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Work experience in the archives

Our recent work experience student, Ellie, shares her reflections on a week working in the county archives based at Dorset History Centre.

Discovering archives

I completed a week-long work experience placement at Dorset History Centre, discovering the archives and how they are managed. As this was the first time I had visited I didn't have a clear idea of what was stored and available for public use. Over the course of the week I had the chance to experience many different aspects of the service, including the production of documents, where I collected them from the repositories for people to look at in the search room.

To fully understand the role of the History Centre, I used material from the collections to research Thomas Hardy's family history. As well as this, I was shown how to handle documents with care and gained an understanding of the importance of their preservation. I enjoyed working with Jenny, the archive Conservator, when I was cleaning specific documents and then repairing them. I had no idea how crucial the upkeep of archival material is and that this could be done! It also showed me that paper is rather susceptible to standard staples after a few years, and that brass clips will definitely better preserve collections!

I also got to try my hand at cataloguing new accessions, which involved describing and labelling them to make them more accessible for public and legal use. I was surprised by the time that it takes to go through each box of material, especially considering that there are tens of thousands of boxes in the repositories! I was given the chance to try the reprographics aspect of the job as well, digitising documents I had selected for an upcoming social media campaign. This included items such as recipe books from the 1800s and a travel journal from William John Bankes.

An inspiring experience

My time at Dorset History Centre has inspired me to study history at university. The experience gave me an insight to opportunities available after my degree and showed me how useful the archives will be when writing my dissertation! It also helped me to develop my archival skills set and knowledge of work that goes on behind the scenes. Additionally I saw first-hand the work that goes into a Heritage Lottery funded project through my work with the Bankes Archive, whilst discovering the function of an archive as a whole.

Ellie, work experience student

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