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  • Work Experience Placement

Work Experience in the Archives

In September we welcomed Eddie Piron for a work experience placement at the British Jesuit Archives. Here is his reflection about the 5 days he spent with us.

In September this year I did a week of volunteering at the British Jesuit Archives. I had never done any archiving before so this was a great opportunity and I learnt a huge amount in a very short space of time. During my time here we covered cataloguing, indexing, handling delicate material such as photos stored in plate glass and (very) old books, palaeography, digitisation, and de-accessioning. I also learnt a lot about the lives, culture, and history of British Jesuits, which was very eye-opening. It was great to learn so much about how archives work and to work with such a wide variety of archival material, so overall I am very thankful for my time volunteering here.

Sepia photo showing a seated young man looking directly at camera wearing dark clothing and holding a hat on his lap
Fr Bernard Weatherhead SJ (1901-1982)

On the first day I started with an introduction to cataloguing. Throughout the week we were working on cataloguing the personal papers of Father Bernard Weatherhead SJ (1901-1982), whose records have now become open after 40 years since his death. Fr Weatherhead was born in Barbados and worked variously as a chaplain during the Second World War as well as in Lancashire later in life, in addition to parish work throughout his career, during which he was mostly based in Liverpool and Lancashire. He left behind an interesting and diverse array of papers, including letters from family and acquaintances, official correspondence from bishops and archbishops, and spiritual notes. By the end of my work experience myself and Mary had catalogued his whole collection of papers, and it was very rewarding to see the task through to the end.

Another task I worked on during the week was indexing part of a 1910-11 volume of Juvenilia, a journal containing poems, drawings, and articles on all manner of subjects, all written and created by Jesuits. This was a very interesting window into Jesuit thought and culture, and contained some surprisingly humorous entries (including a series of drawings in the December 1910 issue on the antics of Father Christmas when he is not on the job). Indexing and cataloguing gave me very valuable experience of how archivists create finding aids for archive users by assigning catalogued entries a unique reference number and listing other details such as title, date, the format of the document etc, while indexes may include notes on the subject matter of the item to assist researchers in finding relevant sources.

On Tuesday, Rebecca showed me how delicate negatives are stored in plate glass and repackaged in special boxes to preserve them. I got to repackage a set of plate glass negatives and catalogue them, including images of old Jesuit relics. This was an interesting look into how archivists take part in preservation, which I also witnessed when it came to storing Fr Weatherhead’s catalogued papers in acid-free archival paper to prevent them from degrading. I saw another example of how archivists deal with and handle delicate material when Lucy showed me some of the Archive’s antiquarian books, including some that dated back as far as the late 16th and early 17th centuries. I felt very fortunate to see and hold books that you might normally only see behind a glass case in a museum, especially as one of the books contained a segment of even older medieval parchment.

Another important part of archival work that I am glad I got to experience was digitisation. Rebecca showed me how the overhead book scanner and digitisation software worked, and after getting to grips with them I managed to digitise the obituaries of two Jesuits, Father Wilfred Banham SJ and Father Henry Mather SJ. As digitisation and digital preservation are increasingly important elements of archiving I am very grateful to have got some hands-on experience of how this is done.

Overall, as someone who was interested in potentially pursuing a career in archives, this week of volunteering convinced me that now I am definitely interested in becoming an archivist in the future. I learnt about and got to try out for myself a fantastic range of the tasks that archivists do, so I can definitely recommend work experience at the British Jesuit Archives to anyone curious about the world of archives or looking to get some solid work experience in the area. A big thank you to Mary, Lucy and Rebecca for giving me this opportunity, for all their time spent showing me what archivists do and for answering all my questions along the way.


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