Case study

Archivist and records manager — Matthew Waters

Matthew enjoys the opportunities to take on new projects and gain specialist skills that working in archives and records management provides. Find out more about his work and how he hopes to develop his career

How did you get your job?

I completed a BA Hons Classical Civilisations followed by an MA Classical Literature, both at the University of Nottingham, graduating in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Following that I gained some administrative and volunteering experience before deciding to pursue a career in archiving and starting a postgraduate diploma in Archives and Records Management with the University of Dundee, graduating in 2017.

I saw my current job (maternity cover) with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) advertised on the Archives NRA mailing list, completed an application form and visited the institution for an interview.

What's a typical working day like?

A typical working day is mostly focused on sorting and cataloguing parts of the collections held at EFDSS. I was encouraged to concentrate on a couple of collections, so I rotate between these and different parts of each. In addition I spend a day a week on records management, which mostly involves surveying existing physical records and offering recommendations for disposal.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are several aspects of my job that I enjoy, including the feeling of satisfaction when I have completed cataloguing and repackaging part of a collection. However, what I probably enjoy most is the opportunity to learn something new almost every day. For each new project post or archive collection, I need to gain new specialist knowledge on that specific subject.

What are the challenges?

The challenges of my role are an interesting dichotomy between juggling many small tasks and concentrating for a long time on one activity. On the one hand, an archivist must be a jack-of-all-trades, answering enquiries, monitoring environmental conditions, giving presentations and writing policies. But on the other hand, they need the focus and concentration to spend several hours a day in cataloguing records to a high level of accuracy.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My undergraduate degree gave me great research skills and improved my written English. My postgraduate diploma, however, introduced me to the theory of records keeping and led me through the process of applying it practically.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role has developed from posts devoted almost solely to cataloguing into a maternity post with responsibility for leading records management policy within the organisation and improving archival standards.

My career ambitions are to continue expanding my experience within the sector and to take on more responsibilities until I gain a permanent role as head archivist at a well-known museum or institution.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

I chose my MA because of how much I enjoyed my subject and because I didn't have a plan for what else to do after my undergraduate degree. My MA was not vocational and had little impact on finding a job. I should have thought more about how it would help in my career and gone straight for my postgraduate diploma instead. I would advise third year students to plan ahead more than I did and research possible careers before choosing a Masters.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Volunteer in museum archive - this can be hard to fit around a job or studies, especially financially, but it is the best way to gain skills and insight and to get contacts.
  • Look at the Archives and Records Association website - they have great tips on starting out and promote salary guidelines. Plus you can use their CPD competency framework to learn about the skills you will need.
  • Join the ArchivesNRA mailing list - this email list sends you details of what is going on in the community, as well as jobs (and volunteering posts) that are coming up.

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