WCIA Placement Blog: Clara Finkelstein’s ‘Archiveathon Challenge’ to list the Temple Library

Clara Finkelstein is a Masters student in Archives and Records Management at Aberystwyth University. She has been taking part in a hybrid remote and in-person work placement at WCIA’s Temple of Peace Library and Archive. Her principal assignments were to create a new cataloguing template, as well as to design and lead four volunteer Archive-a-thons, two remote and two in-person. Here, Clara reflects on her experience at WCIA.

Temple Library Archiveathon placement Clara Finkelstein leading volunteer participants

With its dark wood panelling, narrow Art Deco windows and crimson furnishings, the Temple of Peace Library possesses an undeniable, subdued elegance. At first glance, the chamber room appears an aesthetically-apt repository for its rich and diverse collection of books, serials, and archives. But the more you get to know the collection, the more you come to realise that the chamber’s quiet beauty may belie the powerful potential of its contents. From late-nineteenth century books on peacebuilding to rare sets of United Nations reports, the library is a critical resource for today’s peace researchers and activists, and tomorrow’s Welsh peace-heritage historians.

My role at WCIA was to help facilitate the library’s transformation from relic to dynamic, usable asset. The first step was to create a catalogue listing of the library’s contents, a process begun by previous work placements who had audited and listed the Temple Archives in the Attic, completed shortly before the pandemic. However, at the beginning of my cataloguing effort in February, I recognised that for the Library Cataloguing it would be important to create a new template (initially using Google Sheets); one catering to the user needs and requirements of WCIA’s situation, whilst also reflecting professional British bibliographic standards and future machine-readability. It took me several weeks of research and experimentation to develop such a bespoke catalogue. Ultimately, the Excel workbook I produced is to me as much a functional finding-aid for the library materials as a lesson in balancing the theoretical idealism of the classroom with the nuanced practicality of field work in the information profession.

In the latter half of my work experience, I focused on providing the skeletal catalogue I’d created with some much-needed ‘fleshing-out.’ With around 330 metres of shelving contents potentially to list, such a task could take even the most superhuman individual many months, if not years. My supervisor Craig and I felt that the most efficient and engaging method of cataloguing the library could be as a ‘crowdsourcing’ experiment, through hosting a series of volunteer ‘Archiveathons’ over 2 weeks Spring 2022.  Planning for and helping to lead these events in April, both in-person and remotely, was certainly out of my comfort zone as a self-professed shy book-worm.

But the response was greatly heartening: over 30 volunteers from many walks of life, ages and interests came forward, usually listing a shelf at a time and some coming back over several sessions. The archiveathons unleashed so much positivity and participants were really engaged with the material – I don’t think many of us expected the process to be so much fun and genuinely enjoyable! Several have continued to volunteer with WCIA beyond the archiveathons, which is a great bonus. Like developing the catalogue template, the Archiveathons proved an invaluable experience in volunteer management and professional leadership – especially rewarding to me as a Master’s student in Archives Management.

Flickr Album of the Temple Archiveathons – click left / right to view images or view album on Flickr

“It was a privilege to witness our volunteers, united in the task of cataloguing the Temple Library, breathe life back into such a lovely, historic room.”

Clara Finkelstein on the Temple Archiveathons.

Hayley Richards shares her discovery of a personal signature and notes by Eleanor Roosevelt, author of the UN Human Rights Charter.

During each of the Archiveathons, volunteers were assigned their own shelves to catalogue using the workbook template. Following a brief introduction, and sustained by complimentary tea and coffee stations outside the chamber, our volunteers carefully worked their way through the library’s contents. Each session uncovered new treasures: from dusty volumes signed by Winston Churchill or Eleanor Roosevelt to a fascinating scrapbook, we discovered quite the variety of materials hidden in the dark shelves – much more than anticipated!

It was a privilege to watch our volunteers, united in the task of cataloguing the Temple Library, breathe life back into such a lovely, historic room. In the information profession, much of the work is lonely: we preserve the stories of those long-dead for the benefit of generations we will not live to meet. But at WCIA, I was humbled and inspired by the enthusiasm, care, and respect shown by our volunteers. I was reminded that libraries are not intended to be merely “quietly beautiful,” but instead lively centres of learning and community.

Access the Temple Library Catalogue ‘google sheet’ here