I am a consultant archivist and records manager with an international client list and project history ranging from basement clearance, through archival cataloguing and identifying digital records management solutions to delivering training, advising on international archival policy and most recently, writing a text book. It is an eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable mixture which, whilst sometimes frustrating, is never boring and allows me a freedom and feeling of control over my working life that I value very highly.
First of all, a little bit about how being a consultant works in a business sense. I operate as Director of two separate companies. One is my own, Margaret Crockett Ltd, and the other is a joint business with Janet Foster called the Archive-Skills Consultancy (or TASC for short). Running a business – or two businesses – is not complicated for archivists and records managers because we don’t need a lot of equipment or space for stock and we don’t need to outlay funds for anything much before we are ready to work. I have a good accountant who gives me reassurance that my legal obligations to HMRC are properly met and helps me to manage the business revenue and consequently my own income well. A point about consultancy as a career path is that you need to be self-motivated and not the kind of person who can only work and thrive with other people around you. It can be a lonely existence, but from the beginning of my consultancy I worked with Janet, at first mostly to deliver training and later on larger projects than either one of us wanted to take on alone. This means I have always had a colleague to consult, bounce ideas off and talk through problems with so loneliness has never been an issue. Also the nature of our work – particularly records management projects – is such that there is a lot of interaction with people. The business infrastructure itself is therefore yourself and your skills and experience, your network of associates plus accountancy skills or advice, a trusted critical friend, associate or business partner and the usual home-office kit (computer, internet, printer, scanner). You also need proposal writing skills, project planning skills and report-writing skills – and a lot of inter-personal skills!
My working life has no real pattern or rhythm. I have a number of projects on the go at any one time, which may require site work or desk-based research and document drafting. Some days I can stop work at 5pm, others I am working to a deadline and need to work till 9pm. If I have not been good at assessing the limit to my capacity to take on work, I often end up working weekends. But as I said earlier, it is all manageable because I am the one who has made the decision to take the work and I am the one who will deliver it – I am in control and not dependent on anyone else.
One very important strand of my work is training delivery. In fact, Janet and I began our collaboration designing and organising the Basic Archive Skills Training Day back in 1992, when we served on the Society of Archivists’ Specialist Repositories Group (SRG) Committee. After my sojourn overseas in the mid to late 90s, we did the training as well as the organisation. We have designed and delivered many different training courses over the years but currently we offer records management and more in-depth arrangement and description days as well as the ever-popular BASTD. We offer it, often together with the other two, about three times a year and it attracts on average twenty participants. It doesn’t make us much money, but we are committed to doing it because it is obviously very much needed and it is always enjoyable, always different and often very instructive for us.
Janet and I are also often asked to deliver tailored training to organisations both in the UK and further afield. Every couple of years or so we seem to manage to go somewhere very interesting and our trips have included Mongolia, Estonia, Malta and Guyana. The training has covered everything from electronic records management to palaeography.
Then there are the archives and records management projects. Again, I sometimes work with Janet and sometimes alone. Currently we have three projects on the books. They are at different stages and of different intensity. The main one is with Selfridges, where their archive dates back to before 1909 when the store was founded. We have carried out an initial audit and inventory of the holdings, separated out the objects, overseen the archive material being moved to new accommodation, re-boxed substantial quantities in archive-standard packaging and are now cataloguing the material. We will shortly embark on a project to establish an image library and make digitisation recommendations. Jonathan Rhys-Lewis, with whom we have worked since the original BASTD and who continues to deliver the preservation management part of the current training days, advised on the archive storage area. This is a nice example of how consultants can work together to provide a range of expertise for clients which singly they could not offer. Another aspect of the Selfridges work has been the need to provide access to the material both in-house and to select external researchers, most notably for the team behind the successful Mr Selfridge television series.
The other projects are records management projects; one with a landed estate and the other with a non-departmental public body. The former is further along and, having conducted an information and records audit, developed retention schedules, provided policy and guidance documentation and delivered digital recordkeeping improvement workshops for all the teams, we are now at the post implementation audit phase. This is not the first landed estate we’ve worked for and the range of records is endlessly fascinating – my favourite series is the documentation on the contents of dead grouse stomachs. There are other interesting aspects of recordkeeping in this kind of organisation, such as the outdoor work of many of the staff and their lack of need to develop computer skills combined with the difficulty of providing them with networked computers. I am sure that mobile technology will eventually redress this – if there is adequate signal coverage. The NDGB project has only just started, but it is a small project to develop retention schedules and provide documentation in support of a records manager who is not yet fully qualified. With both the records management projects, much as we enjoy working on them, the aim for us is to get the organisation – and the librarian, archivist or records manager – to the point where they can manage the records themselves in a fit-for-purpose system which is as simple as possible to run and which staff understand and follow.
At the moment I only have one client on the books of Margaret Crockett Ltd, the International Council on Archives (ICA). For those of you who don’t know, ICA works for archives, archivists and records managers. It provides a network and resources for the workforce, advocacy with governments and international bodies and forging partnerships with related stakeholders in the library and museum worlds. I have been involved with ICA since my boss in Hungary, an American very active and committed to international engagement, suggested I be Secretary of the Section for Archival Educators and Trainers (SAE). I remained on the SAE Steering Committee for 8 years and was co-opted to work on some projects after that but in 2008 I felt I – and SAE – needed a change so I volunteered to work as part of the Secretariat Team in Paris. I spent about a half-day a week supporting the CITRA Secretary to support the committee that planned and organised the annual conference of national archivists. In 2010 I was made CITRA Secretary and offered a contract at a day a week – my first big project was to review the CITRA in the context of bigger constitutional and financial changes. This resulted in a recommendation to abolish CITRAs in favour of a proper, annual conference open to all ICA members. I became Deputy Secretary General Conferences and last year I was the lead team member in delivering ICA’s first ever Annual Conference in Brussels – I was involved in every aspect of developing the programme and the logistics of organising rooms, social events and governance meetings.
During last year I also became the secretarial support for the Programme Commission, which is responsible for all aspects of ICA’s professional content – such as annual conference, partnership work, projects to develop and deliver training materials, standards and publications – and to oversee and coordinate what the sections and regional branches are doing. There are also some working groups and expert groupswhich have workplans and goals in specialised areas of archives and records management and PCOM is setting up some more to fill gaps in the network of experts that ICA can call upon when needed to respond to member and external requests for help, advice and consultancy. Since January this year I am DSG Programme on a two day a week contract but I still do the half day a week on a volunteer basis as a symbol of my own conviction that ICA’s work is really significant and important.
My role in ICA also requires me to support and attend the governance meetings – in particular the General Assembly each year and the twice-yearly Executive Board with representatives from all twelve ICA regions and the thirteen sections.
I am also often required to go to branch meetings and conferences of member associations, so, for example, last year I went to the East and Southern African branch biennial conference in Kenya, where I was treated like a visiting diplomat – and asked on at least two occasions to give speeches with about five minutes notice!
I also went to the Pacific branch biennial conference in the Solomon Islands. This was an amazing trip – the Solomons are a three hour plane flight from Brisbane, Australia but my journey was not as long or difficult as that of some of the colleagues from neighbouring Pacific islands because of infrequent, indirect flights. Once I got there I was again treated really well – and asked to provide a lot of contributions to the programme, including a presentation on partnership project with IRMT to develop pilot modules for a digital preservation curriculum for UNESCO, one on the work of ICA, and a workshop to train trainers. PARBICA members were thrilled to have a representative from ICA there and expected me to answer questions about its work and policies.
My final solo trip for ICA last year was to the German archivists’ association’s annual conference. Since I had a traineeship in a German archive in 1985-86 before I did my Diploma, it was a nostalgic occasion that somehow felt meant to be. I gave my very first speech in a foreign language – read rather than extempore, against all my trainer’s instincts but the formality was definitely what was needed – and participated in the overseas delegates round table.
My work for ICA gives me the opportunity to work with the Secretariat team and the elected officers of ICA as well as many of the members from around the world. I am constantly learning – about how other archival traditions do things, what is the latest in archival descriptive standards, what new training resources are being developed. I am able to use my languages, to read, speak, write and translate from and to French and German – I even used my extremely basic Russian recently and working on the conference in Girona later this year, I am picking up a smattering of Catalan! Because I work in the field and am hands-on, I not only get involved in ICA’s organisational and planning policy, but also in the development of the professional programme and ICA’s strategy for supporting professionals and providing practical tools which are in effect global best practice. It is stimulating and inspiring and, just as my practical knowledge and experience helps me fulfil my role for ICA, the broader knowledge I get from the role feeds back in not only to my training projects, but also my practical projects.
A final aspect of my work is what I call “extra-curricula”. The clues are in this article: my work on the Society of Archivists’ SRG committee and for ICA’s SAE. I have always enjoyed getting involved in projects and working for the profession as a whole. These days I have three people I mentor (although really it is more that I act as a critical friend), two through the ARA Registration Scheme and one through her studies at Dundee University. I serve on ARA’s Qualification Accreditation Team, which means I am one of the people who assess the university courses to ensure they meet the profession’s requirements in equipping new professionals with the education, knowledge and skills they need to do the job. I also act as a peer reviewer for the ARA Journal and am often asked to review articles for other journals. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article I am also writing a book – a basic textbook on archives and records management which will hopefully appear later this year.
I could write much more about the consultancy projects I’ve worked on over the past 15 years. Once we went to the small isle of Eigg (near Skye) on a rubber dinghy, dressed in oilskin all-in-ones, to look at a collection of archival photographs of the islanders at the beginning of the twentieth century. We had a job where we were given office space in the former duchess’ boudoir in a Norman castle. We were once forced to review records stored in commercial storage in the car park in the middle of the Warwickshire countryside – fortunately it did not rain! One job, in a convent, was severely hindered by the nuns’ eagerness to socialise with us as guests from the outside world.
I worked – and lived – one winter in Sarajevo setting up a records management programme for the Office of the High representative. One day out walking just outside the city I was warned not to stray off the path because of the many landmines that were still around. I have worked for a fashion designer, with an amazingly beautiful visual archive of clothing designs, and a community theatre company with social campaigns and citizens advice records. But I will save that for another time, in the meantime, I hope this gives a flavour of my work.
Consultant Archivist and Records manager