Falkirk archivist of 25 years stepping down from ‘dream job’

Archivist Elspeth Reid (seated) with (left to right)  Margaret                                         McLeish, archives assistant; Jen Faichney, graduate trainee researcher; Jean Jamieson, archives assistant; and Katie Stewart, archives assistant
Archivist Elspeth Reid (seated) with (left to right) Margaret McLeish, archives assistant; Jen Faichney, graduate trainee researcher; Jean Jamieson, archives assistant; and Katie Stewart, archives assistant

The woman responsible for archiving the most important records of Falkirk’s past is now looking to the future as she prepares to leave what was her “dream job”.

Falkirk Community Trust archivist Elspeth Reid is calling time on the 25 years she has spent documenting the history of the district.

Stanley-born Elspeth will relinquish her role on Friday, March 9, before taking some time out to consider her plans going forward.

Reflecting on the quarter of a century she has spent living and working in Falkirk, she said: “It was, for me, the dream job.

“I’ve always wanted to be an archivist and I’d always wanted to be in a local archive rather than a national one, it was just a personal preference.

“It’s sad to move on but it is the right time for me.

“There’s a number of options that I have and I’m making up my mind on those.

“There are loads of people who have been really supportive and helpful.

“I’ll miss the people very much, the team that I work with here, but I’m not leaving the archive sector.

“There will be things for me to do in a different way. Watch this space.”

Elspeth’s hard work over the years helped the Callendar House-based Falkirk Archives facility become the first in Scotland to be awarded Archive Service accreditation in 2014.

And, having assisted numerous residents with a variety of requests since she began her role, Elspeth insists there has been far too many special moments along the way for her to select just one highlight.

In fact, the archivist instead chose to reflect on a more recent historical event when identifying one of the most exciting aspects of her job.

She explained: “One of the things that I really enjoyed was taking photographs of the Scottish independence referendum count and putting that on our website and explaining how the count works.

“The joy of this job is working with the community and it’s very much about the local community caring about their heritage.

“That’s so evident in the people who come in and use this place. That’s the point of an archive service: it isn’t about those of us who work in it — it’s about the community who value it.

“We’re only here really to help them get access to it and look after it; make sure that it’s here.”

Elspeth continued: “Archives are important culturally. They’re part of the heritage of the area and the majority of people who look at them are looking at them out of interest, leisure, whatever.

“But there’s also a core group of people who need them for personal rights, liberties, civil liberties.

“That’s the bit that’s not nearly so well publicised but really makes a difference to people’s lives.

“These things are not worth keeping if nobody uses them.

“It’s very important for that small number of people who need to protect their civil liberties and their rights and that’s one of the things the archive is here for.

“There’s a quiet satisfaction when people use something that we’ve got here to defend themselves for rights they have and want.

“It’s all about helping people; it’s about meeting people’s needs. We have the kind of things that people need.”

Several technological advancements have taken place since Elspeth first started her job.

And according to her, these improvements have had a profound impact on Falkirk’s archive service.

“The technology has changed enormously,” she said.

“When I started in 1992 there were 60 metres of records held by the museum.

“Now the archive holds 1.6km.

“When I came, we were using individual computers and we had one that was shared among the collections team.

“In 1992, the museum was in a semi-detached Victorian house in Orchard Street. It was very much the kind of stuff a museum would collect. It wasn’t a full-blown archive.

“When we moved into Callendar House in 1994, that was when we started to get our own computers to work on. Gradually we’ve become part of the bigger network.

“The cataloguing system we use, we actually stuck with the same basic system but obviously it’s been hugely upgraded and improved.

“When you live through something you just absorb changes as they happen.”

Elspeth continued: “There’s a lot of collaborative working in this, there’s a lot of people in the council that I work with to identify records that have long-term value.

“The council has tonnes and tonnes of records but it’s a case of identifying the stuff that’s going to be useful for people in 100 years, 200 years.

“You wouldn’t think council records would be interesting in 200 years but they will be.”

The oldest document in Falkirk’s archive system dates back to 1430. It is just one of many items which paint a picture of a bygone era.

One such example which struck a chord with Elspeth was a handwritten note given to the service by a member of the public.

The piece of paper had been used by a miner trapped in the 1923 Redding pit disaster to record a final message to his loved ones.

The power an archive has to bring different generations together is what makes it so vital in Elspeth’s opinion.

She added: “It’s that connection with the local community that’s really important.”