Podcast Transcript: WGHBU9, Part Seven

University Histories Internships, Part Seven – Thoughts on Archival Records; Reflections on the Project and Advice for the Future


Graphic: Podcast Image


Graphic: Transcription Content

Participants: Lorraine McLoughlin; Ashlyn Cudney; Samantha Carrie and Lily Mellon

Date Span of Content: Focus on July-December 2021; Reference to historical events; Reference to the past ten to twenty years

Transcription Key:

  • ‘-‘ – denotes an abrupt or lack of end to a word
  • ‘…’ – denotes a pause in speech/separation regarding the thought being constructed (or provides a disconnect/separation that would benefit a reader rather than a listener)
  • [] – denotes when someone else interjects very briefly in the conversation or when a small clarification is required

Episode Length: 20 Minutes Approximately

Part Seven: Episode Nine
Graphic: Episode Intro


Graphic: In This Episode

HOST (Lily Mellon): Hello and welcome to We’ve Got History Between Us.

We have reached the final part of Episode Nine.

This episode was split into seven sections, all of which were designed to make sense if you listen to stand alone episodes or take things out of order. We do however recommend that if you’re jumping in here, that you go back to the past six parts of Episode Nine to understand fully the University Histories project and the work that the interns undertook.

Everyone who has joined us on this seven part journey so far, knows that this episode has been about an internship project from 2021 – one that the CRC hopes will continue into the future with a new set of new interns and new objectives as this project develops.

In this episode, Lorraine and I discuss descriptive metadata, or more specifically for this context, what goes into an archival record. You’ll be able to tell quite quickly, that for the remainder of this episode, we’re wrapping up. Lorraine looks back on what these interns have achieved and I ask Samantha and Ashlyn to give advice to their hypothetical successors.

Graphic: Main Transcription

Lily Mellon
I’m realizing now would you be able to, just for the audience, just perhaps if they’re not that, kind of, well versed in in the archival context, to give a few words on what metadata would typically include?

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, for- for an archival record specifically?

Lily Mellon: Mm.

Lorraine McLoughlin
So with an archival catalogue the way that it functions or it’s foundational structure is hierarchical, so you want to, like I said before, go from the general to the specific or the collection level description or title… down to the more granular level. You know a correspondence file or single letter, whatever it is.

So within your catalogue resource or your collection level record, you have a number of series which then describe the different categories within that collection that might be relevant to a researchers work…

Whether it’s collection level, covering hundreds and hundreds of meters of- of- of boxes of material, or it’s a single letter, the metadata for in archival record consists of the same fields. Many of them are not mandatory. Only a few are mandatory and I think it’s- it’s six fields are mandatory- six or seven, but basically it’s a reference code, a title, a level, which says what level the material is that within the collection. Dates, creators, scope and content [LM: mm].

I’m missing one out there I think, but basically these- these five or six mandatory fields, will give a basic structure that creates an archival record and everything else is extra.

If we don’t have, you know, an identifying code or title for the material level where it’s placed and dates, for example, we can’t really be is secure and definite in its identification, but once we have that, those things down, we can then start to build on their records, so giving it a deeper scope and content, or an Archivist note around any comments to do with the material, it’s status in terms of whether it’s- it’s access restricted or any reasons behind that… its ownership, it’s administrative history, and like we were talking about before, what other materials or collections that might be related to that are really, really important to understanding that specific collection so, in- in- in creating the internship projects reviews that all three of the internships looked at- I’m not sure how, for example, how essential it was to Project Two and Three that they the reviews in the same way as Project One did, but crucially we wanted to have those basic mandatory archival fields included, when records were found so that if this was our only chance to make a description, to create a description for previously uncatalogued material, then we’ve got the basics and then we can go back at a later date and create something more substantial.

But yeah, for metadata in- in Archives, identifying materials uniquely and confidently is, is the number one reason behind those, those metadata fields. I’ve just thought of the last one. Its’ extent.

Lily Mellon
(laughing) Nice. You’ve passed the test.

[both laughing]

Yeah, yeah, because of- it’s just how much time it takes. You know, people have to be realistic about the goals that can be achieved in a certain time frame when it comes to how many decades it would take to catalogue the material, in the CRC alone.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Well, yeah, I mean, we actually have a report on that [LM: (laughing)] and that was the impetus behind the creation of my post and our Cataloguing Archivist, Aline’s post and another post that came out of their rationalization project.

But there’s a, uh, a really incredible Archives consultant named Janice Tulloch, working with other consultants Collections around the UK and in 2016 Janice did a- a- an overview of the collections at the CRC, along with Alex Richie and found that there is a 30 year backlog in archive cataloguing at the CRC within that kind of 6 or 7 kilometres of material that we have.

So without wanting to bore you for another hour, just about things like that. The level of detail within the cataloguing makes a difference. For example, you know sometimes it just a box listing is a certain level of cataloguing, whereas that deeper level with all the fields, is something that would come later.

But, even though we have a 30 year backlog we’re actually doing way better than lots of other places or what I should say is, that’s not unusual, to have such a backlog and in many places it’s- it’s much more and I think it’s important to be honest and open about those backlogs, because often, Archivists feel the kind of tedium of the- or the mountain of work in front of them, across their careers, and they can feel that weight as a very personal thing and actually…. you know, there’s no kind of superhuman time busting skills that we have, it takes to a measured, considerate sit down over time and catalogue the material. And so the more people know how long it takes the better, I think, and they’re kind of more improvements we can make on our- on our backlogs.

Lily Mellon

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lorraine McLoughlin
I was enormously impressed- impressed by all three of the interns and so relieved that they had such specific expertise in their own areas as well. So I knew that there were good quality information and good quality stories were being recorded and- and highlighted and that was almost like one task that I then didn’t have to do, which I was delighted by. So I found that their- they produced such a sense of confidence that the data would be good, that I just let them fly with it and said go- go forward and prosper (laughing).

Lily Mellon
Yeah… Yeah, it’s- it’s so important when you see people caring about- about their jobs that they’re undertaking… It’-s it’s one of the ways that these underrepresented people are- are going to be represented.

Lorraine McLoughlin
So that’s it, I- I’m really grateful to you, Lily, for asking me to do this… Which is a great exercise and good practice for me coz I’m going to have to start talking a lot more in my new role than I’ve ever done before (laughs)

Lily Mellon
Mm…okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, no, don’t be sil- I’m so grateful for you to take all this time to- to do it and put it all on record. It’s really nice.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Good, [LM: I think] good.

Lily Mellon
I think one of these things is… and actually I touched on it with Samantha as well… People don’t know how to start these conversations, and they’re too scared of saying something wrong, so they just don’t say anything. And I’m- I would like to think that… bringing these things up- I know that there’s people out there that are just as interested in- in talking about these things or, you know… starting somewhere or will potentially understand Archives more… as a result of it.

Lorraine McLoughlin
I think yeah you’re know you’re- you’re absolutely right. That’s- that’s exactly it. And I think that makes me feel better about my own nervousness then as well, because I’m- I’m fairly confident talker, but there’s something about the thorny issues of Archives that feels really nerve wracking sometimes… and- and- and really emotional. I don’t know what it is, but… I think- aw, I often think it’s the weight of other people thinking… could they do a better job and are you making the right decisions. So you’re always alert to… the scrutiny of people who don’t work with, you know, directly with Collections and you hope you’re doing the right things, which, I tell you what…. We- we usually are [both laughing]

Lily Mellon
[laughing] If we do say so ourselves.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah [both laughing]

Lily Mellon
Yeah, it’s like what you’re saying about disposing of things. I think people are so scared that, you know, it’s something that you can’t go back on, but you know, that doesn’t mean that these decisions don’t have to be made.

Lorraine McLoughlin
Yeah, and I was really conscious even saying that because you wouldn’t believe the vehemence- the anger that people come- come to us with and they realize that anything goes in the bin like how dare we put, you know, bordered paper like I was saying, in the bin. Maybe a little school wants that or an art class or whatever it is and of course, if something has any value, we try and we try and do that, but also timewise we can’t have… I suppose like jumble sales with Archives and things like that, we just sometimes have to get on with the work, but it’s… the reason I know I’m- I’m a good archivist is because I feel… I feel that. I feel that responsibility to make sure it’s not in any way valuable or useful because it- it actually pains me to destroy anything from an Archive, and I think maybe that’s to do with my ar- background in art as much as anything else, because I can see that anything could be interesting to someone or- or valuable to someone and so trying to make those really cut-throat decisions, if you’re at ease with cut-throat decisions, you’re the wrong person to be doing appraisal. You know, it should be quite hard in many ways.

Lily Mellon
Yeah, yeah. Same as this sort of thing. If you know, like, if you’re not nervous to kind of start big projects or something like that or if you stop becoming nervous, then something might have gone wrong because you always should be… it’s a good thing. (chuckles)

Lorraine McLoughlin

Yeah… one of the- one of the scary moments for us, I think with this particular project was the fact that it’s so high profile and it’s in the media and there’s a lot of political… to-ing and fro-ing as well about how to handle these issues.

So because it’s such a new way of working for us and as a separate data gathering at this really early stage and we’re asking these specific questions that we think are right, but we’re not sure…. Then it’s important that people feel that they’re able to work on it without it being scrutinized by people who don’t understand the complexity of- of- of the work. So I was very- and still am very protective of, of everyone working on the project to make sure that they- they don’t feel exploited or assessed publicly.

Graphic: Musical Interlude

Lily Mellon
Yeah, despite the kind of differences between the three projects, it really is all about accessibility and future conversations and oh- but yes opening it up to the research community and the students, but also the wider community as well.

Samantha Carrie
Yes, and I think in terms of the research that I think, I don’t know about your projects, but certainly we’ve been trying to ensure that it’s not just about subjugation, subordination and prejudice, we’re wanting to try and get these really positive narratives out there as well.

We don’t want to kind of get rid of culture, traditions and dialects, were wanting to really ensure that we, we have to acknowledge that… but w- the kind of oppression, but we really need to ensure that we’re getting these kind of positive stories that students can either relate to as well. So that has kinda been a key goal for us as well, I mean mostly what we’ve had to try and do is kind of buil… define these connections because the kind of prejudice and financial well… lucrative financial means of some of these architectural endeavours have not been discussed. So that’s going to be our the majority of our work, but it’s also kind of important ensuring that we’re trying to reach as many different audiences as possible.

Lily Mellon
I was wondering… I mean this, this project… The CRC has been talking about the fact that this is the very early stages of something that’s gonna continue for years, and it’s hopefully a decade long project.

Do you have any kind of advice for… hypothetical future interns on how to maybe like pick up where you had left off?

Samantha Carrie
I think definitely approach this… in terms of like the database that we have created, take this by a theme by theme basis and I think… don’t… keep, keep an open mind… don’t kind of take research methodologies that you kind of have ingrained from other courses or research projects.

You’ve got to really be flexible because you’re not really sure what you’re going to expect. I think as well just utilizing as many sources as you can. National Records is an absolute must up in terms of the variety of sources but also just form really good communication with your Archivists.

I mean I had Lorraine and they- their specialist knowledge is really, really important in terms of being able to really get into the depths of the Asrchive and really picking out quite niche but important things that could open a completely… another door completely.

I think things we’ve said is kind of maybe something that our Archive could work on is certainly maybe research guides… for kind of students and scholars of this period because I think we came into contact with so many unexpected hurdles. You’ve got things like in terms of accessibility, but you’ve also got things of what’s deemed a miscellaneous source, what’s deemed an important source, so in terms of kind of notions of colonial archives and things like that and colonial information. I think also one of the main things I would say is take everything you read with a pinch of salt.

Don’t trust everything, question every- anything (both laughing) some of these descriptions in these documents have not been updated at all, [LM: mhmm] and so… as I’ve kind of mentioned is that they do need a kind of updated…  kind of biographical context alongside its historical context.

As a result, there may be kind of particularly things like if it’s press related or if it’s government papers, there may be a slight agenda, so treat everything you read with a pinch of salt and basically just read… read as much as you possibly can outside, read secondary material, read primary material. The more and more you read, the more complicated your narratives going to be, but I personally think complicated means accurate and complicated is good, and that’s kind of the… the process that I’ve been following is, simple is not good enough. It doesn’t make sense, and it probably means that there’s something missing.

Lily Mellon
I mean thank you for speaking to me for so long about everything. I was thinking before we kind of wrap up… I was wondering is there… based on the fact that there’s likely to be more people on the project that you’ve started working on and working with this data that you’ve done a lot of base work on, do you have any advice for some of these hypothetical interns in the future?

Ashlyn Cudney
Certainly. So I have a wish for them, I hope that they’re not working in the pandemic conditions that I’ve been working in so they get to get to go into the Archives more because that will be… that’s the next step [LM: mm].

My advice for them is to take this information that we have produced and to… to go into the Archives and to get their hands dirty with, with actually looking at these sources and being able to tick the boxes on if they’re related, if they’re not related and then that that’s really the… the next, that’s the juncture we’re at now is that’s the next step. That in our research we… we weren’t able to get to just because there was so much to do but we did with what we had and so that’s my advice is to get excited about getting your hands dirty and get… and getting into the sources that that we had listed as potentially related.

Lily Mellon
Nice yeah.

Graphic: Episode Summary

HOST (Lily Mellon): This concludes the seven part series created on Project One of the University Histories Internships which began at the Centre for Research Collections in July 2021.

Thank you to all the listeners who joined us on this journey. As we suggested previously, we encourage anyone who was interested in these topics to get in touch with VOiCE and keep the conversation going.

Similar to volunteering with the CRC, we recommend keeping an eye on the CRC social media and the Unitemps website if you’d be interested in interning with the University Collections. Announcements will be made when interns are being hired with instructions on how to apply. As the Information Services Group focuses on hiring from the student cohort, internship positions often occur over the summer inbetween the academic year, but opportunities are arriving al the time.

VOiCE wants to thank the guests – Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie, for their time and consideration of all the questions posed to them. We wish Lorraine all the best with their work in Dublin, Ashlyn with her PhD and Samantha with their Masters. VOiCE also hopes that in the not too distant future, there will be updates to bring you on the progess of the University Histories Project.

Graphic: Episode Outro


HOST (Lily Mellon): You’ve been listening to We’ve Got History.

These episodes were recorded in December 2021 and March 2022. This was part of episode nine.

The guests were Lorraine McLoughlin, Ashlyn Cudney and Samantha Carrie.

Episode hosted and edited by Lily Mellon.


Author: VOiCE

UoE Collections VOiCE (Volunteers in Collections Engagement) run a monthly newsletter, podcast and blog about the different collections, people and museums at the University of Edinburgh.

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