Emma Hancox

Emma Hancox

Last updated on 27 April 2021

Emma Hancox is Digital Archivist at the University of Bristol and Sam Brenton is a Digital Archives trainee through the The National Archives’ Bridging the Digital Gap scheme.

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, the past year at the University of Bristol has been a busy one. As well as implementing Preservica we’ve beensam establishing our workflows and working on ingesting more of our digital collections.

Excitingly, in the New Year we welcomed Sam Brenton as our Digital Archives trainee through The National Archives’ Bridging the Digital Gap scheme. We wanted to take this opportunity to introduce him to Digital Preservation Coalition members and ask him some questions about his experience so far. 

What does being an archive trainee with the Bridging the Digital Gap scheme involve?

I am one of eight trainees employed by The National Archives, a Heritage Lottery funded initiative to bring digital skills in to the Archive sector. We have regular virtual meet-ups for workshops and training related to digital preservation and archiving as a whole but we are all seconded to a different host institution to get real-world digital archiving experience, in my case, at the University of Bristol.

What sparked your interest in becoming a digital archives trainee?

I was drawn to this position immediately as it seemed a really interesting and unique way to utilise my digital skills which are mostly audio-visual and come from studying media production at college.  The more I thought about it the more I realised that a lot of my own personal habits were suited to digital preservation. I’d always spent a lot of time on my own Google Photos collection, which includes everything from digitised family film photos to photos my friends posted on social media totalling thousands of photos all sorted chronologically. I’ve always been conscious of moving files off old laptops and mobile phones and onto external storage as I knew that they’d be far harder to access on the devices themselves years down the line.

What have you been working on so far?

My first big task was to create a Digital Asset Register for the digitised elements of the University's Special Collections. The next step involved identifying which elements belong to which parts of each collection and creating additional catalogue records if necessary.  I was then able to identify which collections were suitable for ingestion to Preservica as we move towards using Universal Access for our front-end.

What have you enjoyed about the job and being a trainee so far?

There’s so much I’m enjoying about this job, in particular the variety that comes from dealing with a range of different formats, be that audio-visual, physical, or web-based. I also love the strange juxtaposition of old and new. One moment I’m working with the latest preservation software or writing code to organise files, the next moment I’m reading parchment from the 19th century.

It must have been difficult starting a new job during lockdown. How have you found working from home?

It’s certainly had its challenges. There have been plenty of times where I would have benefited from working alongside experienced colleagues as I settle into a new role, but at the same time it’s forced me to be more comfortable with self-directed learning and become more resilient. Whilst I would have loved to have spent more time on the campus, everyone both at The National Archives and at the University has been really welcoming and supportive.

Has anything surprised you about working with digital archives so far?

Yes definitely, coming into this I assumed that digitisation was a straightforward solution to preservation and that it was much easier to preserve digital files than their physical counterparts but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I appreciate now that it’s often far easier to preserve a physical document than it is to preserve its modern digital equivalent and that active digital preservation is an ongoing process.

What are you looking forward to working on in the future?

We’ve just started our web archiving module with The National Archives, which is something I’m really keen to get stuck in to, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Wayback Machine which in the past I’ve described to people as the closest thing we have to a time machine. Web archiving feels even more important during Covid as webpages with details about restrictions are changing all the time but each iteration is important as it documents how the crisis progressed.

I’m also really looking forward to getting hands-on with some digitisation when it’s safe to do so, as I always enjoy working with AV content and on a different note, something I’ve been progressing in my own time is my skills with Python to help automate tasks. So far I’ve used it to speed up getting files organised for Preservica ingest but I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can do with it in the future.

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