Opening Up Scotland’s Archives: Trainee Visit

Thursday 2 March 2017

Earlier this year we had the pleasure of welcoming the Opening up Scotland’s Archives trainees to their second cohort visit of the year, here at the University of St Andrews Special Collections. The Opening up Scotland’s Archives scheme aims to improve skills and to develop the Scottish archives sector and you can read more about it and the current trainees here:

Our goal for the day was to give the trainees an introduction to the skills I’ve been learning in my traineeship and to give them ‘hands on’ opportunity to discover the wonderful collections we have at St Andrews.

cohort-day-palaeography_1We began the day with an intensive palaeography workshop in the teaching room in the Richardson Research Library in Martyrs Kirk led by my supervisor, Rachel Hart. Rachel gave the trainees an overview of her role as Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments and of the scope of the work undertaken by Special Collections in supporting learners and researchers both within and beyond the University. The trainees then had the chance to develop their palaeography skills in reading different hands using a wide range of documents from the University collections, dating from the 15th century to the present.

Helpful techniques and resources for reading historical documents were shared and the session had a distinct St Andrews flavour, with teaching materials drawn from such diverse source materials as the medieval diary of a Fife minister, eighteenth century anatomy lecture notes and the poetry of Douglas Dunn. The trainees seemed to enjoy trying out a new skill – as Samar commented:

“My traineeship has primarily focused on modern and contemporary material, so I haven’t had to consider palaeography to the same extent…Getting a taste of what it’s like to transcribe gothic and mediaeval script was a really valuable and interesting experience that I really enjoyed”.

The afternoon was spent at the store, where our Deputy Head of Reader Services, Steve Martin, spoke on the challenges of operating a remote reading room service and demonstrated how collection items are arranged and packed for safe transportation. As Jennifer commented:

“I…found it interesting to learn what challenges are faced with managing a remote service and the logistics which are put in place to overcome these.  This is something I’ve not seen before so it was an eye opener to the level of resources involved”.


cohort-day-rn_1After a tour of the stacks, Rachel and the rare books and photographic curators led a lively ‘Show and Tell’ session to highlight their current favourite items from the collections, bringing out treasures from daguerreotypes to a treatise by Galileo featuring his handwriting.

Sally commented: “It was a beautiful snapshot of the collection and easy to get excited about each object as the curators were so obviously passionate about them”.


I very much enjoyed introducing the trainees to the wonderful collections we have at St Andrews and sharing with them the learning and skills I have gained so far. Everyone seemed to enjoy the snapshot of the work of Special Collections, and Rachel’s final encouragement to the trainees to ‘keep and re-tell people’s stories, and enthuse others for those stories’ summed up the day’s experience.

Catherine Hollebrandse

Skills for the Future Trainee

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