14 May 2021
Reflections on a virtual placement with EAP
Over the past two weeks, we have hosted five UCL Archives and Records Management MA students. As part of their placement, they completed three projects and each of the students has contributed to this blog, reflecting on what they did during their time with us.
Project 1: Connecting EAP with Wikipedia
Over the course of my placement, I created and edited Wikipedia articles relating to two pioneering women photographers from the EAP collection. Marie-Lydie Bonfils, an early woman photographer and co-owner of a Beirut photographic studio, sadly did not have an existing article. So, I created one, also linking to it from other articles for readers to access the page.
Next, I expanded the article of similarly fascinating German-Argentinian celebrity photographer, Annemarie Heinrich.
I interact with Wikipedia on a near-daily basis, looking up a celebrity, checking the origin of a phrase, or falling down a spiral researching the history of bowler hats. However, I was a novice editor at best. While I knew that Wikipedia articles are created by many, I underestimated the level of community involvement. Editors highlight their interests with ‘userboxes’, icons with a nostalgic old-school social media feel.
In talk pages on every article, users discuss the facts, but also the language, structure, citations and specific wording.
Editing Wikipedia has made me think more productively about my writing, as we were encouraged to see our articles as ongoing and collaborative projects. Using Wikipedia is to invite others to edit and expand upon your work.
It has been a wonderful experience working with the EAP on this placement and improving the visibility of two incredible women on Wikipedia.
I have been working on connecting EAP to Wikipedia. Before the placement, I hadn’t edited Wikipedia entries, nor had I thought of it as an outreach tool for archive collections. The placement has made me confident in creating and editing Wikipedia articles, understanding copyright considerations and utilising Wikipedia’s possibilities in an archival outreach context.
I decided to work with Syliphone, a Guinean record label. I was surprised that Syliphone didn’t have a Wikipedia page - its influence over the developments in West African popular music from the late 1960s to the mid 80s were well noted. In 2016, The British Library made available The Syliphone Archive containing over 7000 digitised recordings from the label and their recording studios. I must have spent most of one of the days just exploring the collection, listening to the recordings. If I had to pick just one to recommend it would be the wonderful Sona Diabate Des Amazones - 22 Kele. Released in 1983, it was one of the final releases on the label and as such it really showcases the blending of modern and traditional West African music practice - it’s an 8-minute-long epic of happy/sad plucked guitar and marimba accompaniment. I could have it on repeat forever.
I really enjoyed my time working with EAP. All the support from the team has made for an informative experience. Their guidance and approachability has helped me produce a finalised Syliphone Wikipedia article. I hope it will draw people to the magic of The Syliphone Archive for years to come.
Project 2: Creating 'how-to' guides showing how to navigate EAP content
There was concern when I began my course at UCL that I would be unable to take part in a placement, but thankfully this was made possible. I was particularly pleased to be working with the British Library, having enjoyed the institution many times.
My project was writing How-To Guides for the Endangered Archives Programme with Thomas. I have had trouble navigating online catalogues, with guides not always being helpful. I agreed to work on finding the best search methods including the facets available on the website.
I found it tricky trying to put the instructions into a simple-to-understand manner for people who may not have English as a first language, altering words like "experience" to "practise", finding this a useful experience in considering how to make material more accessible. My work was overall interesting and satisfying and will hopefully assist others in searching the EAP website. I was able to appreciate how fascinating the Endangered Archives were, gaining a glimpse of the extensive information on display. I found my contact to be very helpful in clarifying the details. I would certainly recommend the British Library for research or for volunteer opportunities.
When deciding to carry out my Masters this year, I did this with the knowledge that placements may not be an option. However, thanks to the kind people at the British Library and, I am sure many others, myself and my fellow students have been able to access placement opportunities albeit remotely. Despite this, I have found the experience to be both informative, enjoyable, and challenging.
I was tasked, alongside Felix, to create “How-to Guides” for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). My role focussed on the Library's Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue as well as EAP's interactive map. Writing guides on these sections allowed me to explore and delve into the EAP’s website and further my understanding of online and digitised collections, whilst also expanding my knowledge of both EAP and its collections.
If any future students are hesitant to work with/alongside EAP I would highly advise it, as their staff are highly knowledgeable and passionate, and will aid you in both your given tasks and in understanding the archival world outside of a lecture theatre (Zoom call).
Project 3: Develop archival standards guide for non-specialists
While the experience of a virtual work placement was a new one for me, I found the experience rewarding and enjoyed learning about the everyday work of the Endangered Archives Programme team.
My task was to create a guide explaining archival hierarchies to EAP cataloguers who may not have a background working with archives. I explained why archives are arranged in hierarchies, and used examples from EAP collections to illustrate the different ways that a collection could be structured. I hope that my guide will be a useful resource for future projects, and that it will help the EAP staff when communicating with project teams around the world.
Spending time in the EAP catalogue gave me a chance to explore some of the fantastic music that has been digitised as part of EAP projects. I particularly enjoyed discovering the Syliphone record label recordings, an archive of sound recordings originally released on post-independence Guinea’s state-funded music label (discussed in more detail by Jack).
While I only scratched the surface of this huge collection, whose digitisation was funded through three EAP grants, my personal highlights were a balafon performance by the Ballet Djoliba, and this incredible unknown performer playing a pastoral flute.
The EAP team would really like to thank Hope, Jack, Felix, Thomas and John-Francis. It has been a joy working with them and they all produced fantastic material for us. We just hope we will be able to meet them in person before too long!