documents and it is a real privilege to work with them. I’ve often found when explaining my job to people that they don’t actually know what an archive is, which makes our work all the more important in publicising our collections and what we do to preserve and make them accessible.
What the job involves
A large part of my job involves supporting the public service side of the archive. I work with a fantastic team (special mention goes to my lovely line manager Sarah and Kev, who shares production duties with me). We advise both onsite visitors and those doing research remotely who email in with enquiries. Kev and I are responsible for production of documents from the stores. It can sometimes be quite a challenge finding those with obscure reference numbers or maps which aren’t in the main run of documents as they don’t fit in standard size boxes! It’s always interesting to see what items people have requested to view and is a good chance to learn more about the archives’ collections. We sometimes get asked for palaeography advice too, which I always enjoy giving.
Aside from production, I spend an afternoon a week on reception. As this is generally the first port of call for visitors to the archive, I get a wide variety of enquiries from researchers when on here and do things like verifying new users and printing readers’ tickets for them. It is sometimes very busy, but we also get very quiet days, so this is a good opportunity to catch up on admin and background tasks, also picking up occasional things like writing pieces for the blog.
Away from the public service side of my job, one of the most fun tasks I get to do is help our senior archivist Sal to list and process accessions. We get a lot of new material coming into the archive but a lot of it doesn’t get catalogued straight away due to lack of staff time and resources. We do, however, create a searchable accession record on our internal catalogue which includes a summary of the documents, with details like the depositor and custodial history of the collection. Before lockdown, Fridays were generally our accessions day and it was always interesting to look at the new documents that had come in.
As well as regular tasks, I also pick up other bits and pieces like occasional cataloguing tasks. In my first year with Shropshire Archives, I was involved in a project with the Shropshire Family History Society to increase awareness of Poor Law records and catalogued a series of Poor Law documents in the Quarter Sessions. I also catalogued a collection of school records (Adams Grammar in Newport) as part of a postgraduate archives qualification.
Lockdown was unexpected for everyone last year and meant we all had to adapt to different ways of working. While it has been sad to see the archives closed to the public so much, there are some positives that have come out of it, as I’ve had the chance to try new things I probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. This has included running a remote volunteering project to index some early census returns for Shropshire (all are now up online and free to access through our website!). It has also been nice to see the team pull together and continue to provide a remote service for researchers while we’ve been closed.
The archives qualification
After my first 12 months with Shropshire Archives, I began studying for a Master’s degree with Aberystwyth University in Archive Administration. The course is a distance learning course, so has primarily been taught remotely, but I have also been to several study schools at different points in the course at the university itself.
It’s been really helpful studying while working in an archive, as I’ve been able to see a lot of the theory in a real-life context. As I’m now coming to the end of the course, I am now sadly also coming to the end of my time at Shropshire Archives and have got my first job as a qualified archivist with Stoke on Trent City Archives. While I am excited for the new challenge, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every moment of my time here and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone else interested in archives as a career. To anyone who may be interested in applying, my job has just been advertised on the Shropshire Council website: