Georgia Osborne undertook an Insights Placement with WCIA over Summer 2022 through Cardiff University’s Centre for Student Life, with funding support from the Davies Family Charity, Santander Foundation and Academi Heddwch. Cymru.
In October 2022 I completed an Internship Placement with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, acting as Archive and Library Officer where my challenge has been to help catalogue the books and documents held in the Council Chamber of Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health.
I am currently an MA History Student with Cardiff University, but have been interested in gaining experience in alternative sectors that are ‘non-traditional’ for graduates of history. I have enjoyed the experience thoroughly, developed as well as learned new professional skills and had a taste of working with a third-sector organisation. In my last blog post, I reflected on the project so far such as the aims, initial thoughts, and plans for completion. In this post, I reflect on the experience as a whole – and how it has prepared me for my future career plans, once I graduate from my Master’s in 2023. This experience has particularly interested me in pursuing a career within the third sector, with the aim to work for organisations where I can get involved with projects that help the community in some way.
From the outset of my internship WCIA’s Heritage Advisor, Craig Owen, provided me with a brief outline of the project aims and hopes for completion. Prior to me starting my placement, there had been several volunteers who had tackled aspects of this huge task, so my role was to bring together and complete what had been started. I was supplied with an existing catalogue spreadsheet which contained library listings that had been started during past ‘Archiveathon’ events. These however were not extensive, with many records containing only the title of the book rather than fully detailed catalogue listings.
I was also provided with an Index document, which set out the physical position of each cupboard in the council chamber library and the stage they were at in terms of completion. My initial aim for the project, following an evaluation of the existing spreadsheet and index, was to create a report detailing the amount of work already completed, how much of this work needed to be followed up on, and which areas had not been started. I achieved this by inspecting the council chamber and comparing the catalogue spreadsheet and index to the items on the shelves, creating a ‘Hit List’ document that outlined the work required shelf-by-shelf. At this stage of the project, I also took the decision to renumber the cupboards, so that each individual cupboard came under one number, instead of being split into two sides. I felt that this would make it not only easier for me to complete my report, but also for volunteers to follow when completing the cataloguing process, as well as for future researchers and students to locate items using the completed spreadsheet. Once I had physically relabelled each cupboard, I updated both the catalogue spreadsheet and created a new index document to reflect these changes, changing the ‘Shelf Location’ column for already completed items on the catalogue, too.
Following my audit of the existing catalogue records and creation of the ‘Hit List,’ I created a corresponding ‘Work Plan’ to help allocate this work to the volunteers who had so kindly offered to come and help us. In my last blog post, I had just supervised the first ‘Archiveathon’ session. Since this, we held five further ‘Archiveathon’ afternoons, each building on and more successful than the previous. We were joined by volunteers from all backgrounds and ages, from History, Archaeology and English Literature students to international volunteers with an enthusiasm for books and journalism. Using the reports that I’d created, I allocated specific cupboards and shelves to each volunteer, so they could carry out the work systematically, with the Shelving Index spreadsheet being updated to reflect completed and partially completed cupboards. Using spreadsheets and report updates throughout the duration of the project avoided work being missed or repeated unnecessarily, with all volunteers being able to coordinate their specific tasks and communicate their progress. During the ‘Archiveathons’, I acted as a supervisor and coordinator alongside WCIA’s other Intern, Georgia Wood, and my line manager, Craig Owen. We collaborated directly with volunteers both one-on-one and in small groups to guide them through the cataloguing process, and were on-call for anyone who needed to ask questions or required more information on what to do with odd or unique records. I am happy to say that each of these sessions were extremely successful, with multiple shelves and cupboards being completed and our volunteers gaining useful experience in working with cataloguing/archiving processes, historical books and records. I have personally gained leadership experience through the organisation and supervision of these sessions, as well as developed my interpersonal communication skills, organisation and time management.
Unfortunately, we were not quite able to complete the entire library during the scheduled ‘Archiveathon’ sessions. However, only three cupboards still required some documents and books to be logged, which was achieved very soon after by some of the international volunteers I’d been able to train and support. For me, this project – and my time working with WCIA – has been a real success; it has set a precedent with the spreadsheet being standardised and completed with fully detailed information. I would have liked to move on to the next stage of the project, to find a digital platform for which we could create an online, publicly accessible database for people to locate and use the contents of the library from anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, this will be an exciting project that one of the new international volunteers – or a future Insight Placement – can pick up now that my internship is complete. To support thast continuity, I have created guidance documents for volunteers on how to access, use and update the spreadsheet and shelving index, as well as a handover document outlining my progress on the project, and where I hope for it to be taken in the near future. Creating these documents, as well as working on the existing spreadsheets, has thoroughly improved my soft digital skills and I am now a much more confident user of excel.
I also touched on other work during my role with WCIA, unrelated to this project but nonetheless very useful for my professional development. During one of the visits by Faith, an Advisor from Cardiff University’s Careers Service who was overseeing the placement, my colleague Georgia and I gave a tour of the Temple of Peace, based on that we received from Craig during our induction week. I found this experience really interesting, as I have previously been drawn to the idea of working with museums and public history institutions who offer similar tours – so it gave me a real taste for this kind of work. I aided WCIA’s Chief Executive, Susie, with creating subtitles for a keynote video as part of one of the Temple’s international events held in July. This is something I had not done before, gaining new digital skills, but it was also inspiring to be able to assist with the setting of up a ‘real, live’ international event. It is also noteworthy that both me, Georgia, and the other volunteers were included in the organisation’s weekly team meetings, where each department would give updates on current projects they were involved with from Education to Climate Change. This made us feel like full members of the team, and I was welcomed by all members of staff. Finally, Craig taught me how to use WordPress to edit and create pages on the website, and I was able to create my first blog post using these skills. Website editing, especially using a wide-reaching platform such as WordPress, is going to aid me in a plethora of future career options and is such a vital and transferable skill.
In conclusion, my internship role as the Archive and Library Officer with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs has been an instructive, inspiring and invaluable experience. Not only have I gained useful experience working with cataloguing, archiving and historical records, but I have also taken on a relatively huge task with limited guidance, alot of problem solving and initative, and seen the project through from start to finish. My experience working with spreadsheets, creating documents and using WordPress for website editing, will aid me in any future career I decide to pursue and are key skills for graduates. Moreover, my ability to organise, manage and supervise multiple volunteer events, briefing each volunteer on the task at hand and providing advice, has shown that I can act responsibly in a position of leadership to successfully execute a project and meet targets. Finally, I have utilised my professional initiative to make key decisions on where to take the project, communicating my ideas thoroughly with both my line manager and fellow intern, showing my ability to plan, prioritize and overcome problems whilst successfully accomplishing project aims.
I want to thank WCIA for this opportunity; I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the organisation, and hope to get involved with future projects. I would recommend working with the WCIA to any students hoping to gain experience in archiving, international relations, communications, or general project management work. I now have the skills and tools needed to explore alternative career options following the completion of my postgraduate degree!
So how many books was it…? Well we’ve passed 10,000, and still counting…