Case study

Archivist — Imogen Smith

Imogen plays an important role in interpreting the story of Bishopsteignton and making it accessible to anyone interested in the history of the village. Discover how to get into a career in archives

What degree did you study?

I graduated with a degree in history and then went on to study for an MA Archival Practice at the University of Plymouth.

How did you get your job?

For me, it is extremely important to know what heritage or history projects are going on locally.

After moving to a new village, I heard that there was a local heritage project starting up called Bishopsteignton Heritage that needed my help. I got involved as a volunteer and it was decided that there was a temporary, payed role for me.

What's a typical working day like?

Part of the aim of Bishopsteignton Heritage is to provide an online archive facility accessible to all. I spend much of my time on essential archival processes, such as the creation of policies and collections management.

However, now that we are working on a National Lottery Heritage Fund (NHLF) project, we put a lot of time into engaging with our volunteers, as well as visitors and the local community.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Everyone involved in the organisation knows how important our work is to the community and making Bishopsteignton a genuinely unique and wonderful place to live. Whether we are cleaning or cataloguing, we are bringing the community together and that gives us the same drive.

What are the challenges?

The archives sector is acutely aware of how 'invisible' it can be. I meet a lot of people who do not know what an archivist does, not just in terms of preserving archive material, but also for education and community life. It's a challenge to explain to people what we do, but we hope they understand the value of our work.

In what way is your degree relevant?

I am very lucky to have been able to develop a role that uses almost all the skills, knowledge and experience I gained from both my BA and MA degrees.

How has your role developed?

From helping Bishopsteignton Heritage realise its potential for preservation to successfully applying for grant funding, my role has grown a lot in the last year.

I aim to help as many smaller community heritage projects as possible, as they have so much meaning and value for people.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Find a Masters that helps you to contribute to other people's lives and communities, as well as achieve your own goals in life.

What advice can you give to aspiring archivists?

  • Don't wait for a job to come along - go out and look for organisations that need volunteers. A few hours a week while you are studying has the potential to become a bigger and genuinely impactful role after graduation.
  • Don't underestimate yourself - this subject can be challenging with a lot of new information to take on board, but there are few things more satisfying than being able to apply lessons learnt in a classroom to real work that has real-world consequences.
  • Have fun and specialise - for example, I am a medievalist by hobby, so chose to study a palaeography module as part of my MA to get an introduction to reading ancient handwriting. While these skills have not entered much into my work yet, I really enjoyed this part of my course and that made studying an MA more enjoyable.

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