DCH Library Team visit to the Dorset History Centre

Jack Welch, Library Assistant Apprentice, describes a recent visit to the Dorset History Centre.

Whether it is searching for your family history or seeking to understand a bygone era of Dorchester and its historic legacy, Dorset History Centre is the one stop service to find this information and more. Formed out of the now defunct Dorset Record Office and the County Local Studies Library, the centre hosts a vast collection of personal, journalistic and significant – as well as minor – materials that are largely accessible to the public. As part of my apprenticeship, some of my assignments are specified on archives and preservation of information, including digital records.

One of the strong rooms in the Dorset History Centre with rows of shelving containing boxes.

Along with members of the library team, we set off to the Centre for an organised visit, hosted by their Community Engagement Officer, Maria Gayton. With a guided tour around the building, we got a taste of the impressive Bankes Collection, a large-scale partnership which has been underway since 2015 (and still going from the volunteers who we saw cataloguing documents onto the system!) Like libraries, archivists have a role in assisting users to identify interest areas from members of the public who request to see documents, helping to direct resources and information which may not have been previously identified by the user.

Since the advent of COVID, and the growth of smartphones, demand and usage of documents has changed substantially compared to how they operated in the past. With the press of a camera shutter, people no longer need to spend long periods consulting documents in the facility, but rather take the information away on their phones and return the archived material. Another challenge is with any archived material that is uploaded onto social media channels, such as Facebook, the ownership of such records is difficult to hold and is not something that can strictly belong to the archive. However, digitisation itself is simply not feasible for all physical archives, which will be an unending task itself, and there is not just the capacity to take on this kind of work.

We were also taken into the strongrooms, which are the repository of many valuable archives that need to be protected from wear and tear across different forces. Upstairs in the centre holds the film and sound archives. Damp, pests and fire are just some of the risks which can cause lasting damage to documents that are almost certainly very fragile from being around for a lengthy period.

A person holding a pest glue trap with dead spiders and insects.

Air conditioning allows control of maintaining the materials and withholding any instance that can inflict humidity, which in turn promotes mould generation (which is never a welcome sight!) It’s an expensive aspect of running an archive with the energy costs, but one that is very much necessary. There are also solar panels installed on the roof to harvest those resources in a more cost-effective manner.

We were also shown the effects of the havoc that moisture and poor temperature control can lead to with one poor artefact that is now otherwise ruined.

A person holding an artefact, damaged by damp.

One of the most fascinating processes is upstairs in preservation and the work which protects archived material and safe for hands to come into contact. Washi (otherwise known as Japanese Paper) is often used for conservation purposes, and it is with painstaking effort that archivists at the Centre have been making sure that recent railway related documents are preserved for the years to come.

The Centre has a publicly accessible catalogue online, which comprises of a rich and extensive range of archived material from research guides to oral histories and electoral registers. It is very much worth a look and browsing through the many centuries of history to be found Browse collections – Epexio (dorsetcouncil.gov.uk).

The visit to the History Centre was especially informative in light of the fact the service is distinct from our own here at the library. While we might be providing the latest in articles and reading materials, the past and historic documents are more likely to be of greater interest to visitors over there, where you can find plenty about the history of this hospital.

An archive railway map and washi - Japanese paper - overlaying the material.

DCH Library Apprentice shares experience and learning – at the start of National Apprenticeship Week

Today marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week and our very own Apprentice Library Assistant, Jack Welch, shares his experiences, learning and views about working at DCH Library. As you will see he is making great strides in the world of library work but the rest of the team at DCH Library are also benefitting from his enthusiasm and experience.

“Starting as the new Apprentice Library Assistant, there was certainly one expectation that was thwarted – our range of general fiction/non-fiction was smaller than expected! You can probably gather my knowledge about public libraries, as opposed to health libraries, was much greater. At the time of writing this, I will have been with DCH Library for four months now, which like most enjoyable pursuits has flown by without too much notice (and is always a positive sign). As part of a wider network of health libraries across the southern region, I have found we play a subtle, yet influencing, role in supporting effective healthcare for patients at the hospital.

Here is Jack at the Enquiry Desk in the Library

Alongside providing a range of textbooks, which has inevitably decreased in the internet age, we ensure members at this hospital and beyond are able to access scholarly articles with ease and swiftly respond to those requests when they come in. What cannot always be seen afterwards is the impact that might have after on our end, but the aim is geared towards the care of patients in practice. Secondly, and while it is not strictly part of the library function, we give extra assistance to staff who are having difficulty in logging onto their staff records and complete that all-important mandatory NHS e-learning!

As an apprentice, 80% of the time I will spend inside the actual hospital and my workplace environment (COVID guidance permitting) and one day a week from home to concentrate on any apprenticeship related tasks. This includes monthly assignments, meetings with my tutor online and completing other learning tasks that form as part of my eventual qualification. The team I work with in the library have been a great source of help in providing the resources and information needed to complete my assignments with all the evidence needed to meet the criteria. Crucially, a big part of that is down to direct work experience and drawing on situations that we might encounter – some more often than others.

Settling into this position has allowed me to look at how we can also improve some of the library’s systems and improving the functionality of user PCs available. Since I joined, they now have the latest version of Microsoft Office and, hopefully soon, will be more secure with automated erasure of any personal files/information that can be accidentally left behind. I am also able to put on my creative hat at times and design new signage to inform our visitors of necessary messages – including leaving the windows open in the winter for ventilation!

Getting to know the wider team across my department, and others in our space, has also been reassuring and I’ve already started doing a bit of extracurricular activity, such as joining the internal ‘Without Limits’ staff network and our forthcoming Living Library week! I’ve even been giving a few website and IT advice to other colleagues in the building, when the need has arisen – I have several ‘hats’ which I can wear besides being a Library Assistant. There is much more I found I could contribute to beyond my immediate job responsibilities, which is always an encouraging sign for building new skills.”