Research by Students and Other Users

A History in the Workplace placement in Special Collections

Hi my name is Francesca, I’m a second year, single honours history student at DMU and I did 4 days of volunteering with the Special Collections as part of one of my modules.  Essentially one of our modules, History in the Workplace (HIST 2099), which is a relatively new one, requires its students to do a 25-30 hr placement in an institution or company. Placements such as these should ideally be somewhere which they feel might be a future career idea or something they link to their employ-ability skills which they learnt throughout the module. Some other ideas students have had are the Leicester Mercury offices, local heritage places, museum in Leicester such as the Newarke and New Walk. I chose to apply for a placement at Special Collections because after the trip to the National Archives our year had early in the academic year, I thought I might actually really enjoy seeing behind the scenes of a repository. The fact that it’s actually on campus and is near my accommodation was just a bonus. I did Tuesday to Friday, allowing me to get as close an experience to the work of an archivist as possible. Here is a day-to-day overview of what I experienced.

Day 1

After an initial tour of Special Collections last month during which I met Natalie and Katharine, my first day on placement began at 10 am and consisted of firstly, finishing a tour of the collections and then having an overview of the collections different forms of social media including twitter, Instagram, and its blog. After that, I met David, some of the other volunteers and saw the sort of work they are currently working on. After that I was given a brief idea of the sort of work that I’d be doing over the next few days. Then I learnt the different ways in which different artifacts can be prepared for cataloguing, and the house rules for the archive’s way of doing things. I worked mainly on sorting through and cataloguing artifacts from the Nursing and Midwifery collection. I learnt how to format tables on excel and catalogue on excel, using the latter skill to add a spread sheet about the midwifery collection. I managed to organise and catalogue three boxes and also attended the weekly talk on archival theory and practice. This week’s talk was on what environment and temperature are appropriate for different kinds of archives and the stuff they hold.

Me at work, courtesy of Natalie

Halfway through repackaging artifacts from Nursing and Midwifery box 13

Day 2

Day 2 started at 9 am  and I wasn’t the only student on placement that day. Another student, Liw, was finishing her placement at the same time. We carried on working on repackaging, sorting through and cataloguing the content of the nursing and midwifery collection together. We managed to get through 9 more boxes; meaning that ¾ of the collection was completed.  However we also began to work out a system which would allow us to condense the collection down as the contents were spread unevenly across the boxes. We managed to empty one box, which might not seem like a lot but actually took a lot to achieve. I have a new-found respect for archivists. I also began drafting this post in the last hour of Wednesday, with the day finishing at 5 pm again.

Liw and I repackaging more artifacts from Nursing & Midwifery

Day 3

Back to 10 am starts and today consisted of an entirely new project. With the anniversary of the University coming up, Special Collections have several projects on the go. One such project is trying to organise the artifacts and files they have about the University itself. So this involved organising the artifacts into various categories such as ‘centenary’ or ‘varsity’ which could then be catalogued into the system. Whilst also checking for duplicates in the files and separating them when necessary. This was done using the archive’s content management system, Epexio. Here you can create a catalogue that conforms with archival standards. With behind the scenes access I was able to create children in the catalogue and complete the hierarchies, such as the tabs of collection, fonds, subfonds, and item. Again I learnt how long it takes to do the manual and conceptual work of archiving.

Files for DMU’s 150th anniversary in their initial categories

Learning to use Epexio to catalogue

Day 4

Final day on placement, another 10 am start and today is for finalising the work I had done over the past few days. Including, finishing this post and learning how to navigate through the Special Collection’s blog on WordPress and how to post in it, learning from Natalie how to add some more levels to the catalogue for the 150 year anniversary that I did yesterday and if I have enough time, finishing some more boxes from the Nursing and Midwifery collection. With the day finishing at 5 pm on what was ironically, given the work I’ve been doing, the 149th birthday of DMU.  All in all I would say that I had a really enjoyable experience of Special Collection thanks to the very welcoming and helpful staff, and the actually quite interesting work they’ve had me doing during my time here.


Sophie Picks Up the Theatre Archive Project Baton: English in the Workplace Part 2, Blog 1.

By Sophie Nicholls

Hello and welcome to English in the Workplace! My name is Sophie Nicholls and I am currently undertaking a work placement in DMU’s Special Collections, in the Kimberlin Library. I have been given the task of continuing the organisation of one of their collections, the Theatre Archive Project. This is a remarkable opportunity, which is allowing me to gain a true understanding of archives and their importance.

Day 1.

Walking into the archives was rather daunting, I had never been to DMU’s Special Collections before and I didn’t really know what to expect. As I took in my surroundings, I realised that the archives housed more collections than I had imagined. With over 140 bays and a climate-controlled storeroom, I was overwhelmed by the vast majority of available texts and collections. I was immediately greeted by Natalie Hayton, who offered an incredibly warm welcome.


Just one of the many bays.

After a brief tour of the archives, I was assigned the responsibility of working on the Theatre Archive Project. Natalie explained that Nicola, a fellow English in the Workplace student, had begun working on the project. Unfortunately, she was unable to complete the assignment, so I would be picking up where she left off. Nicola had done an amazing job of sorting through the vast majority of materials within the collection. I was incredibly excited at the prospect of being able to continue her work and contribute to the workings of the archive. I began working on the last, unsorted box of the collection. It contained a plethora of items, ranging from old photo albums to a series of private correspondences. As I organised the collection, it became apparent how vital donations are to retaining history. Every letter and picture, told a detailed story. I was hooked.

One of many photo albums belonging to Robert and Hilda Taylor.

I began to cautiously work through and organise the materials: some items in the collection were rather fragile and needed some attention. I was wary when handling the collection, as many of the items were over 100 years old. I thoroughly enjoyed arranging the collection and often found myself immersed in the rich and diverse history of the items.

Organising just a few of the programmes from London based theatres.

My favourite part was reading the correspondence between Dr. Lada Price and J.B.E Wells, who kindly donated her aunt’s collection of theatre ephemera to the project. It was evident in their letters, that Wells hoped that her donation would preserve a piece of personal and theatrical history.

My next task was to focus on ensuring the preservation of photographs, postcards and damaged items. Whilst most of the items were in excellent condition, especially considering their age, the odd few were worse for wear. Natalie demonstrated how to preserve the items and explained that in order to ensure the long-term preservation of the collection it was vital to place them in acid-free packaging. This would prevent the collection from deteriorating further. I was surprised by the level of care that these materials required; archival paper and conservation grade folders must be used.

I really enjoyed my first day in DMU’s archives! I worked with an incredibly supportive and encouraging team, allowing me to work at my own pace. I am definitely looking forward to my next shift.


English in the Workplace Blog 2: Cataloguing the Theatre Archive project

By Nicola Hoyle

This blog post is a continuation of my previous post about my organisation of the Theatre Archive Project in Special Collections at the DMU Kimberlin Library.

The final step of the project for me was to begin creating a catalogue using the archive software Epexio, which would result in the collection becoming more accessible to students and researchers as it allows them to locate specific items through the website.

Initially I began by creating England and Wales as two separate sub-fonds. Within the sub-fond for theatres in England I created a separate series for each city/town that featured, and within these series I typed up information regarding the theatre programmes that were included.

A sneaky peak at how the catalogue is shaping up. It will be made live once completed – or at least at a stage that is presentable to researchers.

I began with a title (‘place’ theatre programmes) and the date, initially setting a date range of 1930 – 2002, which I later went back and edited for each series to reflect the dates of the programmes included. I then included some context about each theatre, which for some of the smaller, less well-known theatres (which may or may not have since been demolished) was difficult to research. For the content section I included the titles of each play from every programme, separated by theatre, and where possible who produced, directed and starred in it, as well as the date of performance. Including these extra snippets of information may be helpful for researchers looking for specific performances by certain actors (such as Laurence Olivier or Richard Burton!), or productions by a certain directors. This was a time-consuming process as I had to go back through each programme and look up the information I needed, which in some frustrating cases was unclear or even absent. I managed to work my way through most of the smaller series, however I ran out of time for the larger ones such as the London theatre programmes and Stratford-Upon-Avon! I didn’t even get around to doing the Welsh theatre programmes!

Sample entry from the catalogue

This process has really enlightened me to both the difficulties and the joys of working in Special Collections and organising such a project. It is definitely more challenging than I expected, but also incredibly interesting and rewarding to have been part of such an important project. I am now happy to leave the rest to the next volunteer and wish them good luck!


English in the Workplace Blog 1: Organising the Theatre Archive Project

By Nicola Hoyle

Hello, my name is Nicola and I am a third year undergraduate English Literature student happy at work in Special Collections which is based in the Kimberlin Library. As part of my module English in the Workplace I chose to work in Special Collections with the rare books and archives where I have been given the task of organizing one of their collections, the Theatre Archive Project. The archives at DMU are full of interesting things, and this collection includes hundreds of Theatre programs from all over the country which date from as early as the 1930’s. I will document some of my work organising them here.

Programme for a production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1957

Starting off:

Upon entering the library archives in I was immediately intrigued to see the rows upon rows of shelves containing old books on all kinds of subjects. Natalie Hayton showed me around and took me into the climate-controlled storeroom to retrieve the documents I would be organising, which were stored in acid-free cardboard boxes. After taking them out to the work area I set to it.

Programme for a production of Camino Real at the Pheonix Theatre.

Programme for a production of Milk Under Wood at New Theatre, London, 1956.

The collection had obviously been grouped a little but the majority of the material was disorganized and loose. As advised, I first began organising the programmes into locations, but after going through some of them I began to realise that I would need to start with region first. I started off with two piles, one of theatres in England and one for theatres in Wales. As I went through each box, unearthing a wide variety of programs, these piles soon became separated into smaller regional piles. I found that there were a great many theatre programs from London and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which did not surprise me. Other areas, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford, Coventry and Nottingham, had very small collections of programs. I was surprised, however, to find that my collection for Wales quickly expanded, with Cardiff and Penarth being the most substantial collections.




There were, of course, a prolific amount of Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, etc. There was also a large number of well-known theatre favourites, such as Cinderella, Oliver, The King and I, and so on, as well as a huge variety of plays I had never heard of. Perhaps I need to go the theatre more often! What I found most fascinating was seeing the old advertisements that many contained: adverts for cigarettes, alcohol, make-up and clothes stores appeared frequently, often with humorous theatre-related quips about their products.

An advert for Benson & Hedges cigarettes in a theatre programme.

An advert for gas appliances from North Thames Gas in a theatre programme.




Next, I began organising the programs via theatre once they were sorted into their region. Some theatres only had one or two programs, whereas some had dozens. I ended up with piles of programs across two whole tables, and it still wasn’t enough space for them all! To make it easier to identify the different theatres I would place a sticky note with the theatre’s name and location next to each pile.

As well as the theatre programs, there was a significant amount of other material to sort out, which were theatre-related but not technically programs of plays, ephemera, such as postcards of actors and actresses, newspaper articles and reviews, photos of theatres, and even one or two magazines.

A personal photo album from the 1940’s with photos of theatre performances and actors/actresses.



Programme for a production of Calamity Jane at Pheonix Theatre, done in the style of a newspaper from 1876.

Once I had the majority of collections sorted I set to work on packaging them in conservation grade materials thus ensuring their long-term preservation and ultimately making them much more accessible for future researchers.

What I found from my first three weeks of working in the archives is that there is an incredible amount of material stored there, and that having the chance to look through and organise some of it has been deeply interesting and enjoyable. Next up is deciding on a final catalogue arrangement and creating some descriptions.