Unlike some people in the world of archives and records I have to admit that I didn’t have an aspiration to work in this profession since childhood. Discounting the usual ‘dream jobs’ (astronaut, film star etc) I was often drawn to jobs either involving the law or teaching. I recall a conversation with my dad when I was choosing my GCSE options (a long time ago!) and he suggested that if I wanted to do something with the law having a History GCSE might be a good idea. So I ran with this and studied it, and liked it a lot. This somehow led me to forget my interest in the law and continue studying history through A Levels and eventually to a degree.
I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2005 with my history degree and then I considered the typical question faced by history graduates (one which I had toyed with years ago)…what do I want to do for a job? The idea of a law conversion course occurred to me, as well as training to be a teacher. However, I found it quite hard to decide what I wanted to do, though increasingly the idea of teaching failed to interest me (quite possibly due to the fact that my dad was a teacher…and with the benefit of hindsight I had not failed to observe the long hours of work of an evening…and the odd stressful moment here and there!)
So, after graduating I returned home to my parents do some part time work at a local restaurant whilst mulling over what the future would hold (an unofficial ‘gap year’ to decide what I wanted to do!). At that point my mum (who was, at the time working as an archive assistant at our local record office before retirement) told me she thought I’d benefit from doing some work experience in records management at her workplace…apparently my penchant organising and tidying seemed to chime nicely with her vision of a records manager! So from this I undertook a 2 week placement at Denbighshire Record Office mainly working on the records management side, but spending a few days in the archive service. At the end of the two week placement I asked to stay on as a volunteer and started spending a couple of days a week at the record office.
My voluntary work gave me a good grounding in the basics of archives and records management, and it’s probably worth mulling over what that records management work actually involved – it was ‘hands-on’ records management working in a records store including processing boxes, retrieving boxes, and indexing those boxes. My role also included doing a research project looking into the possible use of RFID tags in a records management setting. The archive side of my voluntary work probably sounds more ‘exciting’ in that I was cataloguing historical records, undertaking research and helping out with the public service. I can say from experience as a records manager that it can often be difficult to find a sufficiently broad range of records management tasks to give volunteers (mainly because you’re dealing with current records of your organisation) and archive related work certainly has the ‘wow factor’ of the two roles. Nevertheless I found both aspects interesting, though perhaps I was veering more towards archives than records management at this stage.
With a decision made that a post-graduate route was the road to go down I now needed to consider whether I wanted to do a pure records management qualification or an archive qualification – and I’m very pleased to say that I chose to study for an archive qualification. I was given some great advice by some of the archivists and records managers I’d worked with, basically saying that an archive qualification really gives you a number of strings to your bow (work-wise) which would give me the flexibility to work as an archivist but also as a records manager (because the courses covered records management as well as archives).
With that decision made I was fortunate enough to get accepted to study Archive Administration at Aberystwyth University. An enjoyable year followed where I covered the whole gamut of archive administration and records management theory from palaeography and administrative history through to managing electronic records!
On graduating my first job brought to me Derbyshire as an archivist in July 2007. In this role I did all the usual archivist tasks include accessioning, cataloguing and helping to run a public service. At the same time I was also fortunate enough to be able to develop my interest in records management by occasionally helping out delivering records management training and working on some records management projects.
In 2009 a job vacancy arose for a records manager in the organisation and, given my interest in records management and my experience as an archivist, I decided to apply for this. My interview was my first inkling that records management was quite a different ball game to archives – questions were asked about how I’d motivate a team, how I’d engage with stakeholders, how I’d solve problems, what challenges I thought I’d face…not things I’d necessarily given much thought to when I started out as an archivist. I clearly must have given some acceptable answers to these questions as I was successful at the interview and soon I transitioned from working as an archivist to working as a records manager.
The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been in my current role since 2009 and have found it a thoroughly rewarding experience. I think that one of the great things about working in records management, certainly in my experience, is that you’re involved in a whole range of projects across your organisation and get to know a lot of people across lots of different business areas (even as a sole professional in the role I rarely feel isolated or out-of-the-loop). The variety of the work of a records manager is another great thing about the role – in my current role I am involved in an organisational roll out of an EDRM system, managing retention policies for the organisation, delivering training, developing policies and procedures, and managing a large off-site document storage contract.
When I consider the start of my journey am I disappointed that didn’t pursue my other potential career paths (law and teaching)? – Not at all! I actually think that working as a records manager does include aspects of those early career interests – I’m regularly looking at legislation and case law to develop records management policies, and the world of Data Protection and information security is never far away! Also by delivering training and offering advice and guidance I’m getting the opportunity to help develop others and pass on my knowledge to them. I’m hopeful that in our profession, which strongly emphasises the importance of continuing professional development, I’ll have many opportunities to continue to expand my knowledge and skills…in my opinion that is surely the mark of a rewarding profession and one that I am fortunate to be a part of.