Last Wednesday saw an afternoon of talks from a series of speakers working in Archives, Heritage and Museums to give students an opportunity to gain an insight into working in these areas. Attendees chose two talks to attend based on their interests and also had the chance to ask questions. There was a broad range of speakers which provided for an insightful and wide-ranging sequence of talks.

Working in Archives

Joanna Badrock, Archivist at the British Library, and Victoria Sloyan, Assistant Archivist at The Wellcome Trust, showed just how varied work in archives can be and gave some helpful tips.

What do archivists deal with?

Archivists deal with a wide range of resources of all different ages, and an increasing number of resources are now digitalized. With digital archiving being a relatively new possibility, those interested in this are sought after by employers.

Where can archivists work?

Not only are archives depositories of resources from the surrounding area or on a certain topic, but there are also academic archives in schools and universities and corporate archives for large companies. There are therefore many options to explore; for example, Joanna used to work in the archives department at Harrow School and is now a cataloguer for the Gulf History Project.

Some key advice from the talk:

  • Get a wide range of experience, and lots of it! Although you may be interested in a certain area, it is best to gain experience (volunteering or paid) wherever you can: it’s the best way to progress and become more desirable to employers later on.
  • Don’t let a lack of detailed subject knowledge hold you back. It is best to develop a broad range of interests to be able to adapt to working with different topics, but it is not necessary to have detailed subject knowledge. In fact, it is possibly better to have a less detailed subject knowledge as this allows you to stand back from the resources as a non-specialist when directing people towards certain documents.
  • Visit is the site that advertises volunteering and paid internship opportunities.

Google “archives-nra” and join the JISCMail mailing list. There is a forum for those interested in archives and job opportunities are listed. Many archive jobs require 6 months/1 year of experience; therefore, it is a good idea to look for some whilst studying (you also need a postgraduate degree/masters in most cases).

  • Be flexible. Many jobs in archives are fixed contract and competitive so as an employee, it is best to be flexible in terms of where you work and the specific job. London is the best area for job permanence due to the wealth of opportunities.

Commercial Archaeology

Luke Craddock-Bennett, Project Manager at Headland Archaeology, gave a talk on Commercial Archaeology. This was an extremely interesting talk as many are confused about the difference between research-based and commercial archaeology. Commercial archaeology is necessary when people are seeking planning permission for certain areas. Commercial archaeologists such as Headland must investigate sites to look for areas of archaeological interest before granting permission.

The talk was split into 6 key tips:

  • Know what archaeology is to you. When you are working for a commercial archaeology company, work often needs to be fast and is in a high pressure environment.
  • Know what you enjoy. Look out for opportunities to volunteer/work on sites that would interest you. Here, Luke gave the example of Hereford Cathedral as being a particularly interesting site for him to work on.
  • Make your studies relevant. Qualifications alone will not get you employed, get experience during your studies to make you more employable in the future.
  • Seize opportunities. Many jobs need at least 6 months’ experience so take any opportunity you can. Equally, make the most out of every opportunity.
  • Know that it is a physically and mentally challenging You will sometimes be working in cold conditions, with time restraints and to a budget. However, the work is very fulfilling as you are often the first person to see and hold these artefacts for hundreds of years.

Working in Museums

Michelle Gayle, Assistant Curator at Avoncroft Museum, and Sarah Hayes, Collections and Exhibitions Manager at Birmingham Conservation Trust gave a talk on working in museums, and how to get into the industry. Both agreed that volunteer experience is essential to enable students to find out which areas interest you. As there are so many different areas, it is useful to have an understanding of which areas you are suited to and are interested in.

What do you need?

  • Passion and commitment – if you are passionate about History and English this can be shown through gaining relevant experience.
  • Open mindedness – if you are open to different experiences and different roles there is a lot to be gained and can give you broader experiences.
  • Experience – voluntary experience looks great on your CV and will give you something to talk about during interviews. It will show employers that you have considered different options and are well suited.
  • Be practical and have the ability to think on your feet about problems, be creative and adaptable.

What to consider:

  • Whether you want to work within a small or large organisation – roles can vary greatly between these and therefore it is an important consideration.
  • Whether or not to do a masters degree. Although it is not essential, at some museums or for some roles it will be desirable and could give you the edge over other applicants.

Heritage Management

Tamsin Cross is a Programming and Events Officer at Attingham Park, and gave students a talk on Heritage Management, focusing on the commercial side.

How is money raised for heritage sites?

  • Donations
  • Sponsors – this can be companies or individuals, Tamsin had also experienced anonymous sponsors and donations.
  • Events
  • Secondary fundraising such as selling drinks and food
  • Membership fees – depending on the number of visitors, membership cards get scanned and the place gets a cut.

Tamsin explained that budgets tend to be very low for roles such as hers which makes the job more challenging. Another challenge is the fact that every person has their own idea of how money should be spent, resulting in potential internal conflicts. Some believe all funds should go into conservation, however using money for events can generate more money for conservation and therefore can be very valuable in terms of heritage management.

Skills needed: organisation, good time management, planning skills, adaptability, communication skills, open to variety and decisive.

The talks ended with a brief Q+A session to answer any other questions from students. Overall, it was an extremely useful afternoon and gave a very great insight into working in some of these areas, providing a large amount of stimulus for future investigation.

-Alice Kennedy and Jessie Read, SET team members at The University of Birmingham