Friday, 18 March 2011

Why I Love My Job (and despair sometimes)

This entry was started last night but interrupted by Him Indoors coming home from the pub. I'm probably not going to see him until Sunday due to conflicting social events. So I decided to finish writing my post this morning. 

I started writing another post under this title which has turned into a rather long tract. Instead I shall use this post to get to the point of what happened today.

Recently I have been asked to provide cover at my old job. It's on a temporary basis but it's a rare archivist these days that turns down the chance for paid archival work. The job is a semi-specialist repository that has a mix of general public enquiries to academics. Today a student came in looking for more information about their dissertation. My previous, and current, knowledge of the collections meant I was able to provide Student with more information about their chosen subject. I answered their questions and pulled documents out from the repository to help them. Student left very happy with some seeds planted for their looming project.

Today I loved my job. I loved being able to help someone find out information and help guide them on their way. I loved taking documents off the shelves so someone could write information recorded hundreds of years ago. No bad photocopies, no jarring transcripts, no digitised representations. The real deal perched on a book pillow in the searchroom. Living, breathing history. Perhaps I breathed in the dust that people seem so keen on.

That is why institutions, especially public facing ones, need archivists. In particular, they need archivists who have spent time working with collections and building up their knowledge. You can create as many finding aids as you want. You can digitise as many records and put them "out there" on the web. What you cannot replace is the knowledge an individual has built up over time through experience and working with the records in collections. Unfortunately with looming financial cuts in the libraries and archives sector that is exactly what's happening. This is a topic I have blogged about in a previous post. The vicious circle of charging more for higher education means individuals are going to turn to other outlets for learning and information gathering. Yet the institutions designed to help this are struggling. The repository I am working in used to boast excellent opening hours, with at least two late evening openings and all day Saturdays. Now these hours have been cut to one evening a week and Saturdays by appointment only.  All because a member of staff left, a qualified archivist, and the Powers That Be decided it was too expensive to hire a replacement. This is a very busy archive; yesterday the numbers of users in the reading room was well into the double figures. On another day the reading room was bustling with members from a local history group cooing over records. Like I said, living, breathing history.

I love my job. I'm just sad that the people that appear to be in charge don't.

1 comment:

Kathryn Hannan (nee. Mackenzie) said...

"In particular, they need archivists who have spent time working with collections and building up their knowledge." Here Here! - this is my major problem with fixed-term contract work, in terms of the quality of service (of course I have other problems with it i.e. the stress of having to find a new job every time a contract ends!). Every job I've had has been fixed-term and although I've loved the variety of places I've worked (like you I love my job) I feel that I'm only beginning to get to know the collections when it's time to leave. The level of knowledge of the archivists that have worked there for years is incredible and someday I'd love to have that level of knowledge, and a full-time permanent job - hey, a girl can dream!