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A day in the life of a cataloguing archivist

Our archivist working on the Poole Borough Archive sheds some light on her daily activities.

A dual role

I have two roles at Dorset History Centre - from Monday to Wednesday I am the Project Archivist responsible for sorting and cataloguing the Poole Borough Archive. This is quite a job as the collection includes over 1500 boxes worth of material created by Poole's governing bodies from 1248 to the present day. On Thursdays and Fridays, I take on a more general role. On these days I might do anything from taking in and recording new deposits of archive material, to adding some new content to our Twitter feed -  @DorsetArchives (opens in a new window)​, to helping out in the searchroom or family history room.

Working with volunteers

Every Monday, volunteers come into the History Centre to work on our collections. For the Poole project this work can include repackaging archive materials; describing photographs and putting them in specialist melanex sleeves for protection; and listing old title deeds, parliamentary election material, wills and court records. This volunteer assistance is particularly valued as it helps me to get through more of the collection and means that our catalogue descriptions are richer and more detailed than would otherwise be possible. I will always put some time into sorting and reordering material in advance, so that it is straightforward for the volunteers to work through.

On the day, I supervise, along with my colleague Luke, both my volunteers and those working on the Unlocking the Bankes Archive project. We are always on hand to provide help, advice and to read the odd bit of difficult old handwriting.

Cataloguing work

While the volunteers are hard at work, I continue cataloguing the Poole Borough Archive. The exact work depends on what stage I am at in the collection - in the early months I might have been cataloguing Poole's council minute books, rate books, 16th and 17th century town accounts, Tudor correspondence or legal case papers. More recently, my work has focused on sorting out and listing 20th century departmental files, maps and plans. These relate to everything from public health and rights of way to waste disposal and parks.

I use our cataloguing database, CALM, to describe each individual item, file of papers, plan or register. This involves providing enough information to identify what the item is, what dates it covers and what language it is written in, often along with key information such as names, places and events mentioned in the document. If I find any particularly fragile items, I may call on Jenny, our Conservator, for advice. If something is full of dense Latin, I seek help from our Collections Care archivist, Mark, to gain a better understanding of what the document is. Once a section of the collection is complete, I will 'publish' it to our online catalogue so that members of the public can identify items of interest to view in to our searchroom.

Sharing the highlights

Whilst I am working through the collection, I always keep an eye out for any interesting events, unusual anecdotes or even odd names which could be put on Twitter or form the basis of a web article. I try to write a short article for the Dorset History Centre website every month, to give an insight into sections of the Poole Borough Collection or notable events and time periods. A few of the articles written so far have focused on Poole's role during the Civil War, a fascinating double murder case from the late 16th century, convict transportation and the records of Poole's Admiralty Court.

A day at the Dorset History Centre is always full of variety and I look forward to the next surprises to be discovered and shared!

-Katherine, Archivist

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