The main task of my PhD research placement at the British Library was to catalogue a collection of approximately 330 French First World War posters. To do this, I fed metadata about the posters into a spreadsheet, which was then converted into records in Aleph, the integrated library system used at the Library. I was given training to use the relevant tools as well as in the correct handling and conservation of the posters. In addition to cataloguing, I was involved in digitising the posters in collaboration with Imaging Services.
Since the overall purpose of the project was to improve the collection's searchability and accessibility, I also wrote blog entries for the European studies and Americas studies blog pages, was active on social media and produced a small number of more in-depth item descriptions for the Learning team. I was given many opportunities to conduct personal research into the primary material and to further my knowledge of the collections.
Henri Montassier, '“L’Heure” has discovered The Machine to end the war”, 159 x 117 cm
For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of the placement was working with an incredibly inspiring and supportive team. I was made to feel welcome and valued and was invited to attend departmental meetings, which helped me situate my project, especially in the context of such a large and complex institution.
Aside from the well-defined tasks that were central to the placement, the scope of the project really had no upper limits and I was encouraged and supported in diverse initiatives, shadowing staff in other departments and engaging with a range of internal events.
My placement topic was quite unrelated to my doctoral research, but I still had opportunities to present and discuss my PhD at internal events and also gave a staff talk to present my work on the collections.
I believe the placement has bolstered my professional development. Over the three months I met dozens of brilliant people who generously shared the stories of their career pathways, which has been inspiring and encouraging. I have been able to gain a greater understanding of how careers take shape both in and out of academia, and how they intersect with the British Library.
Military requisition of carrier pigeons, 1917