One of our volunteers,Whitney, has been interviewing MERL & Special Collections staff about their roles. Today she talks to Nitisha, a Law graduate who now works as a Conservation & Archive Assistant. Though she started out with little experience in Museums & Archives, volunteering with our Conservator gave her an opportunity to learn about that field of work. In the first of two posts she discusses her role as an Archive Assistant, working on the Beckett Collection.
- How did you get started in Museum work and what is your background training?
I met Rhi [Dr Rhi Smith, Director of Museum Studies, University of Reading] at a field project at Silchester Roman Town, and she advised that I volunteer at the museum. I volunteered for about a year at MERL and then I got a short term contract. I had done some work experience in the past working for law firms but felt that was not my calling and I had always wanted to explore Archaeology. So I did a short course at the University of Oxford in Archaeology.
- What is your main job role?
My role in the archive is specifically more geared towards the digitisation of the Samuel Beckett collection. A while ago the University acquired a manuscript well worth over more than £million. Since then, the University has decided to digitise the whole of the Samuel Beckett collection because the collection is so widely and regularly accessed and to facilitate the work of those researchers.
- Is that transferring documents to the online space so people can view and access them online?
Not specifically with the Samuel Beckett collection because there are copyrights on the documents and manuscripts. It’s mainly to digitize it at the moment and preserve it for the future. After I’ve digitised them I then print off copies because the copies that are currently available for the readers are not very good ones. That’s why we are going through this process of digitisation. Also, if there are other colleagues who need some pictures to go on online, or on social media, I can do that as well.
- So can researchers then use those images and publish them in books?
That’s right yes, but I think they would have to go through a process of applying to the University to seek authorisation to use those images, but yes they would be able to.*
- What aspects of archiving interest you the most?
When I am able to make a difference, for example digitising the Samuel Beckett collection to make it accessible for future researchers and enabling them to get better quality copies, so this in turn enables them to do their work.
- What are your thoughts when you come across people that may not necessarily value the importance of working in a cultural or historical setting?
I personally feel a deep connection to heritage, and cultural heritage in general. I feel that I perform best when I can link my personal passion to my work. It’s important to preserve the past because you can only learn from the past to make yourself better in the future. If we don’t preserve the past we will just lose our roots. It’s really important to have people who are guardians of heritage.
Whitney: Wow, so it’s really about coming to terms with and understanding a past you may not have been involved in and being cultured. It’s really amazing to be able to explore spaces and places through the span of history and gain a different perspective of life through that.
Nitisha: I think you’re quite right there, and I think with law I was not able to express myself creatively. I had to follow rules and even at the end of a case, you might have gone through a set of rules and realise it’s not necessarily fair. That would annoy me a lot and would conflict with my personal values.
- How do you feel once you’ve come to the end of a project? What emotion runs through your mind?
It’s a very good feeling when you’ve finished a project and you’ve given it your best. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I’ve finished something, handed it over to the next person and accomplished what I was meant to do.
- What new things have you discovered about either yourself or job role since working at MERL?
I’ve discovered that I’ve always wanted to do something but have never known what it was! After I started volunteering here at MERL it really confirmed my desire to work in the heritage sector. Although it’s very tough to get a job or progress within the heritage sector I still very much enjoy it and want to carry on.
It was a pleasure talking to Nitisha about her role as an Archive Assistant, understanding her approach to her work and all the different opportunities that have presented themselves through her time here at MERL. Next week we’ll be exploring some of the exciting work she does over in the Conservation department.
*As Nitisha has stated, we only copy items in the Samuel Beckett Archive for preservation purposes in order to reduce the handling of the originals, which are in high demand. Other copying is done for a wide range of purposes and for both internal and external users. For every request we take copyright into consideration. Anyone wishing to use copies of material in our collections – whether in print or online – should contact us in the first instance (email@example.com).
The second part of Nitisha’s interview, where Whitney talks to her about her role in conservation, can be found over at the MERL blog.