Back to (archive) school...

This week, our Project Archivist Louise experienced LHSA from a different point of view…

Back in summer 2009, I started to volunteer at LHSA in order to gain experience of archive work before deciding to apply for professional training. I was LHSA’s first long-term volunteer:  by the end of my placement, I managed to arrange, rehouse and catalogue a substantial paper and object collection ( In fact, I liked it so much that I returned in 2011 to volunteer with another two personal collections, one centring on mental health oral histories and another on respiratory health.

Since my first contact with LHSA, we have offered numerous volunteer placements (and recently two paid internships): many volunteers have an interest in or are already undertaking professional qualifications in information management or conservation. Now, those who contact the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) to volunteer with us are offered an archive’ taster day’ through which they learn about the varied work that LHSA does and the records that we care for. I think that this day is a brilliant idea – it gives prospective volunteers a chance to look at different aspects of our role to see if an archive environment is really for them. Conversely, archive staff can make sure that they offer the right opportunities to the right people.

Looking at the programmes that our Archivist, Laura, prepares for our one-day volunteers, I’ve always been more than a little jealous because these days were not offered when I joined LHSA as a volunteer cataloguer. So, when Iain Phillips came in for a taster day, Laura suggested that I join in as well…

After a tour of the stores, the day started with training on research for archive enquiries. Although I have been working at LHSA for almost a year now, I catalogue very specific collections, meaning that I don’t undertake general enquiries work or deal on a regular basis with a large range of our records. Researching family history enquiries with the help of Stephen, our Archive Assistant, taught Iain and I about the trail that is followed to track down individual patients, from patient and staff registers to admission papers and case notes. The day continued with an introduction to conservation photography, using LHSA’s digital SLR camera to help Stephen to take photographs of letters written from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for an upcoming exhibition.

Iain and I busy with research on enquiries….

After lunch, we started work on indexing the casebooks of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. These casebooks are heavily used by medical and family historians, so creating a searchable index to them allows us not only to find individual patients extremely quickly, but also to search details such as age on admission, patient occupation and medical condition. You can read more on the project in last week’s blog post:

Then it was on to the Digital Imaging Unit (DIU) to look at their work in digitising CRC collections for preservation, access and promotion. If you would like to see some of the images produced by DIU, they can be found here:

Finally, I introduced Iain to the neurosurgical case notes with which I work (, this time wearing my hat as a member of LHSA staff! I had a wonderful day, reminding me of how lucky I am to work in such an enthusiastic and resourceful team - and with such generous and enthusiastic volunteers!