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Settling into the Archives: catch up with our budding archivist

Sarah Cox
17 December 2010
Kew's Archives Graduate Trainee, Sarah, blogs about her fascinating work and the new skills she is gaining three months in.

It has now been three months since I took up the role of Archive Graduate Trainee at Kew, and already I have learned so much about archives and records management. Having realised that to truly know a collection can take a lifetime! I am content with my increasing knowledge of the archives here.

Having completed my induction I am now involved in a number of projects, one of which involves repackaging the papers of a botanist who was involved in the conservation of an endangered tree species, the Populus nigra. It is fascinating being able to see the extent of this man’s dedication to preserving the native trees of Britain. Unfortunately some of the papers have been badly damaged by damp and mould, and owing to the nature of his work I often find myself coming across suspicious looking envelopes filled with very old plant samples. However I find that this is what makes the job so satisfying; knowing that the important work of this man will not be lost and will be available for researchers in the future.

The Populus nigra papers

I am also now well under way with my first cataloguing project, which again concerns the papers of a botanist who worked closely with Kew. Whilst keeping the original order of a collection is important in order to ensure that it doesn’t lose any evidential value, I find that the challenge is in creating a clear and concise catalogue which will accurately reflect the collection and make it as accessible as possible. It appears that this botanist carried out invaluable work producing plant determination lists in the West Indies, and I really hope that the catalogue I create will increase the accessibility of his papers so that people will be able to use his work as a reference for many years to come.

In the Records Management aspect of my role, I have learned so much in the past couple of months. What seems very complicated in theory can be made very straightforward through well organised and efficient organisation. Being able to work with both current records and archives is a great advantage, as I am able to see the process of creating records through to their destruction or transfer to archives. It has also made me more aware issues surrounding the profession, such as the increasing focus on the need for effective electronic records management systems, and the PR work in raising awareness of efficient record keeping.

Sarah getting to know the collections

On a final note, I will be starting the MLitt in Archives and Records Management by distance learning at the University of Dundee in January. I think it is a great opportunity to be able to apply what I will be learning in practice on a day-to-day basis whilst gaining a qualification on the road to becoming a fully fledged archivist.

- Sarah -


Further Information


23 December 2010
Thank you, Sarah, for such wonderful insight of working in the archive. From my experience of tours and presentations in viewing archives, it is a monumental task and I agree - electronic records management is essential. It would also be nice to have it available for viewing on the internet for those of us who can't visit the archives in person. Good luck with your work and education - you have a very important job to do for yourself, Kew, and the world.
19 December 2010
becoming an archivist at Kew, in times when most girls dream about becoming dashing rock stars (or worse, wifes of some)... it'a like being a bit of an angel. it's like being real in an unreal world. congratulations, Sarah, i think there is more need of your kind!

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