Over Spring 2023, Caitlyn Newman undertook a voluntary Insights Placement with WCIA through Cardiff University’s Centre for Student Life. Here she reflects on her placement tasks and learning.
Before our personal projects were assigned, our first ‘team task’ (for myself and three other volunteers) was to assist with the Appraisal and Selection of materials that have been stored in the Temple of Peace Attic, some for many decades. We were tasked with clearing a row of shelving units that held boxes upon boxes of books and publications that have been out of circulation for years, the majority of which were duplicate copies from ‘pre-internet’ print runs, no longer used for one reason or another – educational materials relevant to past national curricula, guides to long-finished exhibitions, or research that has been superseded. We moved these boxes to a spare room so that they could be recycled and disposed of appropriately, retaining 5 copies of each issue to set aside for heritage archiving and future reference.
This activity required teamwork and communication; navigating the higher shelves and narrow walkways safely, remaining organised with regards to keeping copies, and doing battle with the elevator’s “personality”(!). These teamwork activities helped make connections that were useful later in the work experience placement, and to gain confidence within the workplace. I also assisted in the re-organisation of the library, updating cataloguing done by previous volunteers and bringing together thematic materials. This helped me to understand the cataloguing of documents, drawing on an ‘approved body’ of work to learn from.
My personal project was to start the cataloguing of the UNA Exchange Archives currently stored in the Temple Attic. UNA Exchange was founded in 1973, alongside the WCIA itself. The organisations merged in February of 2020, and Temple of Peace in Cardiff hosts the majority of the UNA Exchange’s physical documents archive, as yet uncatalogued and unexplored. This initial piece of work has been to ‘map out’ the broad contents of the archives currently stored in the attic of Wales’ Temple of Peace.
When initially approaching the task, I went through and catalogued the individual files on shelves U12/1-3 and U11/2 (see the Attic Archives Index). On meeting with Craig to discuss progress, we decided to shift gears to give a broader view of more material (rather than a detailed view of less) in the time of the placement. I began inputting summaries of shelves into the archives catalogue. Once complete, I moved to summaries of the contents of the boxes on said shelves. The majority of the shelves contained individual files, most labelled, allowing myself and a coworker to make notes effectively. When cataloguing, I prioritised the level of description, titles, dating and physical characteristics, making sure that the reference codes were accurate. Where able, I documented the scope and content of the material, however this sometimes required leafing through the files at a level of detail that time did not allow.
A main issue that I encountered when cataloguing the UNAE section of the Archives was fragility of records, confusing titles, and dim lighting within the attic. The older records were fragile, and tended to be labelled with years, but not much else. Another roadblock was the mix of empty boxes and full ones on the floor around the shelves, and also a handful of files that were loose around these boxes, which required some matching up to work out which file contents related to which archives boxes.
From this ‘first filter’, with the bulk of the UNA Exchange archives made up of financial documents, there will be a substantial thinning out and disposal to clear space for the more interesting materials to be prioritised for future work and reference. The summarising of shelf contents didn’t give the opportunity to focus in on detailed items of interest (for the purposes of this feature) often hidden within the files themselves. However, I was able to find some interesting items which I photographed to transfer and date them accurately within the Temple Archives database (on the IYS/UNA Exchange Tab).
This work experience has developed by communication skills, and has given an insight into the principles and practice of cataloguing archival material, particularly from scratch within an environment where materials have not yet been worked on. It has also given me a better idea of expectations within the workplace.