This time two years ago, I was just beginning my role as Communications Officer for the Archives and Records Association (ARA) Section for New Professionals (SfNP). I’d never been involved in the ARA at committee level before and since the SfNP was also the newest ARA section (established just one year before in Autumn 2010), I was not quite sure what to expect…
The SfNP was set up to answer a need amongst newly-qualified and pre-qualification information professionals for representation as a distinct group inside the ARA – a group that had specific concerns and queries about their chosen career path, but also was keen to make a contribution to the ARA and to their wider peer group. Although at the time shortage of employment was definitely an issue (as it remains across the economy today), the motives for setting up SfNP reached much wider than that.
I applied to join the committee because, after my first year as an ARA member, I wanted to know more about the organisation (and to get my membership fee’s worth!). I also wanted to make an active contribution to the debate that (thanks to the work of the first SfNP committee) had emerged about new professionals and to make connections with others across the country at a similar career stage to myself. As a career-change archivist, I wondered whether I’d be accepted onto the committee – like many people looking at the section name for the first time, I equated ‘new’ with ‘young’! However, my apprehension was misplaced and I found myself in my first teleconference meeting in November 2011, on the very evening after I formally graduated from my MSc in Information Management and Preservation.
Like all the new officers, the first few weeks on the committee were a sharp learning curve since we were all new to our roles. The first committee had left at the same time with the intention of keeping the group vital and representative of ARA members in this short (but crucial) phase in their career development. In some ways, this meant that we were unsure of some aspects of our initial direction, but looking back, it really allowed us to make the committee work for the new group of personalities that were driving it.
My role is essentially explained by its title: as Communications Officer, I disseminate the aims of the committee through a range of media, from archive-related email lists to visiting universities and writing longer articles for print media. I’ve also been involved in organising and running the training events that we’ve committed to hold around the country each year. At the 2013 AGM, the Communications Officer post will be widened to include responsibility for our website content and social media channels, which I believe will not only be valuable experience for the lucky new post-holder, but will ensure that the way that we communicate with our members and the wider record-keeping community is more streamlined.
In my two years on the committee, I have gained a great deal: I’ve met other new professionals from all corners of the country who have shared their varied experiences, I’ve made connections with those further on in their careers and I have developed new skills through the work that I’ve done for the committee. I’ve really enjoyed writing for different audiences to convey our activities and aims. I’ve also challenged myself by taking part in events – chairing (and timing!) the debate between experienced professionals and a newly-qualified audience at our annual Summer Seminar stands out as a particular highlight.
This year, though, I’ve decided to stand down from the committee. It’s not that I haven’t greatly enjoyed my time as an ARA representative, but that I feel that it’s time to move on. Firstly, I think that someone else should have the chance to experience what I have done as a committee officer. Secondly, I’ll be staying with the ARA as a newly-enrolled member of their Registration Scheme, which for me is the next natural step both in terms of my career and as an ARA member. In my two years, I have seen the SfNP committee achieve a great deal. In my opinion, we’ve changed the perception of our peer group, we’ve delivered valuable events and communication networks to new professionals and we’ve given a voice to our section members within the wider ARA community. Most importantly, we’ve helped new record-keeping professionals join together and be recognised as a group in ourselves and as a community that is active, engaged and worth hearing.
Louise Williams, Wellcome Trust Project Archivist, Lothian Health Services Archive, University of Edinburgh