Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dispatches From The Summer Assistant #1: Visiting archives

Television programmes often create an image of archives as rather serious and slightly intimidating places. Having visited various archives around Scotland, I started to reflect on the different experiences visitors have.

Many archives require visitors to book in advance. The reasons for this may include the size of the searchroom, the number of staff, ensuring that the information is held in the archive, the size or fragility of many archival items etc. Many archives provide a document delivery service every 15 minutes, so booking items in advance ensures that you won’t be kept waiting. In our archives searchroom there are normally two members of staff on the desk, so one is usually able to get records fairly quickly.

Visitors to Orkney Library and Archives do not need to book in advance. Our collections on microfilm are very popular so readers may wish to book microfilm readers to ensure that they are not disappointed. If visitors can’t find what they are hoping to see in our archives, they may be interested in the books in our Orkney room. This is a reference room with books on various subjects relating to Orkney and Shetland.

The images you see of readers handling documents in archives tend to show them wearing gloves. Friends have joked that white gloves are the missing link between archivists, snooker referees and mime artists. Archives are unique and valuable items, so all archives take care to preserve them which is why we ask readers to use pencils. In our archives white gloves are optional for anything post-1800.
Visitors may often come in after looking at books in the library downstairs. We have regular exhibitions and hope that all visitors can find something of interest.

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