Life during lockdown

Time to think
For many archivists and support staff in this position it is a welcome opportunity to get on with those tasks that they never find the time for because they’re answering enquiries, getting documents out, giving talks, sorting out records and cataloguing them, creating exhibitions, writing articles and doing countless other things.

For someone like me who is a part-time archivist at two organisations, time is even more precious.

So I’m making the most of not having many distractions and I am getting on with those time-consuming jobs that are essential to keep the service running as smoothly as possible.

I’ve also worked from home frequently in previous jobs so some of the adjustments many of us have had to make haven’t been too difficult.

The positives
There is no commuting to work – apart from the bedroom or bathroom (via the kitchen) to the office, desk, or ironing board that is your designated WFH space.

The negatives
You miss your colleagues. You may have thought that archivists are happiest when they are on their own and in a basement with their lovely boxes. This is partially true but only because of the nature of the job. It is no longer a profession for being permanently shy and retiring, it is about engaging with people so they are made aware of the archives and the information they hold.

At least we can keep in touch in different ways via video conferencing to either discuss work or recreate coffee breaks for a chat.

So what am I doing?
I’ve been lucky as I am able via IT and software to access files, documents, emails, web pages, and other resources. I can also use the content management system (epexio) which is used at both my jobs, as it is browser based and enables the online catalogue and other features such as accessions and indexing to be updated.

This has meant I’ve continued social media outreach work, for example I was tweeting daily in the April 2020 #Archives30 campaign. I’m also proof-reading and editing draft lists and data to turn them into online catalogues. My main task in this area is to wrestle with spreadsheets to turn them into descriptions to go online.

Other jobs include updating policies, procedures, and guidelines; plus raising the profile of the archives internally and externally.

I am getting some help with this from my home assistant Merlin the cat, although I have to say she is frequently asleep on the job. But she does wake up occasionally to check the layout of my workstation and ensures that the laptop or desktop monitor and keyboard are working properly. She hasn’t joined in during any online meetings yet, but it’s only a matter of time.


The past catches up with you
I was recently on ‘leave’ from one of my jobs and was HFH (holidaying from home). While looking for something I came across a photo taken in the mid-1990s when I was working for Unilever Archives (see below).


It was for a staff magazine and was highlighting material from food companies such as Brooke Bond and Van den Bergh Foods. The items on show include advertising, window displays, packaging, a doll and a small racing driver uniform. It was small because it was worn by a chimp for one of the PG Tips TV adverts shown from the mid-1950s to the early 2000s. A van load of chimp costumes used in the ads turned up at the archives one day and unsurprisingly they smelt of damp chimp, so we did our best to dry them out.

Another HFH task was to dig out some old notes about my house and this worryingly led to further research and expanded into looking at the history of the road the house is in. This is something many archivists try to avoid for personal interest as they do plenty of this sort of thing while at work. I’ve always avoided my family tree as my father was one of 11 children and my mother was one of seven sisters, but luckily my cousin (who is a librarian) took the bullet for that one.

But there was a purpose to this research as it will act as a case study for use in outreach material and putting together teaching and learning packs for local history and using archival resources.