Training and the Archives Hub.

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a training session for postgraduate students from the English department at the University of Salford. This had been organised with Ian Johnston, University Archivist at Salford, and Professor Sharon Ruston from ESPaCH. (School of English, Sociology, Politics & Contemporary History)

Training Room

Sharon kicked off the session by explaining what archives mean to her career and how she had actually made her name and written a book on the strength of some new evidence that she uncovered about Shelley and his desire to be a doctor: Shelley and Vitality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), which explored the medical and scientific contexts which inform Shelley’s concept of vitality in his major poetry.

She went on to detail some of her new research on Humphry Davy (examining poetry & science) and explained that although it can often be a lot of effort to look for archives, it can pay dividends if you put the time and energy into searching.

Ian then took the floor and showed the students some of the hidden gems from the University’s archives. He also brought some items with him – a letter from Edith Sitwell, papers from the Duke of Bridgewater archive etc. He also showed some photos of Salford University in the 1970s. We were all fairly amazed by the picture of the paternoster lift, which is a lift that doesn’t stop. Literally you have to jump on as it’s going past. Talk about students living dangerously!

Ian explained why Salford University contributed to the Hub: the benefits of profile in being part of a national cross-searching service leading to more researchers benefitting from the Salford University Archives Collections.

I then did a demonstration of some different websites where you can search for archives online and went on to show how the Archives Hub, Copac and Zetoc work and the different types of information that you can find in each.

Prior to the session, Ian and Sharon had asked the students for their research areas and I used these as my examples. I find if students cannot easily see how and why something is relevant to them, then they switch off. It’s important to tailor your examples to your audience, whatever level they are studying at.

We then got the students to have a go themselves as we walked around the room and gave more individual help. This worked really well as each student got at least 5 or 10 mins of one-to-one help on searching for their particular subject area.

We were all really pleased with how the session went. I could actually see the students sit up and take notice when Sharon was talking about making her name from finding new knowledge. It underlined how primary source material can lead to students incorporating unique perspectives to their research. I feel that this was key to the success of the session. The students were able to see how important archives had been to someone who they respected and knew was an expert in her field.

Ian showed them actual papers and letters from the archive and this allowed them to see concrete examples of what we were talking about, as opposed to thinking about archive materials in an abstract and ‘virtual’ way by just looking at online finding aids.

Sharon and Ian did a great job of explaining the benefits of using archives, I just told them how to find stuff… It was great to see how engaged the students were with what we were explaining to them. So much so I’ve been asked back for a repeat performance. (With the academics!)

Voices for the Library

Voices for the Library is a place for anyone who loves and values libraries to share their experiences and stories about what libraries mean to them.  Also known as VftL, or simply ‘Voices’, the campaign was set up in September 2010 by a group of information professionals who were concerned about the negative and inaccurate coverage of libraries in the media.

The group felt that public libraries were being misrepresented in the media, for instance by their insistence on using footfall as the only measure of library use, ignoring all online services and interactions.  Voices started out as a way to combat this, to provide accurate information, and to share stories of what libraries mean to people.   Much of our content comes from library users, who want to share their stories about how libraries have affected their lives.

And of, course, there are stories from librarians as well.  Some are examples of the kind of work they do, to show the range and depth of what trained library staff do, and to illustrate that it’s not all stamping books and shushing!  And some are more theoretical debates, about the philosophy of public libraries.

Recently, we’ve started to look into the impact these closure might have on archives and special collections.  This was prompted by a blog post from Alison Cullingford, and campaigners are starting to look at what might happen to archive services in their region, as VftL member Lauren has done for Doncaster.

As more closures and cutbacks are threatened, the VftL team have been working overtime.  We’re all volunteers, and do Voices work on top of our day jobs, other professional involvement, continuing education – oh, and real lives!  We’re also scattered across the country, from Brighton to Harrogate, and all points between.  This means that the entire campaign so far has been co-ordinated virtually, using email and various other social media tools.  Most of the team had never even met each other.

Until Wednesday 26 Jan, that is!  Thanks to sponsorship from Credo Reference we were able to get most of the team down to London for a proper face-to-face board meeting, which I chaired.  I’ve never chaired a real meeting before, and I have to thank the Voices team for making it incredibly easy!  We only ran an hour over time, and managed to discuss and make decisions on several key points.   I think it definitely ranks as the best all-day meeting I’ve ever attended.

One of the things that hasn’t changed is that we’re always on the lookout for stories about the value of public library services, and why they are so important to people.  If you’d like to share your story, or tell us more about what’s going on in your area, you can contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk.