As this blog is a look behind the scenes at the Archives Centre, I thought I’d describe one of the tasks of the archives assistants: retroconversion. Despite the slightly off-putting title, this is actually one of my favourite activities. The name is shorthand for "retrospectively converting" older, typewritten catalogues into online, searchable catalogues. Although the majority of our catalogues are online, and every collection held at the Centre has an introduction and brief description on our website, there are still some which are not listed in full (the same is true of probably every archives repository in the country).
In retroconverting, the information is entered onto the Cantab database, with fields for "reference number", "title", "scope and content", "date", and so forth, and from there it is uploaded onto the internet by one of our clever archivists in a process I do not pretend to understand!
Reference: GLLD 1/12
At present, I am working on the collection of George Lloyd, Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, a widely-travelled diplomat who served as an intelligence officer in World War I, was a friend of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), and was Governor of Bombay and later High Commissioner of Egypt. During World War II he was Secretary of State for the Colonies and Leader of the House of Lords, but sadly died aged 62. It is a large collection, and rich in material for the first half of the 20th century, both for the history of world affairs and for social history.
Photograph of T. E. Lawrence and George Lloyd in 1916. Reference: GLLD 3/8
Although generally a fairly straightforward exercise, there are times when I come across a description of a file which puzzles me, and which I feel compelled to investigate to describe more clearly if possible. The collection on which I am currently working, for example, had three files entitled "vouchers". Did this mean Lord Lloyd secretly hoarded the 1911 version of supermarket money-off coupons? No, it transpires these are files of receipts and accounts. Where possible, I sometimes give an improved description to files otherwise listed as "miscellaneous". At the end of the process, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have opened up the collection to a much wider audience, and as a personal bonus, feel better acquainted with the collection. As most people now come to the Centre through online searches, there is a risk that if the full catalogue is not online, it will not be explored, and so not be used to its full potential.