Khai’s Heritage Placement Experience – digitising ‘WCIA50’ and ‘Dolen40’ Archives

Khai Noor Shahmir hard at work in the Temple Library & Archives

When I started my Archiveathon insight with the WCIA in March, I was eager to learn more of the inner workings of an archive and what it takes to manage it effectively. I was especially interested in the process of digitisation and how this contributes to preserving valuable historical collections in an accessible manner for the public.

I was first put to the task of digitising copies of WCIA’s annual reports spanning from the 1980s to the 2000s, contributing to a larger project celebrating WCIA’s 50th anniversary in 2023. It was slow at the start as I learned how to take clear pictures and upload them onto People’s Collection Wales with the right metadata, but I soon familiarised myself with the process and could pick up the pace. I worked more efficiently and I was amazed that I could do most of it with just a smartphone. After the last batches were digitised, I chose to work on archiving the early years of Dolen Cymru.

Just from reading the project brief, the thought of digitising, curating, and writing about their history greatly appealed to me. It was also exciting to act as a catalyst for a larger project in celebration of their 40th anniversary and increase awareness of the many relationships between Wales and Lesotho. I started my work by locating archive materials relevant to the founding and work of Dolen Cymru; I first came across their bi-annual newsletters in the Temple archives and set to digitising them onto People’s Collection Wales. This began my understanding of Dolen’s aims and objectives as well as the unique projects and campaigns they had spearheaded in the past 40 years. I was previously unaware that something as remarkable as the concept of ‘nation-to-nation twinning’ existed, and I was fascinated by the long-lasting links that were created because of it. I also sifted through Dolen Cymru’s website and other articles surrounding their history, as well as delving into Paul Williams’ book, taking note of notable events and correspondence, finding different connections through their links in music, health, and education.

Although the materials I found were valuable, I realised that we were still lacking in many important materials that were crucial to building a coherent story. After much discussion, I decided to take a trip up to The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth to identify more material for the project. It would play a huge part in my work, as the research I obtained would help me deliver something cohesive. I had to navigate through the library’s online catalogue and request the relevant files to skim through for any documents of significance. It was really exciting to be able to explore the archive in-person and work with a national body, and I gained valuable insight into archival research. Basing my decisions off the research I’ve done previously, I photographed every document that I felt to be notable. 

By the end of it, I had hundreds of files to study and digitise. It was a lengthy process organising them, but I sorted them by their exact dates and titled the files according to their content, making it much easier to identify them. After reading through them, I created a spreadsheet which I made into a timeline for the link, putting down noteworthy events chronologically. This would later be a guide for me to start writing the article. Once I was finished digitising and uploading the materials I’ve captured, I had to take on the task of collating it all into a feature article intended to guide users through the archive on People’s Collection Wales. It was exciting to create the main output of the project, and it helped me learn how to create an informative web page and navigate through and organise large amounts of content. It was satisfying seeing all my work come together cohesively and it was enlightening to learn of Dolen Cymru’s impactful relationships and actions that took place over the decades.

To say I enjoyed my placement is an understatement. My time with the WCIA has been an incredible insight into the archive and heritage sectors, and it’s given me a chance to be a part of something amazing. I’ve also grown and learned so much from the wonderful team, and I’m grateful for all the support and guidance. Please enjoy looking through the Dolen Cymru archives!

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