On Thursday 9 June 2011, the Bodleian participated in international #AskArchivists Day. #AskArchivists allowed participants from all over the world to ask our archivists and curators questions about their role and our collections; the Bodleian was one of over 100 participating institutions from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.
Eleven of our archivists participated, and we answered questions on topics as varied as using our collections, preserving digital material, tips for aspiring archivists and favourite items from our archives. To view the questions and the response we gave, please visit our Twitter account (@bodleianlibs) or visit our #AskArchivists Q&A page. You can also search Twitter for the hashtag #AskArchivists to see the full range of information generated by the day's events.
Archives and the Bodleian
The Bodleian holds some of the world’s most important archives and manuscript collections, with items ranging from 3rd-century B.C. papyri to the papers of five British prime ministers to ‘born digital’ political posters. Strengths include medieval manuscripts, 17th-century literary and historical collections, antiquarian and topographical manuscripts, modern literary and political papers, Asian and North African manuscripts and ephemera.
The Bodleian’s archives contain original material that drives research in the University and elsewhere. The archives are constantly expanding – for example, recently acquired material includes the papers of Alan Bennett and John le Carré – and the Libraries work to make them available to our readers by cataloguing, digitising and preserving them. This means not only working with the latest preservation and imaging methods, but also finding new ways to present material online, making text and images searchable as never before - for instance, by presenting manuscript collections as part of online exhibitions, as in the recent Shelley's Ghost exhibition, or undertaking research to understand and implement electronic archives, as the futureArch project does.
If you're interested in finding out more about our archives, please visit the Libraries' Special Collections pages.
We have compiled our Twitter answers to #AskArchivists Day questions here; you can find further #AskArchivists Day questions and responses by searching Twitter for the hashtag#AskArchivists.
Q: We're a music archive and we're curious: Which of all archives participating in #AskArchivists Day have music in their collections?
A: We do, although our music curator is unavailable today. See our music pages for a bit of basic info.
Q: To all #archives - What are your main reasons for #digitisation? #Genealogy? Preservation?
A: Lots - preservation and expanding access 2 big ones. See our digital collections pages for some examples.
Q: What's your favourite item in your archive?
A: The OU archivist says his favourite item is 1636 Uni statutes issued by Archbishop Laud.
Q: What's the most underused UK resource for research into everyday life in the Middle Ages?
A: Local land documents in county archives, for brave readers with high boredom thresholds?
Q: What's the biggest influence that your archive has had on public life?
A: We work hard to acquire, preserve & share archives of international value - from political to personal!
A: Our Conservative Party Archive helps promote democracy & encourage political accountability
Q: Is there a book or blog to explain how to use archives? E.g. when I don't know what box to order bec. I only know the topic.
Q: It's #AskArchivists day (involving our very own @bodleianlibs) - any tips from those in the field for aspiring archivists?
A: Get experience! Volunteering is great and helps you know if it's a career for you
A: From a modern papers archivist: Do research on job/institution. Be enthusiastic & positive!
A: From our CPA archivist: Read NRA email list for topical issues & to show awareness
Q: Are you doing any digitalisation of old books/diaries? If so, how extensive and how will it be accessible?
Q: What do you find is your biggest challenge as a modern-day archivist?
A: We have many, but one is what to do with digital formats (& analog!) Projects like @beamtweet are exploring!
Q: Entice me... I'm looking into privies of London, c10th-c15th (not literally looking into, of course). What might you have?
A: That's tough! Working on it - will update. For now, The Royal Palaces of Tudor Englandhas info on high status royal privies
Alas no privy but prison, still enticing we hope: an image of The Clink, 1580, by Stephan Batman
Q: Is the Gehenna Press archive catalogued? We have some lovely Leonard Baskin/Ted Hughes items here at Exeter
A: We're working on Gehenna material, hoping to finish later this year. We do have a fewimages of the archive's arrival
Q: Digital storage media suggestions for easier future migration?
A: Tough question. If you're sensible w storage and refresh often, files generally OK but ... Format is a bigger issue. Have a look at 'Sustainability of Digital Formats' from@librarycongress for some info.
Q: What are the Bod's plans for digitizing its catalogues of Western manuscripts?
A: We add new collection catalogues regularly (see Special Collections pages); others are goals but depend on time/funding
Q: Given space and logistics, I suppose you can't take on every archive you get offered. How do you decide which to preserve?
A: We have priorities/collection policy, but hard to say no to something good - often depends on how it fits with what we already have
Q: What is the best part of being an archivist?
A: Uncovering little bits of history no one knew (or remembered) existed!