Case study

Archivist and special collections officer — Rebekah Taylor

Rebekah enjoys bringing history to life and opening up hidden collections to new audiences. Discover how she secured her role as an archivist and special collections officer

How did you get your job as an archivist?

During the last six months of my English/philosophy degree, I decided to volunteer at the National Railway Museum, repackaging and taking on a small listing project with the records. Off the back of this experience I also managed to get some casual work at the search room desk, learning about security and invigilating.

After graduation I spent a year volunteering in county council archives and Sizergh Castle (a National Trust property) and got experience in search room invigilation, oral history, event promotion, listing and preservation work and record management. I also got casual paid work helping with a relocation move of flooded journals.

I was then accepted on to the MA Archive Administration at Aberyswyth University, where I further developed my skills and knowledge. On graduation, I got a contract cataloguing work at the Freshwater Biological Association. I was then offered my first professional job as an archivist at the University for the Creative Arts, initially on a contract position, which was then made permanent.

It was essential that I had a postgraduate degree in archive administration to secure my job

How relevant is your Masters degree to your job?

It was essential that I had a postgraduate degree in archive administration to secure my job.

The course at Aberyswyth University gave me both practical and theoretical experience in archival work.

What do you do as an archivist?

Outreach is a key part of my role and my day is often spent planning workshops, developing research guides and working with course leaders to integrate archives into courses. Event planning, such as developing exhibitions, is a key area and I also help students and researchers to access collections.

I'm responsible for developing policies and procedures, liaising with the donors of our collections and providing work for our paraprofessional staff.

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

I've been able to learn more about the ways in which artists can engage with archives and have initiated exhibitions involving our students. I have also become very active in working with lecturers to integrate collections into the archives. I'm now looking at developing procedures for handling our audio-visual and born-digital material.

My ambitions are to get more experience in outreach and eventually become a head of special collections.

What do you enjoy about being an archivist?

I love having the freedom to come up with new ideas, such as exhibitions and workshops, as well as engaging with students and developing external events and exhibitions.

I particularly enjoy working in an art setting - the artistic use of archives is a really interesting area and it's fantastic seeing what our artists come up with.

The innovative ways of using archives, such as in gaming, are also really interesting to explore.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Developments in archives are fast moving and you need to learn a lot on the job, for example dealing with born-digital material and also working with vulnerable media.

What advice would you give to some who wants to be an archivist?

It's really important to keep abreast of new developments within archives. I'd recommend signing up to the JISCMail archives list and getting affiliate membership of the Archives & Records Association (ARA). Graduate or volunteering jobs often appear on this website.

It's really important to get practical experience before doing a postgraduate course and I'd recommend approaching a variety of archives, for example business, county council and university archives, to see what appeals to you.

This can be a competitive field to get into, but try to get as much experience as you can and pursue your aims, as it's definitely worth it.