On Wednesday 4th November 2015 a group of Archives trainees and aspiring professionals met at the National Theatre Studio for talks and a tour.
This was the first time I had attended a trainee meeting (the first of many, I hope!) and I had no idea what to expect but I had a great afternoon.
The first talk was given by the Archives Assistant at the National Theatre, Medha Chotai, and this gave us a really interesting insight into the variety of ways the National Theatre is exhibiting its collection; from physical exhibitions in the Lyttelton Lounge at the main site and mini exhibitions in the reading (and viewing!) room to Apps and collaborations with the Google Cultural Institute.
Later Medha showed us the reading room where she answers enquiries and facilitates the visits of researchers. It was interesting to hear how many visitors travel from all over the watch to watch the National Theatre’s recordings of past shows – particularly one’s starring Benedict Cumberbatch!
Dr Jenny Bunn, Lecturer in Archive Studies & Archives and Records Management Programme Director at University College London then talked to us about our options as prospective postgraduate students. Jenny talked about the 7 accredited courses, and about what accreditation means. She also advised us that the course would only be one step in our continuing professional development and that we may also want to think about the ARA Registration Scheme.
She advised us to look at the focus of the various courses on offer and tailor our decisions to our current financial needs, our preferred method of learning and the direction we hoped to progress in. She encouraged us to think: What are we most interested in and who offers that? What are the core modules and how many options can we take? Do we want or need to study part time? Is distance learning an option? How much experience does the course require we have prior to starting?
I particularly found her discussion on the complexities of managing the core and optional units a course offers really fascinating. In an evolving field, what remains core and what should no longer be only optional? She gave the example of Digital Curation at UCL as this is currently an optional unit but arguably should now be core and discussed the importance the courses constantly assess and revise what the offer in order to ensure students get the best grounding and are truly prepared.
She also gave us the advice to broaden our idea of what jobs we can do with an Archives and Records Management qualification and suggested we look past the job title when looking for suitable vacancies and opportunities. She elaborated on this by saying that our first job will probably be the hardest to get and will almost certainly not be our dream job but ended on the positive note that this potentially difficult time can be made much easier by staying in touch with University tutors and seeking professional mentoring to help us on our way.
The last talk was given by Gillian and Fergus, two current students at the University of Glasgow who are on placement at the National Theatre. They talked about their experience applying for the course and reassured us that their experience at Glasgow was that being able to explain how the experience you have is relevant is more important than the institutes you gained that experience from in writing your application for the course.
The talks were followed by a tour of the Archives. The talks were invaluable and gave me a lot to think about but the tour was the part I was really excited about!
The completeness of the archive was impressive, as they have details from every production the National Theatre has ever done. It was lovely to see the variety of formats and media the collection was built from (posters, photographs, tapes, ‘costume bibles’ with fabric samples and much much more!) and to hear about the progression from creating physical boxes for each performance to creating digital ‘boxes’ that brought together the increasingly digital documentation of the productions in a format that was consistent with how the physical items had been collected and that retained the user friendly nature of that system.
I am sure the other trainees will join me in thanking Erin Lee and all the generous speakers who gave up their time to meet with us. It was an incredibly useful afternoon and I would urge anyone considering a career in Archives to join the mailing list and try to make one of the meet ups.