Explore Your Archive: “Explorers” in our Archives…

As Public Services Archivist, I get to meet a whole host of different researchers, visitors and students in a busy, creative environment. A major part of my role is administering the Research Room and making sure our visitors are able to access our collections. img_0213So who exactly does visit, and “explore” the University of Surrey Archives & Special Collections?

Looking back over the first semester, I can say straight off that it is a mixed and varied bag (for want of a much better and more flattering word). September and October were certainly busy, for a number of reasons – the start of a new academic year and semester, promotion of the University as a whole via Open days, the Heritage Open Day event, and, of course, our 50 year celebrations as the University of Surrey.

During that time we have had many people through our doors. The start of term always begins with a myriad of student induction sessions; new students as well as returners studying dance, theatre studies and liberal arts are always interested in our dance archives and sessions involved looking in depth at Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss as well as our more general core collections in relation to research methodologies.

New for this year was a session with our English Literature students who came to look at some examples img_0196from The Thomas Farrer Collection, a Victorian gentleman’s library comprising of over 2000 volumes. Studying the Victorian novel, students enjoyed looking at the physical aspects of the Victorian book, including bindings, decoration and advertisements. What is satisfying is that a number of these students have since independently returned to the archive for their own research and it has been interesting to see how they intend to use the material they have viewed. I am currently encouraging the English students to forward me their resulting blogs on the Thomas Farrer collection as it should be an interesting read!

At the beginning of the month we hosted a visit from students studying Narrative Journalism at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham. It was an interesting session which included a broad introduction to archives and research in general, followed by a glimpse of just some of the many E. H. Shepard letters that we hold – these ones were to his wife Florence during WW1 – to see how a story can be teased out from an original, primary source.

In terms of external researchers to the Archive, it has been an incredibly busy time. The Rudolf Laban Archive, as ever, has been well used by a number of researchers – from London, Oxford, and Austria. Such research tends to be very time intensive due to repeat visits as the Archive is vast and researchers don’t want to miss anything!

Internally, we have had a lot of interaction with other University staff, primarily the Social Media Team, who view us as a rich resource for photographs with regard to our social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram and our anniversary celebrations, and the Marketing and Alumni departments, again in relation to our 50th year. This has included hosting a whole film crew in our archive store, filming the stacks for inclusion in the short film produced to celebrate our “50 years of wonder” (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/50th-anniversary/).

displaya_univeristy-archives72Just before the semester began we had two events which brought in large numbers to the Research Room: the Heritage Open Day and the University Open Days. Both of these provided a great opportunity to showcase our collections to what turned out to be a very large number of people.

Lastly, and a highlight for me, was an ad hoc visit by a lovely family from New Zealand who were visiting their daughter, a student here. As huge Winnie-the-Pooh fans they had heard we hold the personal archive of E. H. Shepard and were wondering if they could look at some original Pooh artwork. Well, when someone has travelled from literally the other side of the world, it’s certainly hard to say no! We spent a lovely time looking at the illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh that we hold and it was a real privilege to be able to share such gems with genuinely interested people.

So, a busy time of year filled with many different people. But all of these visitors, researchers and students make my job feel incredibly worthwhile and reminds the team just why we spend so much time caring, preserving and conserving our collections; so future generations can all spend their day exploring, learning and discovering…

What will you discover?