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(or an archivist by any other name would still be an
Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what
an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage
and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages
hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and
new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even
since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?
The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through
the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to
adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and
photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists
should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience
to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be
whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They
should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills
every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.
08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be
bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had
none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant
also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more
Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.
09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a
photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion
about this and other jobs which can be done today.
10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my
labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out
update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more
volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the
reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.
11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local
office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue
with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.
12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer
any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any
images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War
II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form.
Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify
what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.
1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and
Strictly Come Dancing
2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.
"The archivist is dead long live the archivist"
Last week I attended my first
Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conference in Manchester, where the main
theme appeared to be how we identify ourselves as Archivists and how the heritage
sector is changing. Ideas ranged from the definition of appraisal, search room experience,
community engagement and skills. However the main topic of discussion was the
role of the Archivist.
There appeared to be a move away
from the traditional archivist protector of records and preserver of history
with a set of core skills which stood them apart from the museum curator. In their
place stands the postmodern archivist who is all things to all men, a heritage professional,
throwing open the doors of the archive, engaging with the community and letting
go of their control. By this they mean allowing others use the archive how they
want and not be told how it should be used or how they can access it.
Looking into the theory is all
well and good but what about the practicalities of being an archivist, how are
these ideas applied.
Let’s put this into the context
of the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and a more practical
definition of an archivist. In my career I have worn a few different guises as
a cataloguing coordinator, project archivist and deputy archivist and have
moved from traditional to sort of post-modern to somewhere in-between. Most of
what was said at conference applied to local record offices who are becoming
destinations for tourists like museums and facing different situations to a
Here the role of an archivist is
to preserve the history of the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service and to
make sure it is accessible now and in the future through cataloguing,
digitisation, and a remote enquiry service and through working with colleagues
managing our services. The Archivists are also there to support the work of the
charity. It is not yet time for us to let go but we can still be innovative e.g.
Voices of Volunteering and Hidden history of a million wartime women. These
were projects which came from and where directed by the archives but upheld the
values of the postmodern archivist and did them well; including community
engagement (local, national, global) and providing access to records and
information about the charity. We also hold what might be deemed a museum
collection of objects and uniform but we care for them as archivists. We don’t
yet have exhibition space to display these items but make them accessible
through remote outreach such as our timeline. In this archive we are a mix of
the two perhaps we should be called revisionist archivists not quite in the
time of Jenkinson but pragmatic enough to change and develop when necessary. Essentially
we don’t prioritise preservation or access but try to balance them out.
As with many things there is no definite
definition of an archivist because it depends on many factors including where you
work and the collections you work with. The Archivist is whoever we or our
collections need us to be.
The Archive & Heritage
collection was formed in 1958, the year before WVS’s 21st
Anniversary as the Archives and Central Records Department. The members of this
department’s first purpose was to search through files for important original
reports, letters, etc. to find those of historical interest and importance. I
truly sympathise with having to assess twenty years’ worth of material and
having to take key decisions which would affect future generations
understanding of the WVS.
The department started out with a
number of part-time works all with different tasks to complete and a Head of Department
to oversee them. It is funny how very little changes in 60 years, although a
little different with a full time Deputy Archivist and Archives Assistant
(working on the Hidden History of a Million Women Project), there is still an
Archivist and a team of volunteers who help out with the collection anywhere
from two hours to a whole day every week.
We don’t know very much about the
thoughts of the women first involved in bringing this invaluable collection
together, even though they knew there was ‘a real need for such a department’
in 1958, apart from what is written in the Annual Reports. However occasionally
when sorting through the collection something catches your eye; though it wasn’t
shinny and it didn’t look particularly interesting while repackaging the
collection of General Publications on Friday afternoon I came across WVS/WRVS Archives Notes for Guidance
1973 (there are also copies for 1975 and 1981).
This small booklet with a Green
front cover shows how over 15 years the thinking in the Archive was developing
and they were getting to grips with the records they held. They were there to
collate a complete library of papers concerning policy, operational works and
records of WVS/WRVS from 1938 onwards. At the end of the booklet they list all
the documents being kept in the Archive including Annual Reports,
Bulletin/Magazine, Miscellaneous Memoranda and Narrative Reports which with
many more documents, photographs, publications and objects still reside in the
collection today. What interested me most about this booklet was what it said
about Narrative Reports:
“A complete set of Narrative
Reports form all Regions is held in WRVS Headquarters Archives.
No Narrative Reports should be
destroyed without consultation, as arrangements for keeping them vary from
Region to Region”
This might explain why the number
of reports in today’s collection varies so much from region to region.
Last Wednesday was Ask an Archivist day so I thought I would share with you some of the questions sent to us through our enquiry service.
Q: I was wondering if you could tell me when the Clothing Store in Swindon first opened and when it closed?
The clothing exchange is first mentioned in 1945 but there is no exact date for when it opened. There are no records for Swindon between 1946 and 1950 (inclusive). When the records reappear in 1951 it appears that the WVS centre in Swindon had been closed at the end of the war and then re-opened in 1951, the Clothing Exchange/Store re-opened in 1953. It is difficult to say when it closed as WRVS had a restructure in 1974 along the lines of the Local Authority and Swindon came under the Thameside District, the district office was in Swindon so I imagine the clothing store was to which is still mentioned in 1992. I imagine it was closed sometime in the late 1990s when WRVS moved its focus to older people’s welfare.
Q: Is there a WVS prayer or hymn?
Yes it was included in the 75th Anniversary Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in 2013
O Lord and Father of all mankind, who has put the spirit of generosity and self-giving into our hearts despite our self-centredness: let thy blessings rest in all its richness upon Royal Voluntary Service and all its volunteers, that strengthened and heartened by the memory and example of their founder they may give themselves for the good of the people of this realm. Grant them the joy which comes from meeting human need and thereby from serving thee; and may the will to give voluntary service, and to give it wisely and well, ever flourish and increase in them, to the benefit of their fellow men and women, and to the glory of thy name, God blessed for evermore. Amen.
Q: I wondered whether there were any historic RVS recipes that matched the classes above, and whether there was a Royal Voluntary Service recipe book or material that I could promote at an agricultural show next weekend?
There are a number of recipes in our publications collection which are currently being catalogued, there are also many Civil Defence Recipe cards if you’re thinking of cooking for more than 30 and books like the WRVS Cook Book and Rescue a Recipe which were compiled by our volunteers. You can also search the Bulletins on our Archive Online
. For those who enjoy reading are recipes here is one from Rescue a Recipe, 1971.
Yorkshire Fat Rascals
• 1/2lb plain flour
• 2oz lard
• 2tsp sugar
• Little milk to mix
• (few currents or sultanas if preferred)
Rub lard into flour and sugar and mix with milk as if making pastry. Add fruit if used and roll out nearly half an inch thick. Cut into rounds and bake until risen and light brown. Split and butter.
Oven temperature: 400 Regulo 6 Time: about 10 minutes
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