Coffee, cats, and metadata: Archivists working from home

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Archives team in a Zoom meeting.

The first full week of April marks Archives Awareness Week in Ontario, Canada. Ingenium has two physical locations for its Library and Archives in Ottawa — one at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the other in the new Ingenium Centre building (located next to the Canada Science and Technology Museum).

The past year has been anything but typical. Staff at Ingenium’s Library and Archives have focused less on the physical and more on the digital/virtual — thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and staff mostly working from home. In honour of Archives Awareness Week, the Ingenium Channel sat down with Adele Torrance, Marcia Mordfield, and Sian Jones to reflect on challenges and silver linings from the past year.

How has your job changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began?

“We’ve had to adjust our plans, pivoting to projects that can be done without consulting the physical collections. There has been a lot of work with metadata, and a lot of answers to researchers saying that we’ll have to get back to them.” ~ Adele Torrance, Archivist

“It has become completely computer-based, as opposed to the combination of working on a computer and physically working in the archives.” ~ Marcia Mordfield, Assistant Archivist

What are you working on now?

“I am still responding to reference requests, but my main focus has been to work on metadata for the CN Images of Canada Collection. I’m adding keywords to make the images more searchable in our digital asset management system and Digital Archives.” ~ Marcia Mordfield, Assistant Archivist

“I am working on a digital collection of aviation images, from a variety of eras and sources. Having to focus on this one project has enabled me to complete a large portion of the project ahead of schedule; I hope to finish it before we are able to physically return to work, later this year!” ~ Sian Jones, Archives Clerk

What work is not possible at the moment?

“Prior to the Covid outbreak, I was working on a preliminary inventory of a very large fonds. I was about halfway through the fonds when I had to abandon that project and start working from home. It may take a bit of work to get back into the mindset when I return to it.” ~ Sian Jones, Archives Clerk

“It's not possible to fill the requests for copies of our technical drawings, as those need to be sent out to be digitized or printed.” ~ Marcia Mordfield, Assistant Archivist

“There were a number of processing and digitization projects planned for this year that we’ve had to postpone. We’re missing the on-site assistance from our wonderful volunteers as well.” ~ Adele Torrance, Archivist

Are there any silver linings to the situation?

Image is a photograph of a woman sitting at a kitchen island, where her computer is set up. A cat sits on the chair beside her.

Marcia in her home office, with her cat assistant, Simon.

“I think the silver lining professionally is being able to have full control over your own time management. There are no interruptions. Personally, it has been wonderful to be home with my husband and cat…and also being so close to my coffee maker!” ~ Marcia Mordfield, Assistant Archivist

“There have been a lot of inexpensive or free professional development webinars and online courses made available during the pandemic. It’s easier when working from home to dedicate time to developing Zoom skills, for example. Recently, there have been a number of trainings on anti-oppression work in archives. Last summer, I was able to follow the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course. ~ Adele Torrance, Archivist

Image is a photograph of a parked car in a snowy driveway, with about 30 cm of snow on top of its hood.

Sian’s car, buried in snow during the pandemic.

“Despite the restrictions on movement and socializing, there have definitely been some silver linings to working from home…not having to tangle with those crazy drivers going to and from work especially during the winter months! There are fewer distractions, which means I can get more done because my concentration does not get broken by external demands. Plus, the kitchen is next door, so coffee is easier to get more often!” ~ Sian Jones, Archives Clerk

Has the pandemic contributed to our archivists’ coffee addictions? Possibly. Yet, when we’re able to go back regularly to both of our Library and Archives locations, I’ll wager that we won’t need the caffeine buzz as much; our energy will come instead from being able to see our colleagues, clients, volunteers, and collections up close and in person once again.

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Adele Torrance

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