Margaret Harcourt Williams, FCJ Generalate and British Province archivist, March 2021.
The start of lockdown, March 2020
The archives of the FCJ Society’s Generalate and British Province are kept in Isleworth in west London. I live a long way away and my job is part time and unusual as I am only on site 25% of the time so routine tasks such as environmental monitoring, computer maintenance and checking for any problems in the archive room or in my office are not my responsibility. A sister checks the strongroom temperature and humidity daily, a staff member checks the computer and the cleaner cleans my office. There is a sister to whom I’m responsible and I write her a monthly report. I’m still doing the report in lockdown and also having regular zoom calls.
I followed my normal routine when I left in March last year, which is as follows.
Every month before leaving I load all my files onto a memory stick that I take home with me. I also load all completed catalogues onto a memory stick for the sister who answers genealogical enquiries. My work is backed up to the FCJ server regularly and I back up all I do at home and reload it on my work computer next time I’m in my office. I have very few paper files so before leaving I didn’t have to sort anything to decide what I’d need at home. When I’m at home, I access my work email through Outlook 365.
If there are any other enquiries, especially enquiries for the parts of the archive I haven’t sorted yet, the sister concerned asks me about them. This happens whenever I’m not there (ie most of the time) so lockdown hasn’t made much difference. This sister goes into the archives both for the temperature and humidity checks and for enquiries so would notice if there was anything wrong. Sorting the archives is work in progress and outside use is infrequent so there weren’t any researcher appointments to rearrange.
Working at home
For me, this isn’t new. I’ve never been away for so long before but occasionally I’ve missed a month. I’ve always made sure I have work to do at home; mostly this has been bringing together, adjusting and revising old lists. When lockdown started, I thought I’d have enough work for two or possibly three weeks. In fact, I’m amazed at the amount I’ve been able to do.
Until last March, I was working on the archives of the British Province; these were transferred to Isleworth from Salford in 2017. The Generalate and BP archives are separate collections and in lockdown I’ve been checking all the BP catalogues for duplicates and items that rightly belong in the Generalate archives. When I get back, I’ll start on all the moving, replacing and adjusting that’s come out of this. There is still a lot of this checking to do and apart from finishing work amending the enormous section on houses that I was working on at the start of lockdown, plus some other shorter sections (plays, photographs, newspaper cuttings) most of my plans for the BP archives remain in reserve. I’ve done some of the same in reverse and checked for items in the Generalate archive that should be with the province (now called area) archives.
During the first lockdown I went through all files and emails on the memory stick I brought home last March and on my home computer. This took a long time but was well worth doing. However, I’ll need to look at parts of it again now working from home is lasting longer that anyone could have predicted. Other work has included preparing policies on appraisal, retention, access and closure periods, updating the FCJ archives policy and talking on zoom about my progress. I’m also trying to find information on retention of Cause papers, so far unsuccessfully and also have been sorting remotely the books that came to Isleworth with the archives, plus dealing with anything else that arises as far as I can.
Return after lockdown
I’m not now expecting to go back before the summer but when I do my first priority will be answering any questions that have been left for me and appraise and place any papers that have been set aside for me to consider for the archives. I’ve been warned that there is a very large pile of papers waiting for me. I won’t know until I see it but I hope some of it will be regular accessions and documents I recognise as duplicates. Then my next step will be checking the catalogues I’ve amended with the contents of the boxes they refer to, something I’m expecting to take a long time.
I shall be glad to get back and resume my former routine but despite being unexpected and unplanned, this long period of working remotely has been very productive.