Meet the Warburg: Mark Amies, Scanner Operator

In this new blog series, we introduce you to the people who bring the Warburg to life. From library staff to tutors, find out more about the people working at the Warburg Institute. 

For the first interview of the series, we chatted with Warburg Library Scanner Operator, Mark Amies. Read on to discover how Mark’s career led him to the Warburg, what it’s like working at the Institute, what he’s looking forward to with the Warburg Renaissance and more:

Could you tell us how your career has led you to be the Warburg Library’s Scanner Operator? 

Well, I have had a pretty varied ‘career’. Originally I trained as a Graphic Designer, but started my working life in the libraries of commercial photo agencies, the last one being Camera Press Limited. I then spent eight years as a salesperson at a photographic equipment and goods distributor/wholesaler, however, I then decided I really didn’t want to be in sales… and promptly ended up back in sales! This time I worked selling ad space in a nostalgia magazine called ‘Best of British’. After this ended, I took on a temp job that lasted a year as my first experience digitising books and documents at The National Archives… and then my path lead me to The Warburg!

What is a typical day for you as a Scanner Operator?

On a typical day, I will either be digitising a book, or document, on a Bookeye scanner, or working up a metadata structure for the book I have scanned. This structure allows the viewer of the book (online) to find chapters. There isn’t a great deal to it, but it does mean you have to be careful and methodical.

My main task is to digitise sections of the Institute library, and currently, we are working on the Aby Warburg Magic books, which can be viewed here.

Next year we will be moving onto a new section, which we think will create a lot of interest, not just from Institute regulars, so keep watching! In addition to this work, I also digitise books and documents for other departments from time to time, including the Archive, and thesis’s from past students, that are requested from outside the Warburg.

As the Library’s Scanner Operator, what fascinating books have you uncovered whilst digitising the library?

I have digitised quite a few now, so it would be hard to say. A great many of the books I have worked on have had their own interesting qualities. For me, it is the illustrations that I find of interest. The sections I have been working on are those on the subject of magic, and so there have been some very weird and wonderful images!

A selection of scanned illustrations

Do you have a particular favourite moment whilst working at the Institute?

I think my favourite moments have been the conversations I have had with other members of staff. As a non-academic, I wondered how it would be to work in a facility like the Warburg, but I was made very welcome from the start. 

“Honestly, I think that a person could work here for years and still not really get a full grip of its contents.”

What do you love most about the Warburg? 

In terms of what I like about the Institute as a whole, then really it is its past. I am into my history of places, and the Warburg is a place of great history. I love its 1950s layout and the particularly British formality. However, under that initial façade, it is an environment that is curious and fascinating. Honestly, I think that a person could work here for years and still not really get a full grip of its contents.

After discovering that the building was designed by Charles Holden’s architectural practice, I was delighted to know I would be working in it. I am a fan of modernist and brutalist, (very trendy now, but I’ve been into it for years), architecture. 

However it’s not the actual building that I love so dearly, it is the huge array of weird and wonderful ‘things’ within it. Dotted around the Warburg Institute are so many interesting, (well I think so), objects and fittings.

It is though, like so many great places, the people that make the Warburg Institute what it is and there are some wonderful people here.

Photos taken by Mark of the various fascinating objects and fittings he has found dotted around the Warburg.

With the Warburg Renaissance building project coming up what are you looking forward to about the new design?

Well, I am a bit concerned that the qualities of the building that I have come to love will be lost, but there again, change is a necessity if a place is to grow and move on. I think that some of the changes will be quite exciting, in terms of new spaces, and facilities. More than anything, it will be great to see the Warburg given a new lease of life and for those outside the Institute to become aware of what it has to offer the World.

One of the Institute’s priorities with regards to the new building design is ensuring it maintains the current building’s characteristics. One of the reasons why we appointed architecture practice Howarth Tompkins is because they have an excellent track record of balancing new builds with older features and preserving the existing character of buildings.

Read our blog with Haworth Tompkins Project Architect, Elizabeth Flower, to find out more about the building design.