Connecting with Patrick Geddes and friends: the intern experience

Phew!  That was a fast 8 weeks! As our archive cataloguing project intern, Sorina Mihai, nears the end of her internship, we invited her to share the highs and lows of her experience.  Tasked with creating 640 new catalogue descriptions, cataloguing a discreet series of correspondence, creating social media content, presenting her work to peers (among other things) – Sorina certainly had her work cut out for her. Has working with Patrick Geddes and his archive collections changed her forever?  Let’s find out…  

Selection of correspondence from the Patrick Geddes papers (Ref:T-GED12/3)

It has been an exciting eight weeks which gave me tremendous satisfaction from the variety of tasks I was involved in, from handling 19th and 20th century correspondence to having access to the beautiful Patrick Geddes Collections. The internship enabled me to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the archives profession, and allowed me to think more broadly about archives cataloguing and its importance.  On a personal level, I have developed my organisational skills and gained more self-confidence. I can see how my work facilitates access and discovery to archive collections, enhancing the capacity of researchers to browse catalogue descriptions online to discover new correspondents and connections. My experience has helped me to understand that an archivist’s role is not just about preserving collections, but also about conserving, promoting and making information accessible to existing and new audiences. Archives not only provide evidence of activities and their context, they also increase our knowledge and understanding of individuals, history, ideas, theories and cultures. This was an immense opportunity to gather knowledge and experience to support my future career as an archive and information professional.

I have enjoyed cataloguing a series of correspondence which relates to Patrick Geddes’ educational projects and spans some 45 years, 1886-1931 (Ref: T-GED12/3). It reveals many of Geddes’ social and educational enterprises, such as providing comfortable and affordable lodging for students, making education more accessible for the working classes through the University Extension Scheme, and using historical theatrical performances to educate audiences through ‘Masques of Learning’. Other correspondence within this series discusses outdoor nature study, adult and teacher training, Summer Meetings and university work in Calcutta, India. Multiple locations are covered, from Scotland, England, India, and France, to the U.S.A. and Israel. The financial strains of the Town and Gown Association and Geddes’ University Student Halls in Edinburgh and London are also documented. In this series of letters, Geddes’ correspondents are mainly teachers, educators, social reformers, scientists, and academics. Discovering fascinating personalities such as Robert Smith (1874-1900), botanist; Jessie Mabel Dearmer (1872-1915), novelist, dramatist, children’s book author and illustrator; Helen Walton (1859-1945), artist; Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), art historian; and Maurice Paterson (1836-1917), educationist (to name only a few) was such a pleasure.

This series of correspondence also reflects Geddes’ deep interest in educational reform as well as his capacity to work on many projects at the same time. His London ‘Masque of Learning’ in 1913 was so successful, that after the original representations to the general public, it was extended for the benefit of schools and historians taking part in an International Historical Congress. Afterwards, Geddes made tentative preparations for staging ‘The Masque of Learning’ at the International Exhibition in Ghent later that year, while at the same time planning his own contribution to the exhibition.

Marie Bonnet, first on the left, with Edith Hilliard, Norah, Arthur and Alasdair Geddes (Ref: T-GED 22/3/15/2)

Part of my internship required me to create two comprehensive name authorities which document individuals and their relationships with other people within the collection, in accordance with recognised international professional archival standards. Historically, women have often been underrepresented in archive catalogues.  There is a vast network of female correspondents and collaborators to be found within the Patrick Geddes archive collections and drawing out the identities, stories and contributions of these women was an area which I was keen to contribute to.  With the support of project archivist Elaine, I elected to create a name authority description for Anna Geddes (1857-1917), music teacher and Patrick Geddes’ wife and constant collaborator, and the other for Marie Bonnet (1874-1960), a social reformer and close family friend who belonged to the Montpellier Geddes circle. The research process presented its own challenges, because of limited biographical resources, inconsistent dates in Marie Bonnet’s case, and fragmented information on Anna Geddes which focused mainly on her domestic life.  This required investing more time and effort in the research process, which made me reflect on my time management practices and the need to factor in buffer time to deal with unexpected challenges.

Undertaking research in order to create name authorities has enabled me to discover and use biographical online resources, as well as relevant biographies on the life and time of Patrick Geddes. It has widened my background knowledge on Patrick Geddes’ interests and network of correspondents, as well as the culture and social movements of the second half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. This has helped me better understand, interpret and contextualise the correspondence and articulate this clearly in the catalogue descriptions.

Sorina Mihai, archive cataloguing intern, presenting her work to professional peers.

Sorina Mihai, archive cataloguing intern, presenting her work to professional peers.

The internship allowed me to hone my social media and presentation skills. As my experience in these fields was previously limited, this was an important development area for me and I feel I have benefited enormously from the experience. Tweeting collection highlights, participating in Twitter campaigns on ‘International Archives Day’ and ‘What’s in the Archive Box’, allowed me to understand how social media can be used as an outreach tool for collection promotion and discovery. Using photograph collages and Movie Maker apps to create visual content which reflected the collection, allowed me to experiment with new and innovative engagement tools.  Being active on social media also made me aware of the complex challenges presented by copyright legislation and compliance. I gained more knowledge surrounding the copyright of visual materials in particular, which complemented my training from the ‘Information Law’ module of my Information and Library Studies MSc.

Sorina selected a range of items for display, such as correspondence, leaflets, books and photographs from the T-GED Collection, University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections.

Delivering presentations about my work within the project has given me more confidence in myself and my capacity to speak in front of an audience. It was a good opportunity to develop the capacity to plan, structure, curate and exhibit materials needed for my presentation. My previous experience in helping project archivist Elaine deliver a presentation at the beginning of the internship was very useful in terms of time-planning, structuring, selecting and presenting items from the collections in a coherent and comprehensive manner. It also made me realise that the way we articulate and share information about what we do can influence the audience’s perception of the collection, communicate its importance and gather wider support from people in the community, professionals, and funding organisations.

The process of writing about my internship was a great way to reflect on my experience and consolidate my learning, as well as thinking through how I may apply that to my professional development. Additionally, blog posts are a useful outreach tool which allow people to find out more about the project and its goals, by providing new information about the collection, the work undertaken and present progress. Like presentations, they are useful advocacy tools for increasing visibility and demonstrating the value of archival work and collections.

What I’ve enjoyed most about the internship was the variety it offered, the opportunities to develop and enhance skills across a broad range of activities that reflect current and future practice within the archives field. I am grateful for the opportunity to have covered cataloguing, professional international archival standards, and legislation that impacts on archives. Audience engagement and development, advocacy, reflective writing, research skills, and having contact with so many professionals in the field in such a short time has also been immensely beneficial. I now feel more confident in using international archival standards, giving presentations, managing my time and multitasking. The tasks assigned were realistic and could be completed within the 8 week time-frame.

I also feel deeply grateful and fortunate to have worked with a team of such dedicated, talented and amazing professionals, who gave me constant support and shared so much of their knowledge and passion for their work as archivists. I wish to thank project archivist Elaine most of all for her constant support, encouragement, guidance and for making the internship so interesting and rewarding. I wish to thank the teams at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh and the Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections for making the internship such a wonderful experience, it was a pleasure working with you all!

An intern’s first impressions

Archive cataloguing project intern, Sorina Mihai, relays her first impressions from her busy first two weeks with our ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment and Equilibrium’ project.  With a jam-packed schedule, and jumping right in at the deep-end of core archive work, Sorina is already making a significant and valuable contribution to our project.  Read more about her initial experience and learning in this thoughtful and considered blog post.

Selection of correspondence from the Patrick Geddes papers (Ref:T-GED12/3)

Selection of correspondence from the Patrick Geddes papers (Ref:T-GED12/3)

I was very excited to start my archives cataloguing internship with the ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’ project two weeks ago. I am delighted to be part of a collaborative project between the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde which is instrumental in reuniting, preserving and cataloguing the two collections of papers of Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes. My eight-week internship is based predominantly at the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde. I will be creating new catalogue descriptions for a discreet series of records within the collection, which pertains to the correspondence related to Patrick Geddes’ educational projects. My contribution will help to enhance the discoverability and usability of the Geddes collection.

I am looking forward to familiarising myself further with professional archive standards and becoming more confident in using them in my daily work. My previous experience as a volunteer with the ‘Evergreen’ project helped me to get acquainted with these standards and professional practices. I feel I am going to benefit considerably through having to use them continuously over a sustained period of time during my internship.

Archive cataloguing project intern work-station at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

Archive cataloguing project intern work-station at the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

One of my main objectives is to become aware of and understand the challenges related to archive cataloguing and ways of facilitating access to archive collections. At the beginning of my internship I had the chance to meet with and speak to a range of information and curatorial professionals from both universities.  At the University of Edinburgh, I had conversations with Joe Marshall (Head of Special Collections and the Centre for Research Collections), Grant Buttars (Archivist: University Archives and Technical Systems), Louise Williams (Lothian Health Services Archive), Jenny Duffy (Project Archivist), Lorraine McLoughlin (Appraisal Archivist), Fin West (Rare Books), and Emily Hick (Conservation). At the University of Strathclyde I met with Victoria Peters (Head Archivist), Rachael Jones (Assistant Archivist) and Carol Stewart (Special Collections Library Assistant). I also had the opportunity to shadow staff in the archive reading rooms at both institutions.  These conversations have allowed me to broaden and deepen my general understanding of the professional field, and I have been able to see how various departments can work together. For example, Lorraine’s new system of appraisal not only helps save precious storage space, but it also greatly facilitates and helps colleagues from other departments keep track of how much stock they have and how much space they still have for new acquisitions. Grant’s efforts for securing funding are paramount for cataloguing, conservation or digitisation projects in order to make valuable collections available to the public both online and on site.

I am particularly interested in developing skills related to collections promotion and advocacy which are areas I have not yet explored. I strongly believe in the value of the Patrick Geddes collections and their importance to national and international cultural heritage. The collections cover most of Geddes’s life, nearly all the places where he lived and worked, and are a testimony of his many fields of activity, such as sociology, education, urban planning, and nature conservation. They also reunite a vast collection of correspondence in various languages from notable scientists, academics, sociologists, artists and writers from across the world.  They are an invaluable record of Geddes’ global thinking and many interests, the fervent exchange of ideas across borders and joint efforts for improving education, urban planning and the wellbeing of citizens…just to name a few.

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

Project intern, Sorina Mihai, helping to promote the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

I realise the ever-increasing importance of promoting collections to patrons and justifying the value of archival services to stakeholders. Archives offer communities the opportunity to learn, explore, interact and can inspire people to become more active in their communities. This is why I would like to develop the ability to engage with different audiences, develop and improve my presentation skills, such as presentation structure and delivery, and body language.

On a personal level, I hope to enhance my decision-making and time management skills, particularly in relation to how to prioritise competing agendas, and successful multi-tasking. I am also looking to gain networking skills which are so valuable in creating and sustaining connections with fellow professionals, enabling innovative and engaging collaborations, projects or initiatives. I would also like to further develop core skills such as work-planning, analysis, interpretation and research.

I feel very fortunate to be working within such an experienced and supportive team.  Across the project team and supporting staff I have access to a vast bank of knowledge and professionalism, and their dedication is extremely inspiring and motivating.  I very much appreciate the opportunity to learn in such a supportive and knowledgeable environment.

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

Promoting the Patrick Geddes collections to University of Strathclyde library staff

I have already started on cataloguing, have helped to deliver a training session which was designed to raise awareness of the project, collections and research activity around Patrick Geddes, and learned about reading room procedures at both universities. Helping to deliver the training session, I came to realise that a lot more time and work goes into delivering a presentation than I had anticipated. A lot of thought and work went into designing the content of the presentation for a particular audience and also in selecting the most relevant items to have on display in the reading room.  The items had to complement the presentation and be arranged thematically in such a way as to encourage and facilitate curiosity and discovery. This experience also made me realise that the process of physically selecting, retrieving and returning documents for my section of the presentation took a good few hours to complete.

The ‘Evergreen’ internship is a tremendous opportunity for me to start transitioning from libraries to archives, a profession I have developed a great enthusiasm and passion for. I am applying for a postgraduate course in Archives and Records Management this year and this experience will help me to develop a solid practical foundation on which I can build the theoretical knowledge delivered by the postgraduate course. I hope this practical experience, complemented by my academic training in Information and Library Studies and the future study of Archives and Record Management will provide a strong grounding for my future career as an archivist.

Meanwhile, I greatly enjoy discovering the vast network of correspondents that Patrick Geddes was in touch with. I was very pleased to come across correspondence from French Nabis painter Paul Sérusier, Scottish physician and academic Diarmid Nöel Paton, French Prime Minister Georges Benjamin Clemanceau, Belgian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri Marie la Fontaine, English pioneer of women’s higher education Constance Maynard, and French poet and writer Marc-André Raffalovich. Who shall I uncover next?

Archives Internship Opportunity

Sample bundle of letters from the Patrick Geddes Collections, University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections

We are delighted to be able to offer an 8-week, archive cataloguing project internship opportunity, working with the Wellcome Research Resource-funded archive project ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’.  This is a fantastic opportunity for a student or new archive career professional to develop and demonstrate core archival skills. The internship will involve contributing to the enhancement of online archive catalogue descriptions relating to the fascinating correspondence of Patrick Geddes, helping to enhance and promote access to the collections. Closing date: 29 March 2019.  Interviews: 18 Arpil 2019.  Start date: 13 May 2019.