I qualified as an archivist back in March 2014 via the distance learning course with Aberystwyth University. The positives of studying by distance learning are that you earn while you learn, and as I was working as a Senior Archive Assistant at Sheffield Archives, I could put a lot of what I was learning into practice at work, gaining lots of invaluable practical experience. The major drawback is that you are studying on your own, with no cohort to bounce ideas off or build a network of contacts across the sector once you have completed the course.
I was very lucky that almost as soon as I completed my archives course I was able to successfully apply for the position of Collections Officer at Northamptonshire Archives. While I had worked in archives for nearly nine years, which gave me a wealth of experience to bring to the role, it was a major step up to take on managing a county collection. The collections team was only very small, and while I could ask for advice from my work colleagues at Sheffield Archives, in those early days the challenges seemed daunting and I could feel isolated at times.
One of the major ways I decided to overcome these challenges was by attending regional ARA meetings, in my case for the East Midlands region. Over the last three years I have found this to be a hugely positive and stimulating experience. Meeting roughly every quarter, they provide a regular opportunity to meet fellow professions to share experiences, hear of the latest developments within the region, and to ask for advice on particular issues to ensure you are following standard professional practice.
We meet at a different venue each time, which provides an opportunity to see how other archives work. Having always worked in local authority archives, I particularly welcome visiting other types of archives to see what a varied world archives is. So far we have visited Derbyshire and Lincolnshire Record Offices, Nottingham Castle, De Montfort University Archives, the British Geological Survey at Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, University of Nottingham Special collections, and, most recently, the Media Archive for Central England (MACE) at Lincoln.
As well as general business and office reports, the meetings often have guest speakers, and particular topics are discussed. Presentations have included:
- Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (ROLLR) active outreach work
- Archives and human rights
- Records Management training session with presentations from the Bank of England, the Department for Communities and Local Government and ROLLR’s work with councils to meet their records management needs
- Presentations by David Mander, Chair of ARA Board and Jon Elliott, ARA Head of Public Affairs
- ARA Conference 2015 feedback
- Introduction to Digital Preservation
- ROLLR work with the King Richard III Legacy Project (KRIII)
- Digital Preservation Round Table
- Funding and fundraising for archives
As you can see, a wide range of topics are covered, which I have found really useful and enjoyable because archive work can cover so many areas. While studying, I always enjoyed reading about a broad range of topics, and attending ARA meetings is an opportunity to continue learning. I have always come away feeling stimulated and gone back to work with either new ideas or else reassured that we are following the right path.
It has been big help that everyone at the meetings is always so welcoming and supportive. We often meet for lunch beforehand which is a nice informal way of getting to know people. It has also provided me with an opportunity to get more involved and gain new experience by becoming the New Members Representative and helping to put the regional newsletter together.
I would say to anyone studying to become an archivist/records manager, or who is newly qualified that is definitely worth your while attending your regional ARA meeting if you can. It is very easy to be a bubble while working or studying. So attending regional meetings are a great way to make new contacts, learn new things, bounce ideas around, sometimes just blow off some steam by having a moan to someone sympathetic and then feel better when you realise you are not alone and there are solutions out there!
Benjamin Longden, Cataloguing Archivist, Sheffield Archives