Thursday, July 11, 2013

Surprises in the archive

I'm in London for what was supposed to be a leisurely two weeks of research: time to do what I needed to do while also enjoying the city and seeing some friends. My research agenda is straightforward, and I thought I'd budgeted for any surprises: I'm just double-checking my transcription of a few different manuscripts of the text I'm co-editing. I figured I needed a maximum of four days at the smaller archive that holds the more important manuscript, and less than that at the British Library.

Today was my first day at the smaller archive. I've worked there before and I'd arranged my visit months in advance, in consultation with the head librarian. A week ago I checked back in with her to confirm. She said that she'd be on vacation but that the archivist would have the manuscript ready when I arrived.

It was good day. I went at about the pace I expected, and figured that if I continued working that steadily and came in a bit earlier each morning, I could get done in two more days. When I returned the manuscript to the archivist, I mentioned--just by way of making conversation--that I was hopeful I'd be done by closing time on Monday.

Oh, the archivist said. No one's here next week. We're all on vacation.


Bardiac said...

So the archive will be closed????

OUCH! That's bad news.

jo(e) said...

Ouch. But maybe this new deadline will force you to get it done faster and have more time for enjoying the city and seeing friends?

Anonymous said... have got to be kidding me. I expect this kind of surprise in the Latin American country where I research, but in London? No way.

I'm in research country right now and yesterday, I had planned to meet a friend for lunch. Except everything got canceled because of a nation wide strike by the labor unions. These surprises come in many forms but like Joe said, maybe they can quicken the pace of research. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Yikes! I had a slightly similar experience recently. There's a public library in a large city on one of the Great Lakes that acquired a 17thC manuscript back in its heyday. I made an appointment to see it when I was passing through town, expecting that two days of work with it would be enough. I arrived for my appointment, took my time looking at some inconsequential parts (the binding, whatever) and began transcribing. 50 minutes after I started, the archivist said his lunch hour was coming up. "Oh, OK. What time should I come back to get back to work?" I asked. "Oh, um. Your one-hour appointment ends in 10 minutes. Is that not enough?" Turns out this library has no experience with our type of (non-genealogical related) research and was prepared to limit me to one hour with the book. Yikes! Luckily, I was able to plead for a few extra hours the next day and ended up getting the necessary work done. But, yes, "surprises in the archive!" --SJRenProf

Dr. Koshary said...

Sounds like day-to-day life for a researcher in pseudology. "Oh, nobody's here today. Can you come back next month?"

I could tell you stories...

Hope the hasty transcription went well!

Renaissance Girl said...

Argh. Hope you power through the superspeed transcription hand cramps!

Historiann said...


But, as SJRenProf suggests, sometimes these smaller & less professionalized archives can also be more willing to bend the rules, extend your research hours, etc. in ways that will benefit you. I hope you figured out a way to get your necessary work done & can keep yourself busy at the BL next week.

Also: I'm totally envious of you.

Flavia said...

Thanks, all! Getting up at 6.30 a.m. (to maximize my time today--the archive is a bit of a commute away) kept me from the blog until now.

Short version: after I spent all last night stressing out about how I could impress upon the archivist that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GET ANOTHER DAY without being a jerk and alienating her, when I arrived I found that she'd already made some phone calls and rearranged some things, so I can get another full day there next week. (There was no chance of my speeding things up any further: after working with this manuscript on several previous occasions, this is literally as fast as I can go. Seven hours there today only barely got me to the point that another seven hours next week will allow me to finish.)

And yes, this is the beauty and the curse of less professional outfits: in the past, they've left me in a totally random, unsupervised room with water and snacks (awesome!). . . but not being used to having anyone in doing real research means they don't expect someone to have made all her travel plans around visiting them. I think they just didn't read my email carefully or look at a calendar or whatever.

(But I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one this happens to!)

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

My experience has been that Londoners are very accommodating people, just like we New Yorkers.

Dr. Virago said...

I'm glad you got it worked out as best as possible! Between the FB post and this, I was panicking on your behalf!

Historiann said...

YAY! So glad to hear that it all worked out. I hope you brought in a bottle of wine or some fancy candy for the archivist who paved the path for you.