Graduate intern update: Beth

Graduate intern Beth Hall updates us on what she’s been up to in the last month or so…

It’s been nearly three months since I started here at Palace Green Library in Durham, and time has definitely flown! My mornings are spent helping out in the search room to make sure our readers and collections are well looked after. It’s still quiet in Palace Green while restrictions are still in place and students are enjoying their summers, but there’s still been a steady stream of reprographics requests and enquiries to take care of to ensure researchers still have access to our collections remotely. I haven’t seen this building in its fully populated state, so I’m intrigued to see what it’ll be like in here once the students are in!

Outside of assisting in the search room, I’ve been spending a couple of days with the learning team. I spoke to some students interested in Higher Education and perhaps a career in Archives and Special Collections (ASC) for their work experience week, and helped out with a virtual classroom session. The Learning Team do an incredible job at making our collections interesting and relevant to young people – which has totally changed my idea of who can use our collections (also, their ability to grapple technology to involve schools remotely continues to amaze me!)

Archive boxes from the Sudan Archive

An amazing thing about this experience so far is how closely I’ve been working with the items in our collection. My month in archives was a real whistle-stop tour of the stages of archiving a collection, and it strikes me as a career that is hugely satisfying. Yes, in the way that taking a huge box of papers and neatly arranging them into uniform, labelled boxes is mega-satisfying – but also feeling like you’re doing something genuinely useful and positive by arranging, storing and cataloguing an accession to keep those materials safe and usable for a long time to come.

A very elaborate ‘Harleian’ binding, SA 0151

More recently I’ve been working on upgrading the catalogue entries of a rare books collection, to give me some experience in what it’s like to be a rare books librarian. This has been really interesting to me, especially coming from a literature background, as I’m so used to looking at a book for its literary merit versus as an object in itself. Rare books cataloguing really reinforces the notion that every item in front of you is unique, just like with archives. Older books are different to contemporary published works where you can expect every edition from a print run to look identical. Texts were bound separately and over time were annotated and battered and repaired – leading to massive differences between each book. I love this most about the Canonesses collection I’ve been working on – they aren’t pristine – they have little inscriptions and some even have parts of the pages where illustrations were that have been torn out, that one of the sisters might have cherished and kept with her.

An Inscription

My experience cataloguing our Special Collections has taught me that forward thinking is vital. You need to guess future research interests and questions to make useful catalogue entries, and to make sure you’re preserving the right things. It’s all about keeping the collections usable for the next generation. Speaking of keeping our collections safe for the future – next month I’m due to spend some time with our Conservation department. I’ll also be seeing a whole other side to Palace Green with Visitor Services. Stay tuned for an update on my time there!

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