Experiencing Heritage

 

For the past two months I have been going to the Boots Archives in Beeston, Nottingham to complete an internship which has been very exciting and interesting.

I have been able to learn a lot of new things and try my hand at a range of activities that would normally require an excessive amount of qualifications.

I learnt about cataloguing artefacts within an archive environment and was able to help with part of the cataloguing process by documenting the record number for photographs and describing what could be seen in the image. I also had to take note of any useful annotations, dates and copyright markings and measure the photographs. The images mainly depicted store fronts from the 1960s and 1970s; I found studying them fascinating.

I also developed an understanding of the coding system which was used in Boots Archives which was useful for carrying out the cataloguing process. This helped me to gain experience in source-based research and primary source analysis. I already had some skills in this area from using primary sources in my degree but I was able to build on these skills as I was using different techniques to those I required in an academic setting. I had not expected these skills to be that useful in a workplace environment but, surprisingly, they were.

A large proportion of the cataloguing process that I was involved in used Excel. Despite having used Excel at school, and to manage my finances whilst at university, I was not wholly familiar with the software, especially as my degree only requires the use of Word and occasionally PowerPoint. However, the placement helped me to become more aware of the properties of Excel and I feel I will be able to use it with greater proficiency in the future.

I also learnt to use the scanning machine. I had rarely scanned anything before the placement so I was unfamiliar with the different settings on the machine. I thought that these settings were complex and it took some time to work out the differences between JPEG files and TIF files. The need to use different settings made sense and seemed to focus on ensuring copyright. I scanned a lot of photos for the digital archive store and now I feel much more confident in using different forms of technology.

Whilst I was at the archives there was an enquiry about a past staff member from a relative who wanted to know if Boots Archives had any information about them. This showed me that archives are not just about the past and conserving artefacts for museum exhibitions but can play an active role in modern society. The opportunity to help with the research to answer this request helped to make the archive come alive and emphasised the use, and benefit, of businesses storing their records. I was able to look at old staff and store magazines which, along with the process of cataloguing and scanning photographs, allowed me to learn about handling and storing archival material which was interesting.

Throughout my degree, I have been developing my time management skills which has enabled me to balance an academic, social and domestic life. I had to continue using these skills and improve them to successfully complete all my work as spending a whole day at the archives each week reduced the amount of time I could spend working on essays and preparing for seminars. I have also been improving my communication skills, both written and oral.

In the autumn semester I completed a different internship where I learnt how to interact with others in a professional environment. From working at Boots Archives I have been able to use these skills and develop them further. I now feel more willing to ask for assistance if I do not fully understand what I am meant to be doing or if a problem arises, such as the scanning machine malfunctioning. I can also adapt my writing style to a specific audience. The descriptions of photographs will eventually be read by members of the general public so I had to ensure that the presentation of information was suitable.

I have gained more knowledge about the heritage sector and the type of work heritage organisations carry out from the organised trips and working in a heritage environment. I think that there is more variety in the heritage sector, particularly archives, than I had expected and it is not as boring as I thought it would be. I enjoyed my placement at Boots Archives and found it very interesting but I do not think that I want to pursue a career in archival work. I would need a lot of qualifications to work in archives and I do not think I am committed enough to complete them although I am planning to do some more research into careers in other areas of the heritage sector.

This placement has shown me that I am capable of working in a diverse team environment where you have to work independently whilst contributing to a team effort. I had originally thought, since I am shy and introverted, that I would not fit into this sort of environment but I adapted well and did not find the responsibility or other people that terrifying. I think that this placement has encouraged me to look into a range of professions which I would not have previously considered as I feel more willing to explore the range of opportunities which are available in the wider world.

Most of the skills and information which I have learnt on this placement can be used in the future. My new and improved skills will allow me to adapt to different situations more easily and cope with a range of challenges. These skills will also equip me for greater success in my degree, especially my dissertation, and future placements, jobs and volunteering roles. I am glad that I took part in this placement and now feel more comfortable in a workplace setting.

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