Last week I began my internship at Liverpool Hope University, working within the Special Collections department of the Sheppard-Worlock library. My main task is to sort through uncatalogued material within the library’s Talbot Collection and to research potential areas of interest within the texts for History undergraduate students, compiling a database as I go along. One of the main objectives of the project is to introduce students to the possibility of archival research, and more specifically, to encourage them to make greater use of the Special Collections department, a wonderful treasure trove of information, but one sadly neglected by students who are either too pushed for time, or too nervous to handle archival and rare material. Whilst week one was inductions, introductions and refresher courses, week two has been about settling into a routine, clarifying my role, aims, and, of course, any obstacles.
One of my main issues on the first day of my second week was to clarify my role in the whole project. The Talbot Collection contains a vast amount of material, most of which have religious content, however, there are also some literary gems such as editions of Ovid, Virgil, and Homer lurking amongst the shelves, in addition to volumes of eighteenth century newspapers and magazines such as The Spectator. Whilst I would dearly love to catalogue them all, my focus must remain solely on relevant History material, and the topics I discussed with my mentor during week one. Although to my delight, The Spectator and the works of Jonathan Swift did make the cut for my History database, the works of Ovid, and even poor Shakespeare did not. I discussed the project with the Special Collections librarian, who advised me to catalogue only the material which is relevant to History unless there is any time left at the end of the internship to catalogue the rest. I sincerely hope, but also sincerely doubt that there will be as I know the perfectionist within me will completely take over during the final week in the attempt to make sure that my History database, the project I was actually hired for, is, well, perfect.
After ironing out some more cataloguing concerns before the departure of the Special Collections librarian for annual leave, I started to discover major problems. When I began the internship, I was taking over the carcass of an abandoned project for a different department which a previous intern had already started, and unfortunately, made rather a mess of. When I got to the sections in the collection that she had already begun to work on I realised how erratic the current database was. Fortunately the mistakes were not terribly difficult to fix as most of them did not involve history texts, although I would really love to find the time at the end of the internship to amend these entries. However, it was necessary to check over all of her entries for basic mistakes, and as I did I discovered mislabelled texts, phantom catalogue numbers and some very sloppy spelling.
As I progressed through the week, I thought I had banished her ghost, however, the odd mistake of hers continued to plague me such as the discovery of some very odd entries of the works of Jonathan Swift which had simply been labelled as literature when in fact they were bursting with poems, satires, pamphlets, and correspondence. I was thankful she had only found two odd volumes of the works and not the eighteen volume set that I was able to catalogue myself. Extracting the material from the volumes for the History department, I saw Swift in a whole new light. As a literature graduate, Swift had always just been the guy who wrote one of the few books I have ever been unable to finish, Gulliver’s Travels, however, the fantastic thing about this project is the ability to see things from a different perspective, and to learn so much from the material I am unearthing.
Highlights of this week have been finding one of the smallest prayer books in existence (which certainly give the Brontës’ tiny books some competition!), examining the beautiful bookplates belonging to various owners over the centuries, discovering old newspaper cuttings inside texts which allow a brief glimpse into the past, and deciphering any marginalia which enables me to get to know the owners of these books who are speaking to me from across the centuries. There are also the beautiful pressed flowers that I sometimes find wedged between the pages of the dusty volumes, a literal piece of history falling from the pages of the books into my hands. I still can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to have been given a position in which I can learn so much, discover so much, and read so much. It really is my perfect job and I cannot wait to see what week three brings.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
All photos appear with the kind permission of Liverpool Hope University. Please do not copy or share these images.