Prior to 2016, I had almost no idea what an archive or archivist was. I did not study a humanities subject at university, I rarely visited the library and I had no work experience when I realised I wanted to pursue a career in archives. I am almost 30 and only very recently discovered the archival profession and thought of it as a career I wanted to follow. I would like to think that people who are considering a career change or thinking about archives specifically, can read this and see that it is possible, although with most things, you do need a bit of luck along the way. This blog post answers the questions, what am I doing now? and how did I get there?
What am I doing now?
Currently I am three quarters of the way through my two year traineeship at the Bodleian Libraries to become a digital archivist. I am on the ‘Developing the next generation archivist‘ programme. This scheme is giving me a strong foundation to pursue an archival career by undertaking a broad range of projects with the diverse set of collections and learning from the wealth of knowledgeable archivists in a world-famous and well respected institute.
A hugely beneficial aspect of this scheme is the fully funded part time diploma in Digital Curation at Aberystwyth University that I do alongside my job. This has allowed me to apply the theory learnt on the course to everyday work whilst at the same time my assignments have benefited from an injection of real world archiving. Without this opportunity I am not sure if I would have been able to realistically pursue a career in this sector – I say this as I am uncertain if I would have been able to gain enough work experience to be competitive against my peers and also find the funds for the qualification. The scheme promoted STEM graduates to apply, which was hugely beneficial for me as I have a scientific background.
How did I get there?
I completed my undergraduate chemistry degree from University of Manchester in 2011. I then decided that I wanted a bit of a change but still to stay within the scientific realms and so I pursued a PhD in pre-clinical dentistry at King’s College London. On completion, it was clear that this type of research was not for me, whilst I learnt a great deal professionally and personally and gained many transferable skills, I realised that there was something else out there that I wanted to dedicate my time to.
I have spent a lot of time not really knowing what kind of career I wanted. After my PhD I did a few jobs to keep me busy (warehouse and bar work) whilst all the time looking for a career role. It was quite fortuitous how I came across the archiving profession.
My discovery of the profession
It was though a job site mailing list that I first became aware of archiving. I saw the graduate trainee digital archivist role at the Bodleian and after reading the job specification, I wondered ‘what is an archivist?’ and started looking into it. I found myself reading about the profession and thinking how infinitely interesting and amazing it seemed. The more I found out about the job the further this fuelled my interest. I applied for the role; however, I did not get it. I asked for feedback and was told that I was a good candidate however my lack of experience was maybe a bit too much of a gamble (after all, it was only a month before applying for the position that I decided I wanted to do archiving and I had no relevant work experience, just my enthusiasm).
Realising my lack of work experience was slightly disheartening as I was thinking how would I be able to get a substantial amount? Especially at this stage of my career. The Bodleian Library very kindly offered to help me out and I did one week of volunteering. This was fantastic as it allowed me to see if my initial feelings were correct. The week consisted of a variety of tasks and being exposed to the different roles an archivist in a large university does. One of the most valuable aspects of this week was being able to speak to other archivists and hear how they came to be where they are. After this I was absolutely sure that this is what I wanted to do, it exceeded all my best expectations.
I decided that to get some work experience and give it another go to get into archives, constantly looking for similar roles. I secured some work experience at De Montfort University in their special collections department, Natalie Hayton was incredibly welcoming and helpful and their volunteer programme was really well organised. I did this for a few months and the role at the Bodleian came up again, I reapplied and this time I was successful.
I have approximately a quarter of my traineeship left and also the last bit of my postgraduate diploma, so there is a little bit to do before I can call myself an archivist. Having found archiving as a profession, I don’t want to let it go. For me, it’s so interesting and diverse in relation to the variety of work, people you interact with and the exciting future prospects (especially with the digital aspects). It has that almost indescribable feeling when you just know deep down inside that this is what you want to do.
Initially I felt that my route into archives was not ‘normal’; however, the more people I speak to within the profession, it seems a lot of them also have had their own wonderfully winding routes into it. From my experience so far, it appears to attract people that are genuinely interested and passionate about their role. The diversity of backgrounds and interests is a positive thing as it means we all bring different skills into the profession and can learn from each other.
Miten Mistry, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford