As I reached the end of a university degree, it belatedly dawned on me that I would soon have to earn my own living and that I would require not just a job, but a career. Up until that point, my choices with regards to education had been directed primarily by what I found interesting, which is how I had ended up doing a degree in Classics. Off I went to the Careers Service and starting at ‘A’ I methodically scanned the leaflets they had. Accountancy did not sound like me and I had had a bad experience with Archaeology (a week digging trenches in the rain only to be told to fill them in and dig some more), but hang on what about Archives?
To be honest, the thing that attracted me most as a fairly clueless and most definitely naïve final year undergraduate, was that there seemed to be a well-defined route into it – you got some work experience, then you did a year’s course and then you were ‘in’. Here was a ready-made plan/map I could follow. I learnt that there were some paid one year opportunities to gain the necessary work experience and I started to apply for those, eventually being successful and gaining a trainee position at Barclays Bank Archives in Wythenshawe. The year I spent at Barclays convinced me that I had made the right choice. The passion of the archivists working there started to rub off on me and they were incredibly supportive in ensuring that I saw as many of the facets of this incredibly multi-faceted profession as possible. From there I undertook the MA in Archives and Records Management at UCL and graduated in 1995 allegedly a fully-fledged archivist.
My first job was a five week cataloguing contract at the V&A Museum, but as is often the way with temporary contracts, that turned into a second contract and then a third, and I eventually ended up working there for over three years. In that period, life happened of course, and I left my last contract early to follow my soon-to-be husband up to Scotland. Whilst there I worked part-time at both The Royal Bank of Scotland Archives and the University of Glasgow Business Records Centre, before returning south to work for The National Archives in Kew (and this time my husband followed me – equality in action).
Writing all this out is making me feel incredibly old and staid. And yet, most days I feel no less clueless than I was when I was 21 and just starting out. Looking back I haven’t really changed and my career strategy, if it can be called that, remains one of just following whatever I find interesting. With this in mind, whilst working at The National Archives I encountered two new things – 1) digital stuff and 2) the need to work with people who weren’t archivists, but who did know about digital stuff. This opened my eyes to the fact that I could not make sense of things in the same way that I had previously thought I could. It sent me down another path and I followed an opportunity that arose at the time to undertake a funded PhD in Archive Studies. From there it was a small step back onto the course that I had taken 15 years previously, but this time as a teacher. I have taught on the MA in Archives and Records Management at UCL ever since.
I don’t like offering advice in general as everyone will experience things differently, but I will say that the thing I love most about the career working as an archivist has allowed me to have is that it has never been anything less than interesting, intellectually demanding and challenging. Presumably other careers might have offered the same satisfaction to my never-ending curiosity, but I doubt they would have offered me the same possibilities for supporting others to explore and satisfy their own curiosity in the wonderful worlds present in the archives. If those are the sort of possibilities that excite you, then I wish you well as you follow this career wherever your interest takes you.
Dr Jenny Bunn, Teaching Fellow, UCL Department of Information Studies