Navigating the Pandemic as a Newly Qualified Archivist – Joanne Gent

In 2018, having been a primary school teacher for over twenty years, I decided I would like a change in my career. After doing some research, I thought the role of an archivist sounded interesting and set about applying to the University of Dundee to do a one-year Post Graduate Certificate in Archival Studies, via distance-learning.

I applied to various establishments to try and secure a regular volunteering slot and started at Derbyshire Record Office in July 2018, visiting one day a week. My university course began in January 2019 and I completed it in December. I found the whole experience worked really well and was looking forward to enjoying my volunteering role without the pressures of studying, whilst at the same time looking for a new job. This all came to an abrupt end in March when coronavirus changed the world!

Initially, the introduction of lockdown and all that entailed felt very surreal. The feeling of uncertainty and how this was affecting every aspect of daily life, became increasingly apparent. I had recently booked places for my family to attend my graduation ceremony at the University of Dundee in June, including an overnight stay. Needless to say by the end of April this was all cancelled and postponed indefinitely.

My volunteering work at the record office stopped at the end of March and unfortunately, I haven’t been able to go back since. There were slight glimmers of hope in the summer that the situation would improve, but clearly that has not happened and Covid-19 is here for the foreseeable future. As the year has progressed, I have felt like I am drifting further away from everything I learned during last year’s studies and my weekly experience at the record office. All of a sudden, I find nearly a whole year has gone by since I submitted my final assignment and if anything, I feel like I have gone backwards with my new-found knowledge and skills as I am not using them and can’t put them into practice. Having crammed the postgraduate course into one year, which was pretty full on, I seem to have gone to the other end of the spectrum now and my brain is certainly having a holiday!

I did receive my certificate through the post from Dundee and they are hoping to have some sort of event to celebrate when it is possible. As much as it was lovely to see the rewards for my hard work, it does feel like a bit of an anti-climax. I had also got a two week placement booked in October at the Britten-Pears Foundation in Suffolk. I was really looking forward to this experience, but that is now on hold and I am hoping it will happen at some point next year.

I read the ARA publications and listen to the ARA Together online community chats, just to keep my thoughts in that sort of environment. I find these quite helpful and I do try and take away a couple of key points, (however small!), that I can relate to my knowledge and experiences so far. I think one of the hardest things about the impact of the pandemic is that it creates a feeling of ‘flying solo’. It is challenging enough on a good day to try and break into a new sector, but to do it in this remote, socially distanced world makes it even harder.

There is nothing like hands on learning with face to face interaction, to make you feel like you are part of something. One of the plus sides of the current situation is that I am becoming more familiar with a range of platforms such as Zoom and Discord, that I would never have used before, so that is a positive!

Incidentally, I am also finding out that North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire are not really hotspots for archive jobs. I noticed in one recruitment advert it stated that the role would be suitable for a newly-qualified archivist. I thought this was very useful and encouraging, as some of them sound quite daunting! In the education sector, jobs always state if they are happy for newly qualified teachers to apply and I think that is helpful.

Since the pandemic turned everything upside down, I imagine there are thousands of people in my position, stumbling along until things improve. I try and look at it as if I am having a bit of an unpaid sabbatical (mostly travelling round the garden) and that one day everything will fall into place and work out fine!

Joanne Gent, recent student of the University of Dundee

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