I’m two weeks into my Transforming Archives Traineeship at Archives+ and I’ve learnt so much already.  I’ve always had an interest in heritage, culture and the arts and many years ago I studied Library and Information Studies, here in Manchester, and I had a little dream of one day working in the magnificent Central Library.  In recent years I have worked as a freelance photographer and a photography tutor, before that I worked in travel.  When Central Library reopened in March 2014 after a complete refurbishment I really wanted to get involved so I volunteered my skills as a photographer for Archives+ and as a result photographed at many of their events, created images for their website and also produced a photographic treasure trail of the library.

A year later when I saw the advert for the Transforming Archives Trainee it felt like an amazing opportunity to get much more involved and learn lots of new skills.  I was thrilled to be the successful candidate and I’m really excited to be on this new career path which brings so many of my interests together.  I’m looking forward to a year exploring fascinating historical materials and making them accessible to all, either online or through the permanent interactive exhibition space we have here on the ground floor.

Digitising with BookEye scanner
Here I am on the BookEye scanner

The particular specialisms of my traineeship are digitisation and outreach & engagement.  In the last fortnight I have had an overview of each area within Archives+ and I have started to use the catalogues and retrieval processes to order material from the strong rooms (the basement where the archives are kept on an impressive 20km of shelving!). For my first blog I thought I would share a little of what happens behind the scenes and some of the work I will be involved with.

Anyone can search the archives catalogue online at GM Lives and then order up material to view in the Search Room.  Every day at midday the strong room team work through the orders that have come in over the previous 24 hours, locate each item and then take them all to the Search Room ready for viewing the following day.  A triplicate record of issue is created – one stays with the item, one stays on the shelf and the third is kept as a record that the item is currently in use.

Archive retrieval from the strong room
Archive retrieval from the strong room

My work includes digitisation of archived materials which covers a wide range of items such as records, pictures, photographs and maps. There are a few different methods used here which includes photographing items with a digital SLR camera, using an Bookeye4 scanner or, in the case of film, using a negative scanner.

Ordsall Hall
Ordsall Hall bound archives and order slip

This week I have digitised part of Charles Halle’s archives, old records of Ordsall Hall and some beautiful pictures of venomous snakes and Hindu paintings. These will be used by the RNCM, the BBC, our events team and for a range of Archive+ online engagement.


Digitising negatives in Archives+
Scanning negatives from the DPA collection.


As photography is a particular interest of mine I have especially enjoyed learning about the Documentary Photography Archive (DPA) project carried out by Manchester Polytechnic in the 1980s (which is coincidentally when I was studying there). This collection includes over 100,000 images of Greater Manchester’s people and places dating back to 1840. The project had two aspects to it: firstly to gather old photographs, including from the public’s own family albums, and secondly to commission new images which were created by photographers between the mid 1980s and the 1990s. Every image was painstakingly catalogued with dates, descriptions and contact details of the source or donor.

So that’s just a little of what I have learnt in the last couple of weeks. In two weeks time I’m travelling down to Kew to spend a week training at The National Archives with the twelve other Transforming Archives Trainees from around the country. So there will be lots of new insights to be had and I’ll be back to share some of them with you very soon.