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Case Study: Kelda

Personal details
Degree:Film Studies and Modern History Profile picture
School(s): School of History, School of Philosophy, Anthropology & Film Studies
Year of Graduation:Jun-2009
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: BBC Written Archives Centre
Job title: Senior Archives Assistant
Occupational Sector: Archiving
What has been your route to getting your current position?
I began by volunteering one morning a week at the University of St Andrews Special Collections Department in 2007 - a move which was prompted by a visit to the Careers Centre! I enjoyed this so much that I carried on volunteering until I graduated and spent one summer vacation working in the department full-time.

After graduating I applied for unqualified and trainee archives assistant posts and was eventually offered a year-long traineeship post at St George's Chapel Archives and Chapter Library. While in this post I applied for an MA in Archives and Records Management at University College London which I spent 2010-2011 studying on full-time (this qualification, which can be obtained from several institutions in the UK, is almost essential if you want to progress in a career in archives management). Whilst studying I volunteered one day a week at three different archives throughout the year to broaden my experience. My current job was offered to me after completing this qualification.

What does your job involve ?
My job involves answering internal enquiries based around the BBC's written archives, primarily so that performer and copyright holders' rights are maintained when repeating programmes and clips. I also process incoming material so that the BBCs current operations are documented for use and research in the future.
What are the best bits of your job ?
Knowing that the work I am doing helps the BBC's current operations and so has value to a wide range of people is very satisfying. As is the knowledge that I am contributing to recording the history of an organisation which has had a huge impact on British, and worldwide, media reception in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Why were you successful?
Gaining this job was probably a combination of factors - I have a postgraduate qualification in archives and record management and have previously volunteered and worked in archives. However, for this particular role my academic background helped me to demonstrate my genuine interest in the contents of this repository.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
I think in most jobs that the skills you gain in a degree tend to be used more regularly than the specific knowledge. Being able to work independently in a timely and accurate manner are really important in my role, as is the ability to communicate with a wide variety of people. However, the knowledge I developed about Film Studies and Modern History has given me a good grounding of knowledge which I have applied in the role I work in now, and other archives positions.

Often when working in an archive you may not be an expert in the subject area of the material you are working on, so being able to apply what you do know to rapidly gain a broad understanding of the material is essential. On this basis I would also say that the general experience of studying a wide variety of subjects at St Andrews in the first two years of the degree programme, and then continuing to maintain a variety of topics by studying joint-honours, has been particularly valuable because I am confident that I can develop my knowledge in new subject areas. Film studies is therefore a really useful subject to study if you are considering a career in archives because it draws on so many disciplines placing you in a strong position to develop new knowledge as it is needed.

Work I did outside my degree during my time at St Andrews has also been helpful working towards becoming an archivist. I spent a summer vacation working in a hotel and also sat on society committees; both of these have been useful on application forms and at interviews for demonstrating my ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and members of the public, as well as organisational skills and the ability to motivate myself.

What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
As with many careers, to show that you are serious about working in an archives environment, you first have to be prepared to volunteer. This doesn't have to be in full-time, long-term unpaid internships; lots of archives support volunteers for as little as one morning a week which can be done alongside study or other work. While many will also offer the opportunity for 1-2 weeks of full-time unpaid work experience. Also, be prepared to be flexible in the work you do, particularly when you are volunteering or first starting work - one of the best things about working in an archive can be the variety of work but this can range from complex cataloguing projects which require complete concentration, to spending a day packaging and relocating material which need handling and lifting skills.

If you want to work in a role above assistant level, employers increasingly like potential employees to have a postgraduate qualification. I took the qualification full-time but there are also more flexible options such as part-time over 2-5 years, or distance learning if there isn't an institution which offers the course nearby. But generally, be prepared for some further studies - lifelong learning and continual professional development is strongly encouraged.