My role: library adviser, Archives and Special Collections

Hello – my name is Eleanor Bloomfield and I am the (relatively) new library adviser for Archives and Special Collections. I look after the reading room every weekday morning (my role’s ‘other half’, Ian Swirles, covers the afternoons). Originally from New Zealand, my background is in teaching, research and historically informed theatre – mainly Shakespeare and medieval drama (they’re not the same thing!) After a gruelling sidestep into healthcare for the duration of the pandemic, I joined the university in April this year, and have found a happy home among the archives.

My PhD research utilised archival material ranging from medieval manuscripts to 1960s reel-to-reel video footage, but in this role I have learnt a great deal more about the back end of managing an archive – how the collections are structured, arranged and catalogued. My role here is a mixture of routine daily tasks, helping with cyclical events run within the university calendar (for example, teaching and open days), and responding to incoming queries and requests.

Books and manuscripts laid out on the reading room desks.
The reading room set up for our 2022 Heritage Open Day

Recently, in what must be my favourite enquiry so far, I spent two days looking for a Turkish manuscript believed during the early modern period to have been written by Jesus! This elusive document was apparently held in Leicester at the end of the eighteenth century and viewed by a German traveller. He tore off a section from one of the pages (Very Bad archival practice! do not do this to our books or papers!!) and sent it to a colleague, who decided that the manuscript was actually a collection of Ottoman Turkish poetry. A researcher in Copenhagen is now trying to track it down, but sadly it has vanished from Leicester and any records.

Small medieval manuscript held open to show Latin prayer text, written in black ink with illuminated initials.
My favourite manuscript from our collections, the teeny-tiny MS 12, a fourteenth-century Book of Hours

I particularly enjoy working to increase engagement with the archives and our holdings. I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my doctorate some of the ins and outs of working with archival material – hopefully I am now able to pass these on to new students and researchers. Including primary sources strengthens and refines your argument, improves skills in critical analysis, and demonstrates independent thought.

Working here I am both developing new skills and utilising pre-existing ones. I speak German to a relatively advanced level, which means I have been able to take up some translation work on the Bejach collection. This includes the letters and personal papers of Irene and Helga Bejach, who – aged just eleven and thirteen – came to Leicester in 1939 as German-Jewish refugees, leaving their father and elder sister behind in Germany. Some of the letters and documents are in German; once translated I will be able to add more detail into the item-level descriptions on the catalogue, improving access for those wishing to work with this collection.

You can find out more about Archives and Special Collections, the work we do and the collections we hold, on our webpage. We are open Tuesdays to Thursdays 10:30am – 4:45pm and Fridays 1:15 – 4:45pm. An appointment is required to look at material but if a member of staff is on duty they will be happy to assist drop-in visitors. Otherwise, for requests, enquiries or help navigating the catalogue, please email us. We look forward to seeing you!

Staff member (holding baby) in archive store.
In my happy place, introducing the next generation to archival research!

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