I was invited in on a freezing day in January to discuss a work experience placement with Glamorgan Archives. Overly optimistically I had hoped for a placement later that month… placements were in much higher demand that I had imagined but I managed to secure two weeks in the summer 🙂
The placement would be a day in each department during the first week and I would be able to pick a project in the area I liked most during the second week. I was looking forward to anything research/genealogy related but not so much Conservation or Digitization.
Blue skies and sunglasses – Welsh summer and my first day had finally arrived! I was warmly greeted, registered and given an informative tour of the Archives. Then I was dropped off in the area I had been the least enthusiastic about… Conservation! [Allow me to qualify this, I believe conservation is massively important and I am so glad there are people that take the time to restore and care for documents (because I want to read them); however, I’m not cut out for it.] Upon arriving the Conservator looked at me as if Barbie had just walked in…. (she had a point) my white dress and nail varnish were soon replaced with gloves and a lab coat! I spent the morning learning about Conservation which was fascinating, and I was staring to doubt my earlier feelings. Although the rest of my day was spent scrubbing Shipping Records… with a dry sponge. This was really hard work and reconfirmed that I don’t like mess, dirt or manual work.
My second day was spent downstairs in the search room. In the morning I worked on the area I am most passionate about – Genealogy. I had the opportunity to deal with a request from somebody wanting to learn more about their family tree. It was amazing to have unlimited access to genealogy websites. Unfortunately the family had two very common welsh surnames so I wasn’t able to get too far back, but the information I did find was fascinating. In the afternoon I was given an insight into the Archives’ outreach programmes. It was great to learn about all of the things the Archive has been involved in.
My third day was spent inputting catalogue details from a book into Excel. This should have been really boring but it was quite relaxing; it was also lovely to be told that what I was doing was really useful by the Glamorgan Archivist. In the afternoon I got the chance to attend a talk by Women’s Archive Wales on the project Voices from the Factory Floor. Having no Welsh ancestors this gave me an insight into a piece of history I previously knew nothing about. I of course knew about Wales’ industrial past in terms of coal and slate – but to hear about the experience of Welsh ‘factory girls’ was brilliant.
My fourth day was another task I had been not overly excited about– Digitization. However, it quickly became my favourite day. I learnt how to use the fancy digital camera, the scanner and Photoshop. I was able to gain experience in photographing documents and working with glass plate negatives.
Friday was spent in Collections repacking documents before working on the Mayor of Cardiff’s visitors’ book and Cardiff Council photographs from the 1960’s.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to choose a project for my second week and most of it writing reference numbers on building plans. Although I was allowed one day off from this to help out in Digitization and this experience became my new favourite day. A gentleman had brought in a box of glass plate negatives, not in the best condition. You could not tell what the photograph was just by looking at the plate, and in some cases it was just as unclear when scanned. After ‘Photoshopping’ them all it became clear that they were Victorian family photos and most came out very well. The Archive was able to provide the gentleman with a copy of my work. It was not only really lovely to see all of these photographs but also to know that someone now had access to family photographs, rather than just a box of dusty glass. For me, this is what it is all about – helping people to access the past and their past.
Overall, I loved my experience with Glamorgan Archives. Every single member of staff was so friendly and welcoming and I am grateful for the opportunity.