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A day in the life of an archivist

Find out what our Archive Collections Manager gets up to on a 'typical' day.

As the Collections Manager at the Dorset History Centre I have many different jobs which mean that I never have a 'typical' day. Most of my duties revolve around taking in new documents, listing them and making them accessible in our searchrooms.

Processing new collections

New collections of paper and parchment documents arrive in the Dorset History Centre almost every day. We call each new set of documents that comes to us an accession. First, I check that the collection is suitable for the archive, rather than a museum or library. I make sure new collections are not going to bring in any moulds or pests which will contaminate the documents that we already hold. Then I make a summary accession list of the contents so we can locate them in the strongrooms.

During the initial phase of listing I may refer fragile items to Jenny, our Conservator, or items that are likely to be in high demand or of particular interest to Jo, our reprographics expert, who will make digital copies. Accessions containing digital records are passed to Cassandra, our Digital Archivist.

Making collection information accessible

In the initial accessioning the documents will have been divided into three groups which determines who deals with them next:

  • Highly sensitive records such as coroner's files and magistrates' court registers - I shall list these myself

  • Documents that may have continuing legal or official uses, such as district and county council or school records - these will be listed by the staff in the searchrooms

  • Private accessions such as title deeds, diaries and theatre programmes - these are listed by volunteers who come in on a Monday and Wednesday

Listing the collections involves recording enough information about the documents to allow us to find them again, and for the public to identify useful items.

When processing the collections there are a number of different areas to be considered: the Data Protection Act applies to many of our official records, others may be under copyright, some may be duplicates of documents held elsewhere while older manuscripts such as court rolls and wills may be written in Latin. Above all I assess documents for their long term historical value: how much use will they be to a researcher in a hundred years time?

All in a day's work!

When I am not processing new material I also maintain the library, ordering new stock and ascribing class numbers to the books. I offer support to fellow archivists working on externally funded cataloguing projects, such as the Poole Borough Archive and Unlocking the Bankes Archive projects.  We are always keen to share our collections more widely and I give talks about our collections as well as writing pieces for newsletters and magazines. I advise researchers on the material that they are likely to find useful for their projects; and liaise with depositors about the archives we collect and preserve.

Mark, Collections Manager

  1. Processing new accessions
  1. Processing new accessions
  2. Repository tour
  3. Adding descriptions to the catalogue


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