Our intern, Imogen, talks about her experience of working at Special Collections so far.
I have been working at Special Collections for two months now. My internship has been allocated a very specific amount of time, 420 hours, which already seem to be flying by.
So far I have been delighted with my experience at Special Collections. It is indisputably the best job I’ve had. All the staff I have met are friendly and supportive. The project I am working on is varied and interesting. And of course, Special Collections itself is a truly exciting place, teeming with stories, treasures and research opportunities.
My role is ‘Collection Enhancement Assistant’ and the project I am working on is called ‘Wikipedian in Residence’. One aspect of this internship involves me improving Special Collections’ representation on Wikipedia. This is something I have begun to get to grips with. I will blog again in a few months to explain in more detail the work I am doing with Wikipedia and how it is helpful to Special Collections.
My other main responsibility is to research and write biographies about people who have created or feature in Special Collections’ archives. As an English literature student, this task really appeals to my love for stories and character. I am currently working on writing biographies for a group of people involved with the English Stage Company, an organisation based at the Royal Court Theatre. As you might expect, this is a dramatic and colourful bunch, and I have really enjoyed delving into their history. Most notably, the English Stage Company resisted, and helped to end, theatre censorship in the UK in the 1960s. The playwright, Edward Bond, and director, William Gaskill, were particularly involved.
Louise, an archivist, and Michael, a volunteer, have given me guidance on how to research and find sources for biographies. Typically this includes checking birth, death and marriage records, alumni lists and obituaries, so it constitutes a kind of detective work. I’ve been encouraged to thoroughly evaluate the reliability of my sources. This is very important; I have already come across a surprising number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in dates in the lives of the people I’m researching.
My favourite part of working in Special Collections is finding out about the technical aspects of Special Collections’ work. Eugenie, a conservation officer, explained to me the importance of using acid free boxes in archiving. This is to combat the naturally occurring acidity of paper and slow down its degradation. Michael is looking at the Incunabula Collection which involves deciphering hand writing more than 500 years old. When a tricky example had him stumped I had a go at interpreting the letters. These are the kind of issues that arise with very old books, which staff and researchers confront and I had never considered before.
Over the next few months I am going to help out during a trial gallery installation, make an activity for a University wide event, and even write my own Wikipedia article. There’s lots to look forward to.