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Spotters on top of Hull Guildhall watching out for enemy planes, 1940

​Spotters on top of Hull Guildhall watching out for enemy planes, Nov 1940. (ref C TSP.3.325.12) ©Hull History Centre

A year as a Transforming Archives trainee and the future of digitisation

Francisco Castanon looks back on his Transforming Archives traineeship with The National Archives at Hull History Centre, reflects on his new job at London Metropolitan Archives as a Digital Imaging Assistant in the Digital Services team, and looks at the future of digitisation:

I was told that working in archives is not an obligation, it is a privilege and that you can meet the most interesting people in the world. Those thoughts come to me now as I write this almost 8 months since I finished my Transforming Archives traineeship with The National Archives at Hull History Centre.

It has been a while since I finished but looking back I realise how fruitful it was for me, both personally and professionally. Not only did I learn a great deal about the sector and meet great people, but with the skills and ideas I developed, I successfully applied for a position at LMA and also launched a job board for digitisation jobs to help others to find a job in this exciting sector.

Hull History Centre and City of Culture 2017

My Transforming Archives traineeship was based in ‘a North East Coast Town’. During the Second World War, Hull was subjected to 86 raids - making it one of the most heavily bombed British cities. As you can imagine, the archives hold a precious collection of related photographs and maps. Furthermore, Hull is going through a massive regeneration and was awarded City of Culture 2017, with a huge number of projects to get involved in. Was there any better place for a rookie starting a career in the archives sector?

I came to this traineeship with some experience in the digitisation field but had never heard the terms ‘digital preservation’ or ‘digital transformation’ until I had the opportunity to attend the course ‘An Introduction to Digitisation and Digital Preservation’ provided by The National Archives and the University of Dundee. The essays I wrote and conversations I had with my tutor Melinda Haunton gave me a clear understanding of the problems that institutions can experience with digital preservation.

For example, because the concept of digital preservation is quite new, many institutions are still trying to understand what digital preservation strategy is best for them, how to carry out this process and how to raise or allocate funding and resources. I also understood the technical challenges of ‘software obsolescence’ and how file formats that we use now may not be usable in 10 or 50 years. For example, most people are familiar with JPEG formats for images now, but in 50 years’ time, we may have moved onto other file formats and it could be very hard for future generations to access these. That is why any attempt to preserve documents/files in a digital format must ensure documents are stored in simple, secure, affordable, open source, popular and easy to access formats.

The Heart of the Empire, view of London looking west from the roof of the Royal Exchange, 1904

'The Heart of the Empire', view of London looking west from the roof of the Royal Exchange, 1904

With assistance from Senior University Archivist, Simon Wilson and fellow trainee, Tom Dealey, we developed a set of “Digital Preservation Guidelines” with the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, which aims to build a model for how organisations can carry out their digital preservation activities.

During my time in Hull, I had the chance to attend a wide range of workshops and conferences related to digitisation and digital preservation learning how other institutions are pursuing their digitisation strategies.  I could see how important it is for archives, libraries, museums and galleries to utilise modern technologies to not only preserve old and fragile documents, but also to make them widely accessible for many generations to come.

London Metropolitan Archives

As a kid I had many interests, I loved to spend my summers in the arcade playing great games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Who knows, maybe I could have had a career in IT!  But for me, ironically, it was history that fascinated me most, for as long as I remember I had an interest in old things. My grandfather, in particular, stoked this passion. I remember the stories he told me about history and war and especially about the great battles of our time. Certainly, he is a big part of why I am so interested in archives. Sometimes I think about how cool it would be to have him here today and have those conversations again. He also introduced me to the library I grew up near. A stocky brick building in the city centre, quite similar to the one that is home to LMA.  I still remember the smell of well-loved books and coffee in paper cups.

As a ‘grown up’ I am pleased to say I can continue to work with archives.  Last August I had the opportunity to join the Digital Services team at LMA. With more than 100 km of records, LMA is the largest local authority archive in Europe and the second biggest archive in UK after The National Archives. Here, I have been involved in numerous projects to digitise and preserve our archive collections, and I have also had the chance to work with COLLAGE - The London Picture Archive, containing over 250,000 photographs, prints and drawings as well as over 1,000 maps of London. All together there are around 2 million photos, prints, drawings and maps in the LMA strong rooms. Imagine how many stories there are waiting to be uncovered and interpreted!

Conclusion

This traineeship has been about much more than developing my skills.  It is about empowering and inspiring people to develop their passion for archives and the heritage world, being in a privileged position to unlock and reinterpret the past whilst understanding how future digital generations will use, access and interact with our heritage records. I was given so many opportunities to move forward in my professional career. I had a life coach who helped me to focus on my strengths and motivated me to find new ways to develop my confidence. I had the chance to attend a wide range of workshops and I had hands on experience which honed my skills.

Transforming Archives trainees, 2016

​Transforming Archives trainees, 2016

A year ago, I left London with a backpack full of dreams to start my archives journey in ‘a North East Coast Town’ and looking back it wasn’t too bad! Now I am back in the Great Wen with a job at LMA. I have made a small contribution to the sector by launching a job board for digitisation jobs and it now also has an international version spelled with a ‘Z’ - digitization jobs!

I see the digitisation sector continually developing and not just being defined by its traditional meaning - creating digital (bits and bytes) copies of analogue and physical objects such as paper documents, microfilm images, photographs, sounds, etc, but also coming to mean the digital transformation of business processes and workflows; there is a big change coming. It will merge digital preservation, archiving technologies, big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.  Many of these types of jobs are already popping up and share similar skill sets to those in the digital preservation sector - I have begun to include some of these on the job board and have even begun, tentatively, to build a second job board for Machine Learning Jobs. The robots are coming!

Special thanks

I’d like to say thanks to my fellow trainees and all the people I came across during my traineeship. Thanks to my managers Simon Wilson and Emma Stagg for their patience and effort to make this an exceptional experience. And of course, my other fellow trainee, Tom Dealey, who listened enduringly in our long conversations.

Transforming Archives

The National Archives’ Transforming Archives project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme. The year-long traineeships provided an introduction to archives, training and on-the-job development hosted by a range of archive services, giving trainees an exciting start in the archive sector. Find out more about this project on the National Archives website.

Published:
10 May 2018
Last Modified:
23 May 2018

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