Archiving for the future
Rachel Hosker's decision to do work experience with a shipbuilding business when she was 14 led her on a path to becoming the University's Deputy Head of Special Collections and Archives Manager.
I have been an archivist for the past 18 years and, before that, I worked in libraries since I was 17. I became hooked doing school work-experience in shipbuilding archives when I was 14.
I have worked in universities before, in private consultancy and multinational business, projects for national bodies and in local authority, all of which have had wonderfully different, surprising and amazing collections. Working with and making available our documentary evidence of real people’s lives has allowed me to discover the importance of what archives mean for today and the future. When I was at University thinking about what to do next, archives inevitably came up when I thought of my 14 year old self. I was challenged by my professor, who was on the board of the then Public Record Office for the UK as to what archives really were, why they are important, and to think about how to articulate this importance if I ever wanted to work in in the field. He did not let me get away with a vague answer and made sure I knew what I was letting myself in for!
Currently, I am Deputy Head of Special Collections and Archives Manager, based in the University’s Main Library. I look after the archives, manuscripts, photographs, archive film and much more within our collections. I also manage a fantastic team who catalogue and share materials through teaching, seminars, events and digital platforms in order to enhance research, learning, teaching and the student experience. Part of the skills you need as an archivist is to be a detective to find those records, mentions, people, and events that researchers are hunting for. As a profession, we are very good at finding relevant, unexpected things for researchers. I also bring in new collections by liaising with donors and work with people to fund projects to open the collections up.
Recently, I have been working a lot with the various Edinburgh festivals on archive elements of their collections and programmes. This has meant getting up on stage to host events and taking part in the ‘Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas’ at the Fringe, which has been great fun, and something I never thought I would end up doing as an archivist. Last year we explored alternative truths and the publicity included a very angry Donald Trump poster for my subject ‘Is the truth out there and is it in the archives?’
I am also on the UNESCO Memory of the World UK committee, which looks to recognise archives of national importance by placing them on the UNESCO UK Register. I enjoy being part of this work, to raise the awareness of the collections and their content, which contains our identities, rights and culture. The University looks after two UNESCO recognised collections itself.
For the future, I am looking forward to engaging people even more with the collections and showing their relevance for now and the future. We are hoping to do more projects working with students and staff, using digital skills to enhance and create a diversity in access to the collections and understanding their content, contexts and the real use that can be made of them. I would like to see the collections work as an ambassador for the University, demonstrating not only its sustainability in forward thinking and drive for knowledge enhancement but also its role within community, both locally, nationally and internationally.
I am looking forward to engaging people even more with the collections and showing their relevance for now and the future.
Something I know...
We hold collections from AD17 (a tax receipt!) right the way up to items created yesterday (not tax receipts!).