In the 2nd post from Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office, Jenny Moran continues with some welcome advice for new graduates engaged in outreach.
It occurs to me that as you are the new professionals you might be wondering how you can be more proactive and creative if you are a relatively junior member of staff. Robin and I are fortunate enough to be in a managerial role and able to take decisions on priorities and spending. Some of you may know (or will find out) that this brings its own headaches but what can you do if you cannot just decide to hold an open day or produce an exhibition?
A quotation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi is “be the change you want to see in the world”. If you want your workplace to be more creative and outward looking, don’t just wait for someone to come along and alter it, and don’t think that somewhere over the rainbow is the perfect environment for you: be the imaginative innovator you would like to work with.
I well remember the frustration of being newly qualified and having an uphill struggle to persuade managers of the importance of outreach as a concept, let alone allocating money towards it. However, persistence can be remarkably powerful and people may agree to let you try something simply in order to get you to go away. It is important when arguing to do something that you are specific about what you want and how you will go about it. If you need funds, make sure you have worked out some costs. At the same time, if this is new to your office, don’t try to run before you can walk: start small and build up from there.
Few managers will want to risk an embarrassing failure so try to minimise the possibility of a complete disaster as far as you can. For example, it is better to have publicised one talk which only attracted three people than a whole series. At the same time it may be necessary to take risks to find out whether or not something will work. Use national anniversaries and campaigns such as Archives Awareness as a hook. Saying that “everyone else is doing it” may not work for children but can be a remarkably effective argument in the workplace. “Surely we don’t want to be the only archive service not taking part?” is likely to be more persuasive than asking apparently apropos of nothing if you can plan an event.
Are there any allies in your workplace? Is there someone or even more than one person who will help and support you? In most of my previous jobs I’ve found support from some managers and colleagues in previous jobs from those senior, junior or on the same level and even sometimes people in other departments.
Don’t think that because you are on a short-term cataloguing contract that you can’t innovate. Your vision and creativity will ensure that your CV stands out from the crowd. Developing new skills will help you in the longer term and will hopefully mean that people strive to keep you on after your contract expires if you have shown yourself to be willing and adaptable. Even if this isn’t possible, you will ensure that you are remembered! Don’t be constrained by your job role: our Digitisation Assistant is a mainstay of our programme and she has used her musical talents to great effect as a German singing Silent Night (Stille Nacht) for our Christmas in the Trenches event. No, this is not in her job description but we would fight tooth and nail to keep her and give her the best reference in the world if she decided to move on. She’s also very good at digitalisation too, I hasten to add.
You may consider undertaking some work in your own time. Only you can decide whether you should do this, to what extent and whether it will be worthwhile. All I can say is that I’ve done it at various times and for various reasons. In my first job there were only four staff and my manager at the time felt that allowing me time to develop and give talks was not possible. I still did this work and promised to use my own time to do it. The big advantage was that I could develop at my own pace – it wasn’t work after all. I did develop a small repertoire of talks and this led directly to my next job offer. However, I can see that if you feel you are putting in the hours for nothing or your personal circumstances are not conducive to additional unpaid work this may not be an option for you It is a personal decision and I am introducing it for discussion rather than advocating it as a way forward for all.
So, to summarise:
- Use your talents and those of others
- Maximise benefit, minimise risk to get permission to do things
- Think outside your job role
- Go big or go home!