Home > My lockdown experience by Clive Kirkwood, Archivist in Special Collections
My lockdown experience by Clive Kirkwood, Archivist in Special Collections
13 Aug 2020 - 10:30
A delivery of the David Coetzee Collection of 23 boxes.
Dealing with reference inquiries regarding archival material remained a significant part of my Special Collections work. While lack of access to physical sources poses difficulties for both staff and users, I have found it motivating in the changed circumstances of lockdown to maintain a professional standard in providing prompt responses, information and guidance, and seeking alternative sources from our own digital holdings and elsewhere. Such interactions with others, albeit virtual, have brought a measure of contact with others into the personal isolation of lockdown. Requiring focused attention, they have also kept me intellectually engaged, and provided a sense of being productive and helping to maintain UCT Libraries’ reputation for service delivery.
Normally one of the challenges of archival work is not having enough time to focus on the behind-the-scenes but core function of processing archival acquisitions. These entail collections of original material accepted as donations, occupying multiple boxes, and often not in a logical order. The function of arranging and describing involves sorting the material to create a classification scheme on our database of finding aids that mirrors the re-organised physical material, all neatly placed in folders, boxed and labelled.
I have received the David Coetzee Collection of 23 boxes pictured above. Being an entirely self-driven task, it has required the summoning of self-discipline to make progress in the home environment, but on the other hand, I have accomplished more processing than might be the case at work given the usual urgency of user service delivery. The material has been particularly interesting.
The papers of Denis Cowen, a Professor of Law at UCT in the 1950s, reflect his role in advising Vice-Chancellor TB Davie on opposition to government’s plans to institute racially separate tertiary education facilities; and in advising the United Party in the epic constitutional struggle to oppose legislation removing Coloured voters from the common voters’ roll. David Coetzee was a progressive journalist, the brother of JM Coetzee, who produced reputable, alternative news periodicals covering Southern African affairs, including New African and SouthScan.
A smaller collection that I completed processing was the Liesching Family History Papers, pictured here. Dr Patricia McMagh started gathering this material when she was writing a history of her ancestor, Dr Friedrich Ludwig Liesching, and his sons, who are known for their pioneering role in the history of pharmacy and medicine at the Cape from 1800 onwards.
It was perhaps helpful to be compelled to adapt technically to a virtual environment to be able to attend meetings and engage. I am grateful that my work computer was delivered to me, which via the Virtual Private Network allows me to access secure resources, including the not-yet-live new Arkivum version of our AtoM database.
The virtual engagement with colleagues and others has been helpful not only for accomplishing the stated purpose, but for us to give mutual support and encouragement.
Lockdown has shown me how important both professional and ordinary interactions with colleagues are. At a practical level, at home and elsewhere, lockdown has also given me greater appreciation of the value of the work done by cleaners, gardeners and security staff.