24 Apr 2020

Ask the Archivist



My UCC Library colleague Emma Horgan did an Ask the Archive session for our Instagram account last week. The piece got was so engaging I thought it would be nice to capture the story in a more permanent way - hence this post... 

1- What is the difference between an Archivist and a Librarian?
Archivists primarily deal with unique unpublished material, while Librarians mainly deal with published material that exists in multiple copies.
Archivists and Librarians are both very concerned with preservation, but since Archivists often are keeping the ONLY original copy of something they are more focused on preservation. Preservation meaning long term access... both archivists and librarians are very much concerned about providing access and research assistance!
Because the material in archives is generally unique, archivists often have to spend a lot more time in processing / cataloguing material than librarians do. Librarians can rely more on shared cataloguing and standardised processing by vendors to get things ready for the shelf.
Again, because the material in archives is generally unique, archivists usually can't permit the public to browse their shelves in person, or to check out materials. This has led archivists to be more personally involved in mediating between users and materials than librarians generally are. Librarians (and this is generally speaking - not true in every situation of course) mainly try to teach users to help themselves to sources as much as possible.
Librarians tend to do a lot more instruction and outreach activities than archivists, teaching things like how to do specialised research, track citations, adhere to copyright and so on. Archivists are beginning to focus more on teaching and outreach than they used to. I personally teach undergrad and post grad classes in UCC Library Special Collections, using material from the archival collections.

One more note: many people do not realise how diverse both the librarian and archivist fields really are. There are MANY varieties of librarians who specialise in all sorts of things... there are librarians who organise outreach for public libraries: science librarians who run institutional repositories for electronic articles; rare book librarians who catalogue unique printed works; academic subject specialists who administer collection development budgets and teach research skills; and so on. Archivists likewise might be specialists in research methods, acquisitions, born digital records, exhibit curation, or arrangement/description of paper archives. So, all of my comments won't apply to every situation.

2- Why does society need Archivists?/ Why do you think the job of an archivist is an important one?
The most important aspect of an Archivist's job is that we identify what documents and information should be kept and preserved for future generations to study. Once we make the decision not archive an item, it's gone forever.  

3- What is my favourite archival collection i have worked on?
Definitely the Power's Distillery Collection i worked on in the Irish Distillers Archive. 

4- What is my dream archival collection to work on?
 I am a huge film buff, and fan of digital archiving, so my answer has to be the Walt Disney Archive.

5- Why/How did i become an Archivist?
I was persuaded by Emer Twomey, UCC Library's long standing Archivist. Her passion and enthusiasm sold me. I also love learning new things and researching- a vital aspect of an Archivist's job. 

6- Any advice for a budding archivist?
Try and get as much work experience in the field as you can. Not only does it give you an idea if this job is for you, but it also enable you to build up your contacts in the archival world. Networking is important in all fields. 

7- Are there any traits which i feel all Archivists have?
The one trait i would definitely say we all have is curiosity. 

8- What Collection do you wish more people knew about?
The Elizabeth Friedlander Collection. She was a german graphic designer, who fled Nazi Germany and was the first woman to ever design her own typeface- called "Elizabeth".

9- What's the strangest thing you've come across?
I was working on a collection in the Irish Distillers Archive. I was opening boxes for the first time since they'd been filled in the 1930s, and found a really nice pair of gentleman's horn rimmed glasses. Had been swept into the box from his desk accidentally. They're on display in the archive now as an artefact.  

10- Where's the mummy? What's the story with it?
He's stored securely in the basement of the Kane building. Very difficult to organise passport for long dead Egyptians, especially in this climate, but he's in the queue!

11- What is the most mysterious piece in your archive?
We have quite a range of things, including a death mask! But for actual mystery, it's a vellum document from Elizabeth I, containing, we think, royal orders. But the document is entirely in Latin and we haven't been able to have it translated. Could be a shopping list! 

12- Coolest item you've ever gotten to handle?
An actual bottle of whiskey from 1782.

13- How do people go about compiling an archive?
if you are interested in compiling a family archive, get in contact and i can give you specific advice. If you want to preserve an item of national/historical significance, i would advise you get in contact with your nearest Archive, or the National Archive of Ireland. 

14- What would be your dream find in an archive?
The secret to eating my bodyweight in chocolate and not gaining weight, ideally! But realistically i love finding items that change our perception of history, i discovered a long lost distillery!

15- How do you become an archivist? 🙂
To achieve your qualification you can either do the MA in Archives in UCD, or the part time MAs available from UK universities. The UCD course is one year, and intensive, but it is an internationally recognised qualification, so i can work in Canada or New Zealand if i decided to.

16- What's your fave colour?
Purple- colour of royalty 😁

17- Which do you prefer? Books or movies?
Movies, I'm a huge horror fan. Love Spanish, Korean and Scandinavian horror.

18-What is your biggest fear?
The unknown. I liken it to being in the ocean, and having no idea what could come up from the depths! 

19-What's the farthest you've ever been from home? 
Recently i went a whole 500 metres, but the furthest ever was Malta, a fascinating melting pot of cultures. Looking forward to making that Australia for my honeymoon.

20- What are you looking forward to in the coming months? 
ACTUAL HUMAN CONTACT!!! *clears throat* Seeing my colleagues and friends again.

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