Graduate intern Beth Hall updates us on what she’s been up to recently…
Hello! It’s Beth, back again with a long-awaited intern update. I’m glad to have the opportunity to sit myself down and reflect on these last few hectic and varied months. It’s been a busy year so far – just how I like it!
I’m now finished with all my placements – I’ll do a round-up of some of the smaller ones I did earlier this and last year. My time with the Governance Support Unit was great, they’re an interesting little team who largely deal with the University’s data and information management. They make sure data is kept secure by monitoring data breaches and assessing how staff handle and use data they receive. They also give people access to information through Freedom of Information requests. It was fascinating to see how they handle making information accessible while mitigating, where possible, the risks of sharing data.
I spent some time at the Bill Bryson Library which I’ve been eager to do. Admittedly, I was most excited to stamp some books and use the scanner to check books in and out which we don’t actually do with special collections very often, if at all, and it made me feel like my best librarian self. However, I also found the interaction with students on the front desk really engaging, it was great to help students with enquiries face-to-face. I liked the varied work-day, I did a little processing (stamping books and putting on dust-jackets and shelf marks), enquiry answering through LibAnswers, sending out postal loans and checking in books that have been returned.
Spending time cataloguing has really been the star of the show this year for me. My final placement was at 5, The College. This is another search room near Palace Green that enables access to the Cathedral’s collection that the University looks after. One of the tasks I was set during my time there was cataloguing some of the Specialia deeds. These are medieval legal documents concerning local properties in Durham and Northumberland. I began by cataloguing the physical documents themselves, taking out each item and giving measurements and details about the seal. I then began to add in the date if it was given, sometimes you can find this written (in Latin, I warn you) at the end of these types of documents. I found it easy enough to add this in once my eye was used to the handwriting!
Finally, in the last few days I began to catalogue the details of what the deed itself was saying. This put my Medieval Latin palaeography skills to the test and I was incredibly proud of myself for cobbling together the names of the parties, places and specifics of the land involved from the Latin. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the nuances of legal Medieval Latin language were a little beyond me but being able to read and understand these pieces of writing after some practice was so satisfying, and to be able to read from the medieval parchment right there in front of me was such an exciting opportunity.
But, dear reader, this was not the end of my cataloguing endeavours. I also started on some rare books cataloguing. I’ve dabbled in this in the past with the Canonesses’ collection and I got back into the swing of things by upgrading existing records for a section of the Bamburgh library collection. Upgrading records involves adding in things that are missing, such as the names of printers and publishers and double-checking those names in the record are properly formatted so that researchers searching for specific names or subjects can find them. I also reformatted some of the coding that was a little out-of-date for our current cataloguing standards.
After I got my eye back in to the cataloguing software and its language, I started creating some original records. These are for books that haven’t been officially put into our system yet, they won’t be discoverable until they have a record! Creating a new record for rare books is a lot of fun, especially considering most of the items I’ve been working on were collected because they were especially unusual. You have to do a bit of digging to make sure the edition that you have in front of you is the edition that you’re saying it is and that things like provenance information (former owners) is accurately inputted.
Finally, I’ll update you on some of this year’s extra-curricular activities! I did another digital ASC work experience session, talking about my experience at university and in this role as graduate intern, and how I got to where I am today. A great opportunity for self-reflection and a fun experience engaging with keen students answering questions about our jobs and the collections. I also returned for another Street Museum day! This time, I lead the delivery of my own session focusing on one of the items in our museum collection, a statue of an Ancient Egyptian queen. We made Ancient Egyptian crowns and did a quiz on some fun Cleopatra facts – a day that might seem out of the comfort zone of a literature student and librarian but honestly it was so much fun to show off our collections, and I definitely learned a thing or two myself that day!
Folks, it’s been a busy one. But I forever remain grateful to my colleagues here at Durham for sharing their skills and their time with me – it’s such an incredible place to learn, and as always, the things they let me do with these collections never ceases to amaze me! Until the next time, goodbye!