Below are some of the more commonly asked questions about starting a careerin archives, records management and archive conservation. If you have anyquestions not answered by these FAQs then please contact us.
To become a record professional (a term used to describe both archivists and records managers) you will need to achieve the postgraduate qualification in archives and / or records management. The UK has six such postgraduate programmes, with a seventh in Dublin, which are recognised and accredited by the Archives and Records Association. All the recognised postgraduate courses are listed within the relevant Careers page.
All of the programmes run both a full one year Masters degree as well as a shorter Diploma, the difference being the submission of a dissertation. The minimum requirement for professional employment is the Postgraduate Diploma.
An undergraduate degree is usually required to undertake one of these degree programmes but the subject of the undergraduate degree is not relevant, just as long as you can demonstrate an interest and awareness of history and the value of archives as evidence.
It is true that many archivists have undergraduate degrees in History but backgrounds in Law, Classics and English are also quite common. Any subject, course or module that lets you come into contact with original records and understand their qualities is certainly worth pursuing but will not be a requirement.
There are archivists with science degrees, especially in Information Management, and such a background will often be of benefit when applying for posts within some specialist archive services. The degree background of records managers is much wider, with many entering the profession through work rather than by education.
The professional qualification can be taken via one of three different ways:
Full time: a one year Masters or a 9 months diploma programme taught on campus
Part time: a campus based Masters or diploma over a longer period of 2 to 5 years and thereby spreading the time commitment to allow for concurrent employment.
Distance Learning: take the Masters or diploma via correspondence and online tuition. This usually takes 2 to 5 years and normally requires a student to have some relationship with an archive and or records management service, either as an employee or as a volunteer. Please note that currently only the programmes at the Universities of Dundee, Northumbria and the University of Wales, Aberystwyth offer this option.
Competition for places on any of the programmes can be quite fierce so the directors of the postgraduate programmes look for applicants who have a good undergraduate degree and prior commitment to the profession demonstrated through work experience, either paid or voluntary.
Once you have obtained the professional qualification you will have the necessary education to apply for professional posts. Beyond the qualification, the Archives and Records Association runs a Registration Scheme for newly qualified members that encourages continuing development based at the workplace as well as through professional contribution, private study and further training courses.
Outside of professional entry there are posts at a paraprofessional level that are open to applicants who do not have the professional qualification. Typically these are called Archive or Records Assistants and can be found in most archive and records management services.
Posts at this level are usually advertised in the local and national press, as well as through announcements on the Archives-NRA and RECORDS-MANAGEMENT-UK e-mailing lists. You can join these lists, which act as forums for UK archive and records management related issues, problems and opportunities, by going to their websites and following their instructions.
Distance Learning Advancement
It is possible to enter the domain at a paraprofessional stage and then take one of the distance learning postgraduate programmes whilst on the job and upon qualification then move onto a professional post. You will however need approval of your employer to pursue this option.
Other, more specialist posts, which are involved in digitisation, education or research, to name but three, often do not require the professional qualification but instead require some relevant experience. A good website detailing the different types of roles that can be found in a large combined archive, records management and conservation service can be found at the website of the London Metropolitan Archives. Bear in mind however that many archive and records management services are much smaller and can often consist of a single professional practitioner.
Currently the job market is reflective of the wider recruitment market. Vacancies are fewer than has been the recent case. Record professionals have enjoyed a reasonably bouyant recruitment market, as there had been a growing demand for their services. However in the current climate you should expect stiff competition for jobs and you will need to be flexible on where you work as posts are spread in small numbers across the whole of the UK and Ireland.
There are some concerns about career progression, as many record keeping services are small, but the sheer breadth of the domain has meant that there is a lot of flexibility in the types of organisations you can end up working for.
Universities normally keep information about the employment of recent graduates broken down by degree so you should be able to check these through the director of the postgraduate programme you are thinking of applying to.
Unfortunately there are no figures on the types of employment of record professionals but the main types of employment are;
Local Government e.g the London Metropolitan Archives
National Institutions e.g BBC
Private e.g The Rotchschild Archives
The postgraduate qualification in archives and/or records management will allow you to work in any of these types of organisation, with many record professionals jumping between the different sectors during their career.
Whilst there are no figures on the exact ratios, Local Government is by far the most common employer of UK record professionals. Central Government, the NHS and Universities are the next most common employers but the sheer variety of organisations that employ record professionals in a wide range of roles means that it is difficult to group employers into distinct categories.
For a fuller list of archive services in the UK, arranged by region, look at the Archives Online website.
Although there is no equivalent website for records management services, many of the listed archive services will include a records management section, or know the relevant section within their parent organisation.
Please see the ARA Placement Opportunities.
This list is by no means exhaustive so an alternative way of finding out possible work experience opportunities is to look at the Archives Online website. This site lists the contact details of the vast majority of local authority, business, university, charity and religious archive repositories in the UK. Since you can browse by region, it is a handy tool to see what repositories are in your area, which you can then contact to enquire of any work opportunities.
The general rule is that the larger local government and university archive services are more likely to have opportunities available. They are also more likely to have in house or sister records management departments. However these services are sought after in terms of experience and can often be busy with users. Perseverance is therefore essential in seeking work experience. You should contact as many archive services in your area as possible and see which ones will be able to offer you some sort of placement. Remember to leave your contact details with those services that indicate they are too busy, as they might have opportunities in the future.
If you are currently attending university you should see if your university has an archive service (often the Special Collections department of the main university library) and contact them if they do. Many such university archive services are happy to take on volunteers, who are interested in archival work, especially those students from their own university.
The burden of work experience can seem heavy, especially if undertaken on a voluntary basis, but its benefits are three fold.
First, you will get a better idea of the work involved. There is a large part of the record professional's (a term for both archivists and records managers) work that is behind the scenes and without work experience it would be difficult to get an idea of what goes on beyond the search room. Do bear in mind that the domain is diverse, if small, and that there are a variety of work environments and roles within it, so one archive repository is unlikely to be the same as another, let alone similar to a records management service.
Second, you will meet practicing professionals who will be able to give advice and answer any questions you may have. They may also introduce you to further opportunities within the domain that they have come across.
Third, all of the postgraduate programmes require work experience from their applicants. Beyond simply showing commitment, relevant work experience gives applicants a grounding in the record keeping domain that is invaluable on the programmes, both in terms of the skills as well as the knowledge that gets picked up.
The Forum for Archive and Records Management Education and Research (FARMER) has produced a guide on the type of experience required for the Postgraduate Programmes.
Please download for reference - FARMER Guidelines for Work Experience
The work experience has to be relevant to archives and / or records management. This usually means that it should be undertaken in a specifically archive or records management environment, rather than in an IT, library or museum one. To confuse matters many archive and records management services are based in larger departments and buildings that include other functions like the above, so the trick is to identify the right department or person to speak to. Many university archives are held in Special Collections Departments, whilst local government archives are often based in the main council library or museum. Records Managment services can be based within the parent archive service, in an IT section, Legal department or central administration.
The experience does not have to last a year, as is sometimes thought. It is the quality rather than duration of the experience that counts. Similarly, experience does not have to be obtained from only one organisation and multiple placements will often give you a better idea of the variety of work in the domain.
Applications for funding come after an applicant has successfully been offered a place on one of the postgraduate programmes. Available funding for an archives and or records management postgraduate degree depends on the type of programme you are aiming for. If you are intending on applying for one of the full time, one year programmes, you are eligible for funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland through their professional/vocation programme funding streams.
Applications to these bodies are undertaken through the University that your chosen programme belongs to. You will therefore need to consult with the director of the programme you have chosen for more details.
Neither of these bodies however will fund any of the distance learning programmes. If you are not eligible or fail to get AHRC / SAAS funding, there is the possibility of obtaining a career development loan, as long as you have not obtained one before.
Absolutely not! Whilst knowledge of Latin is undoubtedly a useful skill to have as an archivist, most medieval records have already been catalogued and translated, so it is not as essential as it may have been in the past. There are however always exceptions to the rule and some posts may require a knowledge of Latin due to the nature of the records to be catalogued.
For those who are interested in acquiring knowledge of the language, some of the postgraduate programmes offer courses on Latin for beginners. These are however never a core part of the degree structure and are usually taken in conjunction with a medieval palaeography module.
Whilst records managers and archivists undertake record-keeping together, they do perform different roles and have some differences, amongst the many similarities, in their career entry.
In terms of professional education, four of the seven postgraduate programmes are combined archives and records management degrees. This means that the one qualification will do for either a career in archives or records management. The other three programmes offer a separate degree in records management that will qualify you for a career as a records manager but not necessarily as an archivist.
Undergraduate degrees in Information Management sometimes include elements of records management but, whilst useful for Record Assistants, such degrees are not professional qualifications. There are however more opportunities in records management to obtain employment before qualification and, once employed, then undertaking a distance learning programme, whilst on the job.
Records Management is often closely related to areas such as Information Compliance (e.g. Data Protection, Freedom of Information), Knowledge Management and Information Management. Some job roles reflect this closeness and are amalgamations of these areas. This often opens up such posts to a range of different qualification backgrounds.