“Exciting and compelling work placement”

The Special Collections Division of the University Library has a long tradition of offering volunteering opportunities, internships and work experience for students and school pupils. Here are the reflections of the latest senior school pupil to spend time with us…

For two weeks I gained work experience by working with Special Collections, shadowing each member of staff in turn and learning how they contribute to both protecting the more precious and fragile documents of the University, and making them available to others to help aid historical research.

Robert working on a transcription of a WWI letter

Throughout my work experience, I was amazed at how diverse Special Collections actually was. While I had expected simply a large warehouse containing rows of dusty old books, what I actually experienced was a huge project, combining Science, Maths, History and many more academic fields. In addition, I was also impressed at how much of the work at Special Collections was devoted to categorising each article, no matter how small, and documenting different information in order to make it accessible to anyone.

One of the most interesting aspects of my work experience was looking through the Rare Books collection of Special Collections, with ancient Bibles, unique documents and a book signed by Galileo sitting almost side-by-side. It really helped to show just how valuable the articles held with Special Collections are, and how important it is that they are preserved so that they can be used in the future.

During my work experience, I also helped to transcribe letters, written by a British soldier in World War 1. This was really interesting as it gave the impression that I had travelled back in time to follow the life of a young man who fought over 100 years ago. The transcription process was also interesting, as even the relatively recent handwriting in the letter was difficult to understand initially. Gradually though, I got used to the way he wrote and the words he used, helping me to read the letter almost as easily as if it were modern. The historical side to the task was also interesting, as it gave a first-hand view of the thoughts and opinions of this soldier on the political turmoil that was erupting around him. I found it almost reassuring to see that many of the opinions he shared, on war, opposing countries and the hope of a better future were similar to opinions that are still common today.

WWI Letter from Edwin Harold Walter to his wife Edith Mercy Walter, 30 July 1917 (ms38661), with Robert’s transcript of the letter below:

Rest Camp
France
Monday 30/7/17

M.O.D. Wife,

Shall probably be unable to let you know
anything further for [     **     ] as I hear we shall be
that time in the [     **     ] but all the same I will
do my best if an opportunity arises.

Hope you had a better day than you expected Sunday.
I know that Dad & Flo will do their utmost to cheer you
& try to keep you from thinking too much.

I had a few short snatches of sleep yesterday, then
strolled around the Camp with Moss & chatted about
our usual Sunday proceedings, he is a nice fellow,
so different from the others with their lower minds,
it seems nice to chat about something elevating; he
is waiting now for me to finish & then we get rifle
inspection & after that we can stroll round camp again.
My first experience of tent life was not charming
but I slept in my overcoat and had one blanket for
my feet; but the ground was hard I must say;
anyway I had more sleep than I did on board.
How I shall get on in the [     **     ]_goodness knows:
keep carrying on I expect somehow.

I appreciated the egg I brought from Wimbledon, it went
down fine this morning, with our biscuits; it seems
peculiar using the mess tin for everything
after having plates & enamel mug etc., but of course
everyone is alike here, so cannot have any qualms
about it. I shall miss the daily papers I guess
when we get fairly on the way; but perhaps it
will be different when we finally settle down eh dear?
Shall be thinking about you on Bank Holiday, do
try & enjoy yourself & get all the rest you can too.
Give a big kiss to my little Joyce & tell her Daddy
will want to see her a great big girl when he comes
home, so she must be good & help Mummy.

Goodbye for the present now dearie,

With all my love to you,

Your loving hubby,

Hal.

[     **     ] represents blocking out of words by the censor.

Overall, I found my work experience exciting and compelling (except for a Wednesday morning meeting that went right over my head!) and have loved every second of it. In particular, the staff at Special Collections have all been engaging and friendly, making me genuinely interested towards their separate jobs, even when these jobs include categorising hundreds of books each day in order to build up a record for the University to use. In addition, the staff impressed me at the wide range of tasks they perform each day to improve St Andrews Special Collections and the devotion they have to their jobs, showing positivity and passion throughout my work experience.

Robert Connolly Brown
Volunteer at Special Collections

PS Robert’s parents gave their permission for his photo and text to be put online, for which we are very grateful.

One response to ““Exciting and compelling work placement”

  1. What a wonderful opportunity for this student, and all the others who get to work in Special Collections. Whether or not he pursues education in history — this give him a wonderful appreciation for the past and those people who made history and though they may have lived differently, had many of the same worries, interests, and goals in life.

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