Prior to the ARA Section for New Professionals Summer Seminar, and more specifically Alison Scott’s talk on ‘Becoming a Freelance Archivist’, I never really considered freelancing as an archivist. I mean, maybe I do have a pipe dream of taking the wheel of a roving digitisation van around the world in future… but that idea is for another time . Scott’s talk about her rationale for, journey to, and experience of going freelance as an archivist since November 2018 really engaged the other delegates and I. As we headed to the pub I was keen to talk about it with others, and Alison herself!
Alison’s move seemed all the more bold because as she admitted, it is not quite the culture yet for the myriad of short term (compared to number of permanent) archivist posts out there to be freelance instead of salaried. Unlike other sectors in the current gig economy such as writing, editing, design or marketing, freelancing as an archivist or records manager seems fairly niche. Maybe this could change? Alison’s talk definitely stirred something in the new professionals at the Summer Seminar. Her varied career to date, which she talked us through, and there is a link to her CV on her website, also made it feel like freelancing was something we could plan for in the future and even work towards.
So, what advice did Alison give the audience of keen new professionals sat in front of her, for a potential future of freelancing?
Get your name out there. Alison has a website she directs people to (or indeed, that other people can direct potential employers to): www.asarchiveservices.co.uk. She also disseminated her business cards in creative ways such as popping them in Christmas cards! Other ideas include attending events, building up a portfolio of experience and engagement within the sector and just generally offering to share experiences. Alison’s ‘news’ tab on her website records the different events she is going to speak at, as well as other relevant topical posts.
Use the resources available to you. Many people who are looking to start their own business are eligible to participate in the UK government New Enterprise Allowance scheme to receive an allowance and a business mentor to support and guide them in creating a new business plan. As part of the scheme, there are compulsory (free!) courses in finance, marketing and tax. This was certainly news to me and I was not aware of the NEA before the Summer Seminar.
Alison also pointed us to the ARA list of freelance consultants which it makes available to enquirers, and on which Alison features. The ARA also published a pay review in 2018 for freelance archivists, records managers and conservators, available here.
Lastly, I would like to thank the ARA SfNP for the travel bursary. If you are a new professional reading this: definitely apply for future bursaries! The seminar in Edinburgh was a great day of learning and meeting new people who had taken a variety of routes into an archives career (shout out to the BINGO starter activity which got us all talking about this at the start of the day!). Alison and the three other guest speakers, as well as the committee, made it a relaxed environment to ask any questions and facilitate discussions.
Kelly Burchmore, Project Archivist, Archives and Modern Manuscripts, Bodleian Libraries