Five minute interview with… our Deputy Archivist

I asked Becky a few questions about her role. Here’s what she had to say;

What does an archivist do? (in a nutshell!)

A whole range of things – and that is one of the great attractions about the job. It is essentially about the care and promotion of all types of items that are deemed of historical importance. So we are involved in acquiring new collections, cataloguing them, preserving them and then – the most important part – making sure they are used by people. Items that come under our care can include a wide range of material from mediaeval manuscripts (but not at the IOE) to datasets. One of the greatest challenges at the moment for archivists is ensuring that what is created today can still be accessed in years to come. We can still use the Doomsday book but the first emails have been lost forever.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The best part of the job is learning new things, whether that be about collections or new technologies. Many people have an image of an Archivist who comes in, buries themselves in dusty papers, and only emerges at the end of the day. That image is now so out of date! As a history student I don’t think I ever thought I would one day being considering issues such as digital preservation. It’s a massive learning curve, but also a fantastic opportunity to stretch yourself.  

What’s your least favourite part of the job?

Definitely taking bits of rusty metal out of paper! Coming across mould and dead spiders isn’t particularly enjoyable either!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found in an archive box?

Hmm… not weird but I’ve come across many a blank pads of paper, pens, pencils etc over the years. I always have a good stock of stationery on my desk. I’m lucky enough never to have come across the usual items in a Victorian family collection – like locks of hair, children’s finger nails…

What’s your favourite collection/item in the IOE archive and why?

That’s a really hard question. One of the things I like about the IOE’s collections is the biographical strength – and the networks between those individuals. For example I really like the videos in the Eileen Maloney collection. In 1969 she was the producer of a series ‘The Expanding Classroom’ looking at the progressive ideas that were being practiced in some schools. The schools included in the series include Eynsham run by George and Judith Baines. We also have their papers in the archive and having looked at the paper records of the school, including diaries of teachers, to then see them on the video just brings all their ideas to life.

Diary page from the Papers of George and Judith Baines. c1970

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