No matter how much work experience you do nor how much studying you undertake, entering the archives industry in your first paid position can be daunting. From personal experience, it can feel as if postgraduate study falls short in giving you the practical skills and complete knowledge necessary for the world of work. Likewise, volunteering within archives cannot always provide you with a sound, broad experience of all the tasks involved.
When I began my first paid archivist role a year and a half ago, these precise thoughts entered my mind. However, no degree or work experience within any industry can prepare you for everything. At every stage in your career, you will encounter topics you are not familiar with and you will need to research them in order to better inform your work. I have not only encountered topics I have had no formal training or experience in, but also familiar tasks which have needed to be approached from a different angle, making the experience completely new.
Throughout, I have used several key resources to help broaden my knowledge and practically implement current archival standards within my workplace. It is my hope that these resources may be of use to others and help build the confidence and knowledge base of another new professional.
The National Archives
This institution is the UK lead in archival training and advice, particularly for the public archives sector. Indeed, their website is particularly useful for private research; providing pages and PDFs on several topics such as Discovery, preserving digital collections, and Cultural Property. Some of the pages that I have personally found most useful include:
- Cataloguing Systems and Archives Networks – Needing to upgrade the existing catalogue system to one that complied with ISAD(G) in my current place of work, I found this page and the excel document entitled ‘CMS and DAMS options for archives’ incredibly helpful in summarising the many cataloguing software packages available to archivists. The spreadsheet not only provided links to external sites, but also described each option’s features, costs, an online example in use and ISAD(G) compliance.
- Cataloguing – Cataloguing is something that every archive volunteer or graduate student has had ample experience of. However, when planning and implementing a large-scale cataloguing project, I discovered holes within one’s knowledge of managing, cataloguing and arranging a collection can exist. As well as liaising with other colleagues in the industry about their management of similar projects, I found The National Archive’s page on ‘Cataloguing archive collections’ excellent for providing links to industry framework guides and to blog posts written by UK and international archives on cataloguing projects and theory.
Conservation and Collections Care
Collections can often include more than just paper, books and photographs. In the collection that I work with, we also care for costumes, wood, negatives, and metal. Knowing not only how to store all these conflicting materials safely, but also the display requirements, is extremely important and I have found that the following sites are helpful in providing in-depth information regarding caring for a collection.
- The Institute of Conservation (ICON) – This site can help one find a conservator should an item within your care need more professional help, while also providing a selection of fantastic leaflets on care and conservation of a wide variety of items from books or archives and archaeological material, to ceramics and photographs.
- Museums Galleries Scotland – This site has been bookmarked on my computer for a long time! It covers collections care with specific topics on paper, photographs and paintings. Furthermore, it provides advice on environmental monitoring (light/UV, temperature and humidity), interpretation, storage and display. It helps with behind-the-scenes storage alongside exhibition and display preservation. The latter is especially useful as exhibitions become more of a mainstay of an archivist’s daily tasks.
- Collections Trust – This site is useful not just for collections care but, like the National Archives, offers numerous resources on topics such as collections development, information, and access, except with a focus on museum collections. The preservation resources include some topics which are not featured on other sites, for example on packing and transportation.
The Archives and Records Association Section for Archives and Technology has an excellent Guide to Archival Standards. ISAD(G), Spectrum, and Dublin Core are three particularly important metadata standards which I have encountered and are all included within this list.
I hope that some of these sites will be a useful springboard for others when forming the foundation stone of planning projects, or just for helpful reading within their everyday work. There are so many other sites out there which I have not included or may not be aware of so it would be great if we can all share resources and support each other in our fledgling steps within archives!
Charlotte McCrory, School Archivist, Oakham School