Being an ARA Officer – Elisabeth Thurlow

I started my recordkeeping career as a cataloguing volunteer in a university archive in late 2011 and quickly fell for the world of archives. Today I find myself working as a digital archivist. Outside of my work as an archivist, I volunteer as the Communications Officer for the Archive and Record Association’s (ARA) Section for New Professionals.

Image 1 Communications Officer Elisabeth

ARA Section for New Professionals’ Communications Officer, Elisabeth

The activities of the ARA are supported by a system of Sections covering specific interest areas, alongside a set of Regional groups set up to support ARA members at a local level. This means that whatever region of the UK and Ireland you find yourself in, and whatever your interests are focused on – be it business records, technology, community archives, or film archives – there are opportunities to get involved.

The Section for New Professionals exists to support those in the first five years of a career in the record keeping professions. This includes trainees, students, and recently qualified professionals. As their Communications Officer, I am responsible for promoting the Section and its activities, including the Peer Pals mentoring scheme and this blog. This allows me to promote the fantastic work of the Section, making use of social media to reach our members (and potential new members) who are not always able to attend our events in person.

Why become an ARA officer?

Why would I encourage others to get involved? When I was starting out I benefitted from being a member of the Section’s Peer Pals online mentoring scheme, gaining useful advice from my assigned mentor about negotiating the early stages of my career. Having now qualified as an archivist, being an ARA officer allows me to give something back and support those starting out or considering a career in archives and records. A committee role is a great opportunity to gain skills and each role offers the chance to gain a different experience. As Communications Officer I am responsible for promoting our events, engaging with social media and updating our webpages. Volunteering your time also offers you the chance to meet others. Last year when I found myself working as a lone archivist, the committee role helped me to feel connected with the wider sector.

Image 4 Elisabeth working as a lone archivist in 2016

Elisabeth working as a lone archivist in 2016.

What it involves will depend on the group and the role. But for me this includes attending committee meetings – held via teleconference – and representing the Section at events. Other roles may help you develop your skills in areas such as events management, administration, budget planning and project management. How much time each role involves will depend on the role and the needs of the group, at certain points, for example, the time commitment may be greater in the lead up to an event.

Raise your profile and be heard

A voluntary committee role supports your continued professional development, useful for those enrolled on the previous ARA Registration Scheme, and the new CPD programme offered by the ARA, to be launched in summer 2017. But this is also a chance to have your say and influence the work of the Association. ARA members who fulfil Officer roles in the Sections and on National and Regional committees are invited to Officers’ events, notably an annual meeting where they can learn more about what’s happening in the Association and can give valuable feedback on new or planned initiatives. It is also a great way to raise your profile and get more actively involved in what is going on around you in the sector.

The highlight of my time as an ARA Officer so far has been attending part of the ARA conference on behalf of the Section. I represented the Section for New Professionals at the 2016 conference, manning a stand in the Information Village. This was the Section for New Professionals’ first stand at the ARA conference, providing an opportunity to promote the Section to the new professionals present, as well as to established professionals (who may themselves now manage new professionals). Having never attended the annual conference, it gave me a great insight into the benefits that can be gained from attending the conference.

Image 2 Elisabeth speaking at Summer Seminar

Elisabeth speaking at the 2016 Summer Seminar on her first year as a qualified archivist.

Committee positions can also offer the chance to build confidence in public speaking. In my officer role, I spoke at my first public event at last year’s New Professionals Summer Seminar in Manchester. For me, this was a great introduction to public speaking, giving me the opportunity to speak in front of those at a similar stage in their careers. Encouraged by this experience, I have submitted my own conference paper this year.

Image 3 Attendees in discussion at Summer Seminar

Attendees in discussion at the 2016 Summer Seminar.

Many of the regions and groups of the ARA, and other groups within the recordkeeping and wider heritage or cultural sectors, are often looking for volunteers, with available positions advertised to their members. When I attended last year’s annual Officer’s day and spoke to officers representing the other Sections and Regions, many said a common problem was that people are often too modest to apply for the voluntary opportunities they advertise, or they might worry that by applying they might deny someone else the chance. This means they often lack enough volunteers to fulfil the roles needed. My advice would be to go for it! Join the ARA. Join a Region, join a Section and volunteer. It is a great opportunity to get more involved and gain some new skills or strengthen those you already have and make good use of them for the benefit of others.

Elisabeth Thurlow

ARA Section for New Professionals Communications Officer

 

Follow us on Twitter @ARAnewprofs

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