A Day in the Life of an Archives Summer Student

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Patrick dressed for work.

This summer I had an amazing time visiting the Canada’s Museum of Science and Technology (CSTM). With my family and friends, we took in the sites and explored the exhibits, sounds and interactives of the new museum. There is so much to see that it requires several visits to take everything in as intended. My way into work every day this summer regularly offered me intriguing views of the new development around the museum and the constant stream of visitors arriving; it was a busy summer 2018 season for Ingenium!

I am a graduate of the Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College and in June 2018, I began working as an Archives Summer Student at the Library and Archives at CSTM. The Library and Archives building holds a variety of interesting rare books and trade literature and is located very close to the location of the new CSTM museum that reopened in November 2017. Most of my projects involved assisting with the preparation for the move to the new building for the collections conservation. It’s commonly referred to as the Collections Conservation Centre or “C3” and it is anticipated to be completed and occupied in 2019. The new building is being built directly across the street and adjacent to the current library and archives and collections buildings, so on that dynamic alone, it was a fascinating time to be working there.

As a student working at the CSTM Archives, I was able to observe various ongoing projects carried out by colleagues and other museum professionals. I took a guided tour by a curator of the collections warehouse that houses agricultural machinery and other objects. I got to walk through and view their entire collections storage and information management buildings and I also got a close-up view of various artefacts and machinery within the collections. It was a very memorable experience being able to interact with and learn directly about the museum collections and the ongoing projects that are being undertaken firsthand by the staff including curators, curatorial assistants, archives clerks, archives assistants, researchers, librarians, information management, artefact handlers, and collections staff.

A typical day would usually begin with a chat with my supervisor, Archivist Adele Torrance, regarding ongoing projects and discussing a plan for our respective days. From there, I would access my computer and pull up spreadsheets and archive documents and then go into the archive warehouse to retrieve or conduct work on my assigned projects. Over the course of my summer job, I worked with 4 main CSTM archives collections or fonds: Domtar / E.B Eddy, Canadian National (CN) Railway, Air Canada and the Corporate Photograph Accruals. Each collection offered diverse tasks: re-housing negatives and photographs, making file-level archival descriptions, working with previous metadata, and working with films from the Air Canada fonds in the cold storage freezer. The cold storage film project was one of the most interesting because I was tasked with packing up films into boxes, taking photographs to document films and inventorying each film prior to it being moved. The freezer hovered around 5°C, so I had to wear my parka, toque and mitts while working in there. The reactions I would get from around the office were amusing when I would walk around the building in my winter attire during the middle of a heat wave. Overall, my job involved a lot of the physical control of the collections, as well as  a lot of working in the warehouse storage areas, assessing and documenting documents and objects, moving or packing boxes or moving and describing the collection by documenting and inventorying.

When I first moved to Ottawa, the CSTM was the national museum that I aspired to work in one day and I’m proud that I was able to realize that goal. I feel fortunate to have had this experience and I’m excited that my journey on my career path has just begun.

By Patrick Chisholm

Profile picture for user Adele Torrance
Adele Torrance

 Adele Torrance is the Archivist at Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation.