Close Contacts and the Cuala Press Print Project: Unemployment, Starting a Job and Working in Isolation – Ciara Daly

I graduated from the Masters in Archives and Records Management at University College Dublin in 2019 and I am currently the Project Archivist on the Cuala Press Prints Project in Manuscripts & Archives at Trinity College, the University of Dublin. But it has taken me a while to get here.

In March 2020, when most of the world locked down due to Covid-19, I was working in the National Gallery of Ireland on their Source Project in the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art. This was a contract position that was funded until June 2020. I was twelve days into the contract before I was informed that I would be required to work from home until the end of March. The uncertainty of lockdown meant that our contract was shortened, and the project came to an end. It was difficult not to be disheartened as I now faced a period of unemployment at a time of enormous uncertainty. However, now was not the time to give up.

I started by updating my CV. Since September 2019, I had undertaken four short contracts and I decided to write up an outline for each project. I also decided to highlight all the customer service experience I had gained in previous roles so that I would be able to adapt my presentation to suit any applications that came up. This was to benefit me greatly when it came to writing the application and for preparing for the interview for my current role at Trinity College Dublin. I was easily able to adapt it to the job description. This was also helpful in preparing for my interview as I was well versed on all the details on my CV and, having recently reminded myself of the intricacies of the projects I had worked on, I was able to give cohesive, detailed answers.

Ciara’s CV drafts

Being resilient is important when faced with employment precarity; one needs to stay motivated and try not to get disheartened. I spent a lot of time exercising and reading novels, something that I had neglected prior to lockdown. However, I also wanted to undertake some archive-relevant activities. I took the opportunity to get involved with several online crowd-sourced transcription projects, including Meitheal Dú, which transcribed the School’s Collection held by the National Folklore Collection. This is a collection of folklore compiled by schoolchildren in Ireland in the 1930s. This was a fascinating project to be involved in as I focused on the school in the area where I grew up and learnt a lot about the folklore of my local area while also transcribing several stories from the collection. I was also involved with the British Library’s Playbills in the Spotlight transcription project. Both projects bolstered my passion for archives and kept me involved in the sector while being unemployed.

Exercising outdoors during lockdown

After seven months out of work due to the pandemic, I was called to interview by the Library of Trinity College Dublin for the role of Project Archivist on the Cuala Press Prints Project, in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Collection. I was successful and my project commenced on Thursday the 1st of October when I had my first virtual meeting with my Line Manager. It was in the middle of this meeting, discussing my forthcoming first day on campus (Monday 5th October), that I got the dreaded message. I was a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid-19 and needed to isolate for 14 days and get tested for coronavirus.

My first few weeks on my new job were therefore severely affected by Covid-19. I had to adapt to working from home unexpectedly, without getting to step foot on campus or physically see the collection I would be working on. However, this allowed for in-depth research into the background of the Cuala Press, the Yeats sisters who founded the Press, and the prints themselves. The list that accompanied the prints when they were acquired by the Library allowed me to begin my research into the contents of the collection. The accession list had titles and artists and, since other institutions had Cuala Press collections, it was possible to utilise the digital collections of other universities such as Portland Public Library’s Digital Commons to visualize the prints, draft descriptions of the prints, prepare record templates, draft an arrangement and create biographical information for the artists.

Trinity College Dublin had comprehensive procedures put in place for this eventuality and, despite it being my first day, I was able to continue to work from isolation at home although it was a challenging few weeks. Thankfully my test came back negative and I was free to come onto the university campus after restricting my movements for 14 days.

Ciara’s working from home set-up

The project is going extremely well and I was working on-site prior to the Christmas break. Phase one of the project, which focused on a discrete collection of images produced by the Press, has been completed and I am moving on to phase two. This will focus on cataloguing the Cuala Press business archive. I am now required to work remotely again until the end of January, as Ireland is in lockdown, and the project must again be adapted so that I continue to make progress. I can utilise and adapt an existing library catalogue of the archive and I have provided myself with photographs of select parts of the collection to begin the cataloguing process.

I am looking forward to continuing my work and professional development with Trinity College Dublin and am looking forward to the sector opening up again. My advice to all new professionals is to use this time as an opportunity, whether that is an opportunity to review your CV, to volunteer with online projects related to archives, or even just use the time to decompress, because taking a break is important and the pandemic has been difficult for everyone.

Ciara Daly, Project Archivist, Cuala Press Prints Project, Manuscripts and Archives, Trinity College Dublin

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