As a first time writer for Off the Record, I guess I should start by saying a little bit about how I got here – put this record in context, as us archivists like to do! I graduated with a BA in History in 2006, during which I had discovered how interesting, valuable and tantalising archives could be while researching my dissertation. I can still remember how amazed I was when I was allowed to handle a 300 year old Chinese court document in the British Library! I did some initial work experience at the Surrey History Centre, and actually surprised myself with how much I enjoyed working with archives. I was hooked! I worked on a couple of small projects at the centre, then landed a fantastic job as Archive Manager for Soldier Magazine, the MoD publication for the British Army. I was lucky enough to be solely responsible for the back issue and large photograph collections dating back to 1945. I gained a lot of experience while in that role, achieved some great things to improve access and preservation of the materials held, and did my best to promote the archive. It soon became clear however that I couldn’t progress or improve the archive any further without the proper training. Initially I started the distance learning course at Aberystwyth University through work, but my funding was pulled as part of the MoD cuts during the recession. So in 2011, I took myself off to Wales to do the course full time. It was tough and challenging, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard in my life before! But I managed to keep my motivation up, successfully completed the taught part of the course in June last year, and handed in my dissertation at the end of February. I will officially graduate in July and I can’t wait to be able to hold that piece of paper! Since January I’ve been working as Records Officer for an international charity organisation and I’ve recently been asked to act up as Records Manager. I’m a new professional, ready to be challenged, use my knowledge and experiences, and take on the world!
I’m very grateful and privileged to be asked to write a guest post for this new blog. I’ve always been an enthusiast of social networking and was there in the early days of Facebook. Remember when you had to have a University email address to join? Seems so long ago now! But I only started blogging last summer. I’d already discovered what a great source of up-to-date information and thought-provoking opinions blogs could provide. But it was mainly due to reading about the development of Web 2.0 and the rise of blogging for my dissertation that made me feel, not only that I should start a blog of my own to fully understand the process and the attraction, but also that I had something to contribute to the profession. So I created my blog about being a newly qualified archivist, charting my highs and lows having completed the taught part of the course; encouraging discussions and sharing knowledge gained as a result of seminars and talks I’ve attended; and hopefully informing and inspiring new professionals and those interested in entering the profession.
For me, blogging is a very immediate, easy way to connect with an audience. Its less formal than writing for a physical publication – the language seems a little looser, the controls aren’t as strict, and you are free to talk about any topic you think is relevant. I find that posts are much more about opinions and reflections than equivalent writings on the same topics in a magazine. As a blogger and a consumer of blogs, this gives me a better feeling of connection with issues, subjects and people in my field. The scope for learning is also increased, as you can inform people of real experiences and scenarios in a simple, easily accessible way. Engaging with the material is encouraged, and the ability for readers to comment can produce useful debate or lead you to related information that will continue to develop your knowledge of a subject. To be honest, sometimes blogging can be a good release too. When you are far away from your coursemates or don’t work with other records professionals, it can be a good way to get out all those thoughts that those outside the field don’t fully understand, and then receive advice or encouragement from your readers. Some people forget that blogging, ‘tweeting’ or posting on a social networking site means that your comments will be out there, in the world, instantly and possibly forever. Every tweet ever made is currently stored at the Library of Congress who currently have no intention of appraising or weeding the collection. So I try to keep a few things anonymous in my posts, such as organisations or people I work for or with. That also gives me more freedom to say what I think without offending anyone or getting myself into trouble. Generally, as a rule-of-thumb, I ask myself if I would be happy to publish what I’m typing in a national newspaper. If not, then I don’t post it. Posting on a blog is the same as publishing in a magazine or a journal. People sometimes forget that. But hopefully that doesn’t discourage too many people from getting interactive, as the possibilities and opportunities far outweigh those worries, as long as a little common sense is used.
If you would like to discover more about my first year as a new professional, visit my blog Baby Archivist – all grown up! and please leave comments if you wish.