The organisation where I undertook my placement was Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA). CFCCA promotes Chinese art and visual culture through a wide range of art and artists, and is the only non-profit organisation in Europe that specialises in Chinese contemporary art. It was established during Manchester’s first Chinese festival in 1986, with a continuous history spanning three decades. Having relocated twice during this period, CFCCA is now based in Northern Quarter, providing a variety of exhibitions, events, residencies, engagement projects and so forth within the space of two galleries, an artist-in-residence studio, a library space and an event suite.

Minxuan Wen - Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art
My desk at CFCCA

2016 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the CFCCA’s establishment. To celebrate this milestone year, CFCCA applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to facilitate its Library and Archive Redevelopment Project. This project aims to relive the CFCCA’s library and archive which has unfortunately suffered from inadequate handling and storage, and focuses on identifying, recording, cataloguing, digitising, and providing both on-site and online access to the wealth of the library and archive that CFCCA has accumulated throughout its thirty-year history. It offered two work placement vacancies, for the Library and Archive Assistants who would work closely with the Project Archivist to support the delivery of this project. Having applied for this placement as my first choice, I was delighted when I found out I was allocated to one of the vacancies.

The tasks I fulfilled during the twenty-day placement involved the identification and recording of the information of the CFCCA archival materials. The main activity, as part of this, was accessioning archives. It was a stage of the project that attempted to capture key information of the archives. To this end, I was required to write the information of the archival materials on record cards, including the archive’s accession number, title and type, creator, summary description of contents, extent, persons and organisations involved, related events, and so forth. This was a crucial step, not only because it can establish intellectual control of the contents of the archives, but also because it lays a solid foundation for the following phases, such as cataloguing and providing information that can be reused when writing descriptions for archives.

However, it was only when I attended the Basic Archive Skills Training course, which CFCCA kindly sent me to on 28 March, that I truly understood the importance of accessioning archives. This served as a highly useful one-day course, articulating the concepts and principles that underpin effective records and archives management and representing the core functions of managing records and archives. This invaluable training programme made me stop to think about the approaches that I had used for accessioning archives, and I realised that the key point was not merely to ‘writing down the information of the archives’, but ‘how and why to write them down in a certain way’.

The placement at the Library and Archive Project of CFCCA not only enabled me to acquire basic knowledge and practical experience of archives management, but also to understand the significance and value of cultural heritage. While handling those yellowing newspaper cuttings that are older than me, I truly felt the legacy of the CFCCA’s past, which has made the organisation what it is today. The CFCCA Library and Archive Project is expected to launch publicly in February 2018, by which time I probably will not be in the UK. Hopefully, I will then be able to access online and review the archives which I once processed.