10 Years: 1 Week – Ian Johnson

At the beginning of ‘one of those weeks’ (first world problems etc.,) I was contemplating writing this post on how my career has panned out so far, nearly ten years since qualifying from Liverpool. The short version of that is frustrated history graduate discovers archives, volunteers, studies, throws himself into being a Local Authority Records Manager, then tempted to the other side of the street by a Project Archivist post (Hillsborough Disaster). Back in God’s country at Newcastle University, another Project Archivist post, yet another Project/Maternity Cover Archivist post, a coveted permanent Archivist post, and now Head of Special Collections & Archives.

So far so samey, I thought. But then (*spoiler for Thursday alert*), as I was contemplating the ins and outs of hauling music manuscripts across a footbridge in the Scottish borders, it struck me that I’d never have predicted such things as a new qualified professional earnestly scouring vacancies a decade ago. With that, I hope it’s useful to get some insight into a less typical week in the life of this particular archive service manager.


Store Temp/RH: 17.6/44. Meeting with a PhD researcher in School of Education. Worked with us before on a comic project using archives. Wants to use our collections as inspiration for Freedom City themed comic book. Celebrating Martin Luther King’s honorary doctorate at Newcastle University in 1967 – the only UK University to bestow. Show and Tell led by our Senior Archivist, who is curating our own programme on the topic. Left inspired and eager to collaborate. Rewrote our digitisation workflow for the sixth time this year. Wonder silently if microfilm is really so bad.


Store Temp/RH: 17.9/42. Invited to speak at the Northern Poetry Symposium. On a panel badged ‘Poetry in the Digital Age’, because of our work on the Poetics of the Archive project and close relationship with our School of English. Manage to rant about excessive copyright durations.

Panel for the Northern Poetry Symposium.

Manage to sidestep accusations of being an app developer/technocrat. Get to hear some live poetry and experiences/opinions of passionate, creative people. A real treat!


Store Temp/RH: 17.6/43. Attended a library ‘cross sectional’ on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). A whole slide on Special Collections! Pleased we’re becoming so high profile. Not so pleased I had to comment on the bits in the red. Between wading through e-mails, put together a presentation for the University’s Engagement Forum with our Education Outreach Officer. Suddenly pleased we took so many pictures of people looking engaged!


Store Temp/RH: 17.7/45. Four-hour round trip to Scottish borders. Meeting with a depositor and picking up the archive of significant guitarist and composer (press release to be released!). Fortunate to have experts from the School of Music accompanying.

Locale picturesque and signal-less. Saint-like Library Attendant lugs twelve packed trunks over two fields and a foot bridge (see pics). Feel suitably emasculated. Wonder how they’re going to get the grand piano out.


Store Temp/RH: 17.6/48. Local trip to meet with a Children’s Literature expert and depositor (press release to be released, again!). Guest curating an exhibition at the end of the month on his collection and his life as a collector of over fifty years. Enthralled by the treasures and the stories and the intricate wonders of Grimm, Lear, Sendak et al.

Exhibition planning!

Callously bring it back to deadlines, logistics, and cabinet space. Excitement reignited for a great collaboration and world class collection. Think about this blog. Hope my new colleagues don’t judge me too harshly for the lack of cataloguing…

Ian Johnson, Head of Special Collections & Archives, Newcastle University Library

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