Our names are James Fox and Amanda Bowie and we have just completed a four week Special Collections Internship with the National Library of Scotland. Both of us have a background in history: James is about to enter the final year of an MA in History at the University of St Andrews and Amanda has just completed the same degree from the University of Edinburgh, after which she will shortly begin an MSc in Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde. We have both previously worked in other archive and information-related roles and we are extremely grateful to the Cross Trust for funding this internship and allowing us this opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with such superb collections.
Over the course of four weeks, we spent time with different divisions learning about how the library functions and carrying out a wide variety of tasks. In the first week we shadowed the Special Collections Assistants, learning about how enquires, reproduction orders and permissions are handled a well as seeing how items are accessed by the public in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Our second week was spent in the Archives and Manuscripts Department and we were each given an individual project to work on for the week. James wrote finding aids for manuscript items in the Crawford Collection, while Amanda wrote a detailed index for letters sent to Smith, Elder & Company, publishers. Working through these week-long tasks with an expert mentor was a very rewarding experience and gave us a great understanding of what day-to-day work in archives and manuscripts involves.
After that we moved to the Digital Department where we gained an understanding of the digitisation process and the challenges this involves as the Library continues its extensive programme of digitisation. Issues with copyright, metadata creation and the constantly evolving means by which digital materials are accessed were topics we found very interesting as we simultaneously gained hands-on experience of image capture with the Library’s collection of past exam papers and Ordnance Survey maps.
In our final week we worked on auditing collections of pamphlets to ensure they were properly recorded on the Voyager cataloguing system, making them more accessible to the public and preparing them for digitisation. It was particularly satisfying to know that alongside learning how library cataloguing works and how information can sometimes fall through the cracks, we had made some valuable amendments to the online catalogue. We also spent time in the Rare Books Department, where we got the opportunity to look at some incunables, learn about the ingenuity of early book printing, and write descriptions for 18th– and 19th-century engraved plates.
Working at the National Library has given us such a wide range of experiences which will be invaluable in our future careers. It has been fascinating to work for such a large-scale organisation and we have had the privilege of seeing so many of its branches at work. After four weeks of auditing pamphlets, cataloguing manuscripts, digitising exam papers and traversing all of the library’s 15 levels, we end our time here thoroughly exhausted and a great deal better informed about what it’s like to work in a library. We are both so grateful to the all members of staff who have mentored us throughout our time here for giving such valuable advice and making this internship so rewarding and enjoyable.