Internship, Literary Archives, Literature

Diary of a Special Collections Intern: Week One

In 2017 I graduated from Liverpool Hope University having been awarded my MA in Popular Literatures. It was my second degree following my BA many years ago from a different university. I had a four year gap in my studies having fallen victim to the curse of retail work. After trying and failing to find a full time job, my love of literature combined with my desire to actually have a career rather than a zero hour contract led me to Liverpool Hope. Despite only having one or two classes a week, I loved my time there; the tutors and staff were all so helpful and friendly, and I was even given the opportunity to spend a few hours a week volunteering in the Special Collections department of the library. I undertook this due my love of old books, my desire to enhance my very pathetic CV, and to gain some experience in the handling of rare and archival literary material in preparation for my dissertation research on Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia and early work.

Following the completion of my dissertation and graduation, I fell back into the trap of retail work; unsocial hours, low pay, and even lower prospects. I had wanted to pursue my studies at PhD level, but a lack of funding and direction meant I was slipping back into exactly the same place I had been before beginning my MA. That’s why I was so delighted to receive news of the Hope Internship Programme which was offering 8 week paid internships in various departments across the university. My first instinct was to search the English vacancies, but after failing to find a suitable position, I began to search through more general vacancies. After coming up empty again, I decided to search specifically for library vacancies. Needless to say I was delighted when I found a vacancy for a Special Collections Assistant intern who was wanted to catalogue texts and create a database which could be used by undergraduate students during their dissertation research. It seemed perfect, however, there was a catch; the vacancy was for the History and Politics department, and so a History degree was necessary.

Dismayed, I wondered what to do before deciding to apply anyway. On my application form, I openly stated that I was not a History graduate, but that my skills and experience in the department made me a suitable candidate for the role. I sent the application the same day, not expecting to hear any more of it but several weeks later I was surprised to find an email inviting me for an interview for the internship at Hope. After meeting with my potential mentor and actually enjoying what seemed like a 45 minute chat rather than a stuffy, awkward question and answer session, I felt confident that I had represented myself as best as I could, and that if I was unsuccessful, it would simply be because of the required qualification rather than anything I had done or failed to do at the interview. Just two hours later I received an email informing me that I had been awarded the internship.

reading room

A week ago I arrived for an induction day along with the rest of the interns. I thought it would be a boring day where lots of people talked at us about very boring things. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. The day flew by and the scheduled talks by different members of staff and careers advisors were extremely helpful. There were talks on everything from payroll and tax issues, social media, and, more importantly, how to make the most out of your internship, and how to make it work for you. The university’s stance on internships was also incredibly refreshing. When I told a senior member of staff at my retail job I had been awarded an internship, he rolled his eyes and made comments on how I would be stuck making cups of tea for weeks. How wrong he was. Liverpool Hope University’s attitude is very different; the internships they offer are positions to learn, gain valuable experience, and make connections to help with future employment or study.

My job is to search through uncatalogued books and recently donated material in certain sections of the library’s archives, locating material that may be relevant to History undergraduates during their dissertation preparation, and to enter it into a Microsoft Access database. This database benefits the university in many ways; firstly, a large portion of unknown material gets catalogued and entered into the database, secondly, history students will be able to access this information easily, and thirdly, it will encourage them to use the Special Collections department once they have found potentially useful material in the database. This will hopefully lead to greater use of such a valuable department, enhance students’ research skills and enable them to find some niche areas of interest for a more interesting dissertation topic. The role does of course also benefit me. I am able to enhance my research skills, improve my knowledge of the early modern period, it provides me with valuable experience for my CV, it is a paid position, and I enjoy it more than I can say. I am already dreading the prospect of a return to retail in March.


My first week has involved so much learning and research (and so many old books!) rather than making cups of tea and standing around waiting to be told what to do and when. I have learned what an internship can and should be, and also had some lessons in what not to do from the previous library intern who began this project initially before it was shelved. The previous version of the database was erratic, with missing entries and incorrect material. In addition to discussing my aims, key research topics to look for, and desired outcome with my mentor from the History department, I also discussed the database with the Special Collections librarian and a member of staff from the English department who was involved with the original project. Although the database will be for History students, it is important that the information I enter is of use to the Special Collections department, but also other departments such as English where courses on book history are taught. One of my main tasks this week has been to evaluate my role and assess how I can find a balance between these three departments.

uni 2

I have steadily been making progress, but it has been a slow start due to the enormity of the task and the issues caused by the previous intern. I have also had to re-familiarise myself with book handling processes and cataloguing and bibliographic terminology. So far I have worked largely unsupervised but the Special Collections librarian has been in the department for me to consult whenever necessary, however, she will be on leave from next week. I am confident about and perfectly capable of working unsupervised, however, there may be a few issues with terminology and cataloguing which I will have to iron out before the Special Collections librarian leaves. At the end of the first week, I feel like I am easing into a steady working pattern; I know what topics to search for, how to correctly catalogue and enter texts into the database, and I have managed to correct the previous intern’s entries regarding History texts. I am enthusiastic about the project and I am confident that the outcome will be positive for both the university and myself. I am sure there will be more challenges and hurdles next week, but I am determined that they will only be temporary issues.


All photos appear with the kind permission of Liverpool Hope University. Please do not copy or share these images.


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