Behind the scenes Collections Long read Series

Digital Collections Internship – Part 4 – The Evaluation 

In Part 4 of our Digital Collections Internship series, the Imaging team reflect on the impact of the programme.

During summer 2021, the Imaging team hosted the pilot Rylands Digital Collections Internship, inviting two photography students to gain work experience in the Cultural Heritage Sector.

The 8-week online programme was designed for students and young people interested in pursuing a career in photography, to provide space for creative exploration of digital collections and peer learning and support. An earlier blog post about the programme can be read here.

This was a new venture for the Imaging team and we have been working with the participants to evaluate the whole process and identify opportunities for programme development.

The Imaging team gained a lot from the experience, through discovering new ways of working together and building confidence in sharing knowledge and expertise. The team were excited to watch the students’ projects grow and develop, as their creative processes unfolded. A lot of discussion took place around photographic results and the students shared their views on accessing and viewing the Rylands’ special collections, and how they might use them in the future. 

Ishmael Armstrong joined the internship after finishing his A-levels and at a point where he didn’t know what he wanted to do next. He told us that the internship gave him something to focus on during his time out, allowed him to build on his photography experience, and added valuable work experience to his CV.

Ishmael worked with a collection of 6 images of prominent public buildings in and around Manchester from the 19th century. He took his camera to these sites and captured what they look like now compared to then, comparing architectural styles of the 19th and 21st centuries. He also captured historical and contemporary Manchester buildings on black and white film as well as digitally, to compare imaging techniques. A spotlight post on Ishmael’s work can be read here

Royal Exchange 
Image on the left, Copyright University of Manchester CC-BY-NC-SA, Image Centre and right: Copyright Ishmael Armstrong 2021 
Manchester Cathedral 
Image on the left, Copyright University of Manchester CC-BY-NC-SA, Image Centre and right: Copyright Ishmael Armstrong 2021 

We are really pleased to hear that after completing the internship, Ishmael has decided to apply to University and already has at least one unconditional offer to study BA Photography.  

Hana Sharkey is a BA (Hons) Photography final year student and joined the internship after reaching out to the Imaging team to seek an opportunity for work experience. Hana told us that the programme enabled her to build on her confidence in voicing her ideas, showcasing her work and responding to feedback. She enjoyed working with a new team and commented, “I loved meeting people who have similar passions and interests as me.”

Hana was able to learn about the studio facilities and equipment at the Rylands, as well as gain a better understanding of how to discover and interact with the Digital Collections.

Hana created some outstanding images of the Rylands building, including an image of the doors to the Rylands Gallery – reminiscent of Bedford Lemere and Co.’s early photographs of the Rylands, and a breathtaking view of the ceiling of the Historic Reading Room. A spotlight blog post on her work can be read here.

Doorway to the Rylands Gallery. Copyright Hana Sharkey 2021. 
Ceiling of the Rylands Historic Reading Room. Copyright Hana Sharkey 2021. 

Because the pilot internship was delivered online while social distancing measures were still in place, there was only one opportunity for the students to visit behind the scenes at the Rylands. Ishmael and Hana provided constructive feedback on how the addition of in-person training on handling special collections objects and practical photography activities in the studio, would help them build on their skill sets.

Hana commented, “there isn’t much help or guidance on this anywhere else and it is a hard industry to get guidance in, so having a workshop or day teaching others the basics would be very beneficial.”

This valuable feedback will be considered when improving the programme content so that we can offer useful opportunities to the next set of internship students.  

Overall, both students enjoyed learning from the experience and agreed that they would like to work with the Imaging team again in the future and feel inspired to discover more about work in the Cultural Heritage Sector. The Imaging team were blown away by both students’ talent and photographic eye, and we look forward to seeing what they each pursue next. 

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