How I started – Annabel Valentine, University Archivist

I’ve been an archivist for over a decade now and I took a pretty traditional way into the profession. I studied History at undergrad and when I was in my third year I started thinking about what I might do afterwards. I looked into careers in museums and then started to learn more about archives (despite being a history student, I had never actually visited an archive at that point). It might not seem very exciting to say so but the reason I chose archives over museums was the better job prospects (at least back then, I’m not sure if that’s still true now).

I spent the year after I graduated working part time for the National Trust, coordinating tours and helping to run events at one of their properties, as well as volunteering at the Hardman Photographic Archive and the Cooperative Archive to build up my experience. I did the MARM course at Liverpool full time the following year and started my first archive job in September 2008. It was an 18 month cataloguing project for the Foundations of British Sociology archive at Keele University which was then extended to two years. The collection was fascinating, particularly the surveys of communities in early 20th century Europe which included lots of photographic material. When I took the job, it didn’t bother me that it was a fixed term contract, I thought it would be no problem to get another job when it finished but the recession hit and archive jobs became scarcer. Should I have held out for a permanent job when I first graduated? Maybe, but I think the variety of jobs I had did help me to build up a variety of experience quickly.

After what felt like a lengthy job search, I secured a position covering maternity leave for the Archivist at Oxford Brookes University – it was only an 11 month contract but the experience I gained there definitely boosted my CV and helped me gain other jobs later. It was in this role that I first managed a reading room service and worked on digital preservation. My top tip for anyone in the early years of their career is to seek out maternity cover roles, especially if you are looking to gain experience to move into a more senior role. They may only be short contracts but there’s likely to be less competition than permanent roles at the same level.

I ended up back in a cataloguing project role after my contract ended at Brookes but I only stayed a few months because I didn’t feel it was adding anything further to my CV and I found my first permanent role as College Archivist at Royal Holloway, University of London. I stayed in that role for the next eight years. I managed the service and worked on lots of different projects so there were always new challenges and skills to develop. I loved the collections there (see http://185.121.204.135/archives/#/home for a taste) but it eventually became time to leave and I now work… back at Oxford Brookes! The job title is the same as the first time around but the job has developed a lot since I was last here.

All of my roles have been in universities – it was never my intention to become a university only archivist but those are the jobs I’ve been drawn to (and offered!) and I love working in a university setting. There are always staff and students using the collections in new and interesting ways, and partnering with academics has led to some really interesting projects. However, the highlights of my career so far have not been successful funding bids, or completed projects, but the reactions of researchers when they find something that they connect to in the collections. That’s what really gives me job satisfaction.

Annabel Valentine is the Archivist at Oxford Brookes University. You can follow the archives on Twitter @BrookesSpecColl and search the collections here.

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