ARA Conference 2018 – Gillian Boll

Hello! I’m the oldest recipient of the New Professional Bursary at the Archives and Records Association “People Make Records” Conference at Glasgow Grand Central Hotel this September, and I have some tips for neophyte IMPs attending in the future.

1. Apply for a bursary

Bemoaning that there was no way I could afford to attend such an event, a colleague said she had been previously on a sponsored place and urged me to apply. “I’ll never get that, there must be hundreds of applicants,” I replied. The lesson is, it’s worth a shot.

2. Always wear your lanyard

As demonstrated here:

G Boll
Gillian sporting her lanyard outside the Grand Central Hotel.

3. Pre-plan your social media strategy

A stipulation of the bursary is that you engage with social media. Knowing what I do now, I wish I’d prepared a list of attendees and their relevant Twitter handles and / or website addresses in advance so that I wasn’t frantically cyber-stalking them during the talks.

4. Choose a single platform

I’d been asked to Tweet, but also to try other platforms, and I chose to dabble with Instagram. You could use HootSuite (or similar), but my conclusion is that it’s better to do one well, rather than divide your attention across two or more.

5. You don’t have to Tweet verbatim

Over the three days I generated hundreds of Tweets, hashtagged #ARA2018. I could claim that these thumbs were so prolific primarily due to the contractual stipulation of my bursary, but the truth is more complex than that; I appear to have a previously undetected binary ON/OFF Twitter switch.

6. Take some time out (or some Rescue Remedy), it’s easy to get over-stimulated by the awesomeness

As per definition, I’m a New Professional, and this was my first conference. Always thirsty for new learning experiences, I was looking forward to ARA2018, but was reconciled to the fact that it was going to be academic, self-congratulatory, safe – dry as the dust that “Who Do You Think You Are?” accuses us of hiding family records in.

But actually, it’s like 3 days of niche TED talks, tailored to your specific form of geekery. Totally unexpectedly the conference had me WIRED.

7. Fit in as much as you can, but choose talks judiciously

With three, four or even five talks or workshops happening concurrently, scrutinise the schedule carefully, accepting that you won’t be able to do everything. But don’t miss the keynotes!

The first speaker of the conference was racial equality and human rights campaigner Professor Gus John. His was indeed the keynote speech, setting the scene for the rest of the conference – a quarantine room in which the industry’s weaknesses in diversity, inclusion and a reluctance to acknowledge the colonisation of the archive were laid out for appraisal.

G Boll - Gus John
Professor Gus John delivers the first keynote speech.

Twitter was alight with attendees describing the discomfort caused by Professor John’s speech, and thanking him for it.

The next 3 days were filled with talks themed on facing up to hard truths. Michelle Caswell expanded on Professor John’s talk in the North American context, and disability campaigner Martyn Sibley explained how we can break down barriers that his community face: “Inclusion is just good customer service”.

Some favourite talks of mine were Adele Patrick from the thriving Glasgow Women’s Library, Alan Butler spoke on specific challenges facing LGBT Community Archives, Michaela Hart, Nicola Laurent and Zarya Rathe talked about difficulties record-keepers face when dealing with evidence of systemic abuse, and Tamsin Bookey gave us practical tips to build equitable relationships with marginalised groups.

8. Expect to experience “Conference Envy”

And then there were the talks that got away.

Two friends were giving talks (Erin Lee and Mel Reeve-Rawlings) and I decided to miss them because I was broadly familiar with their themes already. Big mistake. They were of course both raved about and I pined.

Thankfully an announcement was made that some of the talks will be made available online in due course. As soon as this happens I’ll be tuning into “Brick walls and tick boxes” by Kirsty Fife and Hannah Henthorn, in which I am told they discussed experiences of attitudinal barriers to working class Archivists, mirroring my own experiences.

9. Excise the dreaded word “networking” from your mental vocabulary

I’d describe myself as a ‘nosy introvert’. I’d been dreading the obligatory networking but socialising was, on the whole, painless and even fun!

G Boll - socialising
Two bursary recipients enjoying the Gala Dinner: Gillian and Iram. Photo by kind permission of Iram Safdar.

My approach to the horrible ice-breaker moment was to scan the room and approach the person who, like myself, was alone, looking awkwardly like they’d rather be in their PJ’s watching Grand Designs. In doing so, I found that archivists tend to be rather lovely folk, like-minds involved in work I find genuinely interesting. Thank you, natural curiosity!

Finally, fonds and series of thanks to ARA and sponsors for giving me the opportunity to attend these three days of intense, energising information overload. I was exhausted at the end of it, but inspired and proud to be starting out on a career in a sector which invites challenging questions, in the knowledge that doing so only serves to strengthen the services we provide.

Gillian Boll, Project Archivist, University of Bristol Theatre Collection

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