Internship, Literary Archives, Literature

Diary of a Special Collections Intern: Week Three

Three weeks ago I began my internship in Liverpool Hope University’s Sheppard-Worlock Library. Working within the Special Collections department, my task is to sort through uncatalogued pre-1900 archival material in order to research topics that may be of interest to the university’s History undergraduate students during their dissertation research. The texts with potential use to the students are then entered into a database which the undergraduates can use to search for relevant material, and then hopefully request to use it in the Special Collections department. I use the word hopefully as in addition to cataloguing a substantial amount of unknown material, the aim of this project is to encourage greater use of the department, and to encourage students to pursue archival research.


Week three was my first full week of working unsupervised following the departure of the Special Collections librarian for annual leave. My first two weeks were about clarifying the aims of the project, and my role in it; by the third week I had gained in confidence and understanding, and had smoothed over a lot of the cataloguing issues that cropped up initially, in addition to amending the previous intern’s erratic entries to the database. There are staff on hand from various departments if and when I need them, but working unsupervised and remaining focused on the task is not a problem for me (just ask anybody who has completed an MA dissertation). My interest in and passion for my task keeps me motivated. I have a thirst for knowledge and information, and there is something new to learn every day, from new cataloguing terms, to tracing a book’s fascinating provenance history, to deciphering marginalia, the job is stimulating and rewarding to a book worm and bibliophile such as myself and it walks all over my zero hour retail contract, no contest.
As the Hope careers advisers stressed in the induction several weeks ago, internships should be about give and take, not making cups of tea as my manager in retail wrongly assumed. In addition to gaining valuable knowledge and experience, I am putting together a database which will benefit future students and the Special Collections department in the long run, allowing me to give something back to a department which personally offered me so much, and really altered my way of thinking about my own dissertation material. It is also nice to think that I am leaving a little piece of myself behind and contributing to history myself by cataloguing this unique collection.

A lovely gift from a colleague

By mid-week I had ironed out my remaining cataloguing queries with the wonderful member of the English department who had begun the project and been incredibly stressed by the previous intern’s work. My entries are definitely not perfect yet, but it was nice to see that she was pleased with my progress, as is my mentor from the History department. It was also nice to be able to share some of my interesting finds with her and discuss our mutual fascination with marginalia, and how finding it within the volumes these past few weeks has been like meeting old friends again on the page. During my first week, I catalogued the Rev. Thomas Abbot section of the Talbot Collection, however, I felt as though I didn’t even scratch the surface regarding his marginalia. Rev. Abbot was a prolific writer of marginalia, and not satisfied with writing on every spare inch of blank paper within the volume, even inserted his own booklets into texts which contain commentaries on issues covered in the volumes. I skimmed through it in order to make the relevant notes for the History department, but it would be fascinating to be able to transcribe more of it. In my spare time I have already begun a side project of building up a profile of him and his life history which may be of some use to whoever is lucky enough to continue the project following the end of my internship in March.

Beautiful artwork

A major highlight from week three has been unearthing numerous eighteenth century religious and political pamphlets. I have often seen reproductions of these and digital copies during my research for various university modules over the years, but to be able to hold them in my hand and actually experience them rather than simply read them provided me with an entirely new perspective on their production and distribution history. I also found some beautiful examples of drawings and doodles within the volumes this week which certainly put my artistic skills to shame, and I located some first editions of seventeenth century Catholic texts which were owned by a priest named Cuthbert Haydock during a period of Catholic persecution in Britain. Using the provenance history recorded in the volumes, I have also begun to build up a profile of Haydock, in addition to some other priests who owned volumes within the Talbot Collection, and this information may be of use to whoever continues the project in the future.

A curious find

My most interesting and curious find to date though was Friday’s discovery of a slip of paper wedged inside Cuthbert Haydock’s text which is a typed acknowledgement of a text sent to and received by Pope Pius IX, and is signed by Henry Edward Manning, a former Catholic Archbishop of Westminster (1865-1892). For now though, this must remain a mystery as I remain focused on cataloguing the remaining texts in the Talbot Collection. In my third week I feel that I have mastered the balance between the three departments that have a particular interest in this project (History, English, Special Collections), in addition to the give and take balance of the internship more generally. I look forward to continuing my work and research next week and to unearthing more fascinating information and curious treasures from history.


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


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