My brother is getting married this weekend, and along with revising my best man speech (gulp), I’m also anticipating a lot of relatives and newly minted in-laws asking the perennial question; what is it you do again?
As ever, I’ll smile and reply that I work as an archive assistant. They’ll nod, pause and then ask, but what do you do? And that’s where it gets tricky.
My main role is to welcome and explain to researchers the protocols of the reading room. I’ll show them the requisite places to sign and forms to fill, explain data protection as it relates to use of materials and go over the rules of using the reading room. I try to make them all feel welcome, so that they are not coming into an atmosphere where they feel discomfited or intimidated. All staff at GCU Archive Centre work to make this a friendly, welcoming environment.
But while this is my main day to day function there is always a myriad of activity going on. Imagine the reading room as the face of a clock. The staff are the weights and wheels that keep the hands ticking at the right time.
There is listing collections, scanning items, tweeting (#GCUArchives, look it up!), lifting boxes, making boxes, planning exhibitions, answering email enquiries…and on it continues. And that’s not even close to the amount of tasks that the rest of team deals with on a day to day basis.
I’m very aware of the privilege of the position I hold. To deal with the records, books and artefacts of institutions and individuals that have been entrusted to GCU Archive Centre – it’s not a responsibility to take lightly.
And if I did find myself becoming blasé about the items on the shelves, I will inevitably find a little gem, a small something that I’ve run my eyes over a thousand times.
And picking it up, its story will reveal itself, and I am awed anew.
I see that same look of wonder when researchers come into the reading room and see the wall decorated with images from our collections. Whether it’s Nelson Mandela addressing George Square, or defiant WWI conscientious objectors proclaiming socialism, people want to know the stories behind each one.
By the time you’re reading this, my brother will be a married man (congratulations Kevin and Emma!). I’ll have made my best man speech and I’ll have been asked again and again what I do. I can reply: I work in GCU Archive Centre. Proud to do so.
That’s my story.