Thursday, 25 August 2011

Event - ARA New Professionals Section - Summer Seminar

On Friday 19th August I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with the New Professionals Section of the ARA, listening to some interesting talks and running a careers workshop session.

First to speak was Dr Andrew Flinn, head of the archives and records management programme at UCL and also ex-chair of FARMER, who gave us a very enlightening talk about the factors affecting the content of archives and records management courses in the UK, and some ideas about their potential future direction.

Pressures include the massive increase in the range of areas and duties covered by archivists and records managers over the past 10 years, which means that a far wider range of skills are needed across the industry. However the time allocated to the courses hasn’t increased, and it has become increasingly difficult to fit everything in, and cover each to the required depth.

One solution to this issue that is emerging is to introduction of more specialist Masters courses (eg the one at University of Glasgow is more focused on digital continuity, while Northumbria University just does records management and not archives. Another likely scenario foreseen by Dr Flinn is that the current generalist courses offered by 5 of the 7 FARMER universities will move more towards a ‘core course + options’ model, with a higher number of more specialist options being offered.

These changes are leading to debates within the profession as to what should remain ‘core’ - in the past this would have undoubtedly included medieval paleography, for example, but now jobs for archivists have expanded beyond County Records Offices a lower proportion of roles call for this skills. Is there therefore a case for making this one of the specialist options?

After a lively coffee break with lots of networking and chatter going on round the room, we reconvened for the next hour and half with a careers workshop. I gave a talk covering what types of jobs the skills gained in archives & records management courses could be used for, where to find them, and how to decide which were the right one(s) for you, before focusing on how to write an effective CV and be successful at interview.

We then rearranged the room into break-out groups (photo above) and people worked on firstly the layout, and secondly the content, of their CVs in groups of three or four. Those who preferred worked on some anonymised CVs, with common suggestions for improvements including:

  • spend less space on the address/contact details
  • use more bullet points
  • move more relevant sections nearer the top
Once we had put the room back together into (more or less) neat rows of chairs, the final two speakers gave two very different but equally interesting talks. These slots were reserved for two new professionals to present, and one chose to talk about the specific archive in which they work, while the other gave an overview of all the different roles and responsibilities that now fall to the lot of an archivist, wherever they work.

Fabiana Barticioti of the V&A, who will be starting her Archives’ Masters course this September, gave us a multimedia rich presentation of her work with the dance materials archive held by the V&A. It was fascinating to see the dance choreography notation and then watch a video of a ballet dancer performing those particular moves.

Sarah Norman of the UK Debt Management Office, who qualified from UCL last year, looked at the Roles of an Archivist, which included:

  • Lawyer (FoI and EIR requests)
  • Project Manager (lots of funny terminology to get to grips with!)
  • Procurement Officer
  • Records Manager
  • Stationer (from photocopying to supplying paper...)
  • Detective (who, of course, knows where the files labelled ‘missing’ in the catalogue are to be found!)
  • Line Manager (yes, even after 1 year’s experience)

Sarah said the role was a lot more varied, and more challenging, than she had imagined before hand, and with constraints on resources this shows no sign of diminishing.

As the members of the New Professionals Section got together to discuss what the members of this new SIG wanted from the group, I bowed out to go and catch my train. To round off a very pleasant afternoon the sun was shining, so I could walk along the Strand and over the bridge to Waterloo; in the daylight this time!


  1. Sounds very worthwhile Nicola and helpful in a practical way (not always the case with these ventures in my opinion).

    The 'Roles of an Archivist' section especially strikes a chord. Project Management in particular is a learning curve for many Archivists in the most traditional (and increasingly erroneous) sense, but a real transferrable skill once you learn to speak the same language!

    I hope all the Masters courses were well represented and take note that the management of expectations needs to be addressed both prior to and on the course rather than an afterthought.

  2. Thanks for sharing what's goin on in this seminar. I can imagine the usefulness of having all the professionals discuss and debate, or raise the concerns in this profession. Interesting! A very interesting read,n detailed and thx 4 the sharing, feel like I were there~~~~~~


  3. Thank you for your comment :)

    Yes, Dr Flinn gave a good overview of all the courses offered by the FARMER group universities, which were generalist vs more specialist courses, which offered distance learning, etc.