On 12 June 2015 I, along with nine others who are just beginning their archive careers, attended a visit to the Bank of England organised by the Archive Trainee Group. This is an informal group for all those at pre-qualification level. I am currently working as an archive assistant while completing the Archive Administration Masters by distance learning. As a result I sometimes feel I miss out on having fellow students around to bounce ideas off and share experiences and this is where this group has been a lifesaver! I joined at the end of last year, and having only attended one of the previous sessions at the Transport for London Archives, I quickly signed up to the Bank of England visit. The excellent thing about the Archive Trainee group is that it opens doors to a variety of archives. Regardless of what stage you are in your career it also allows you to meet a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences and I would highly recommend anyone to join:
Working at the National Gallery, and having previously volunteered in other museum archives, the workings of a business archive are very alien to me. This visit seemed an excellent chance to delve into their world, and what an eye opener it was.
The Bank of England Archive holds a variety of records (numbering over 80,000 items) relating to the history of the bank. The afternoon started with several members of the archive team giving a brief overview of the collection and their day to day work. We were then taken down the three floors into the archive strongrooms, housing the rows and rows of ledgers (daunting to someone with no business knowledge). However, we were also shown diaries, the original charter which established the bank and a variety of photographs, including one of women fire wardens on top of the roof in 1942. The full range of their archive collection can be appreciated by searching their online catalogue: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/CalmView/. What fascinated me listening to them talk about the work they do, and the researchers who use the archive, is the range of users they have encouraged both internally and externally. From economic historians to genealogist looking for records relating to their ancestors, their collection is a rich and expansive one.
Attending this session highlighted the differences between a business archive and the archives I had experienced. Encouraging internal users is of prime importance when justifying their position within the organisation and it enables them to maintain a source of internal funding. However, it also demonstrates the similarities throughout the sector, which the staff of the Bank of England are keen to develop: The need for all those in the profession to work together and become actively involved in professional organisations like the ARA, and how all users can and should be encouraged to utilise the collection. An invaluable part of session was hearing about their recent digitalization project. The Bank of England has recently undertaken the enormous task of digitalizing the Minutes from the Court of Directors. Dating from 1694, when the bank was founded the Court is responsible for the administration and governance of the Bank and the records from every meeting have been retained and are now available online. Being an ever increasing aspect of the archive sector, it was fascinating to hear about the work that has gone into the project. Having dominated staff time for over a year, it shows what can be achieved and it allowed me to continue to explore and familiarise myself with a business archive even after the visit as I navigated my way through their online resource: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/archive/Pages/digitalcontent/archivedocs/courtminutes.aspx
The afternoon also included an invaluable insight into the role of a record manager. It was very apparent that most of the trainees on the group had limited experience of this, despite the role of a records manager and an archivist being increasingly combined, and it was great to have that first-hand account of the role.
The day finished with tea and biscuits (a stable of the profession) and an informal opportunity to get to know the other members of the group. As a well as a chance to improve networking skills it also gave everyone a chance to pick the brains of the friendly and knowledgeable staff and to ask those ‘big questions’ from those who have been there, done that and got the MA;
– What archive course or modules should I do?
– It is worth doing the full masters or stick to the diploma?
– How will I ever find a job at the end of it?
The best part of the archive trainee visits is that it reinforces how everyone is in the same boat!
Going on these events allows trainees to have a taster of other archives and potential jobs in the sector and I am eagerly anticipating where the next one will be. Talking about the diverse experience of archives you are familiar with can make all the difference at an interview for a course, while studying or even applying for jobs: an exciting, but daunting prospect that looms ever closer.