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Linda’s story – archivist – at last!

Linda’s story comes from Chapter 12: professional involvement & career development

I think my interest in archives was sparked initially when, as an 8 year old, my parents bought the house which they had rented for many years, and in which I had been born and brought up. With the purchase came the original 1815 deeds, hand written, wax sealed, and describing how the land had been given by village worthies for the erection of a Methodist chapel. The building was later converted to a dwelling house, showing no sign of its original purpose. I can remember kneeling on the floor poring over the documents, trying to make out the hand written text.

Following graduation in 1973, I went to work in the Radio Times Hulton Picture Library (subsequently bought by Getty Images) in London. It was a fascinating place to work, an amazing collection of historic images, with a purpose designed classification system. At that time there were no databases, no online search facilities, everything depended on the accumulated knowledge and expertise of the picture researchers.

I then took a long break to bring up my children, returning to full time work in my late 30s as a library assistant at de Montfort University Library. At my 6 month review, it was suggested that I should consider qualifying as a professional librarian. I took the part time course in Archive Administration and Records Management at Loughborough University, as although it concentrated on archives, it was recognised by CILIP and was approved as a basis for chartership. I was fortunate enough to carry out my dissertation work on an uncatalogued collection in our local Record Office, and during the course of that work I forged professional relationships which are still providing me with support.

I continued to work at DMU in a variety of paraprofessional posts, primarily within acquisitions, as I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to progress. Some 4 years after I qualified, the library received a phone call from our Estates Department to say that a large walk-in safe in a building undergoing extensive renovation had been opened, and a lot of old papers and ledgers had been found inside. As it was fairly well known that I was interested in all things ancient, I was called in. The material turned out to be the institutional archive, dating from its foundation as the Leicester School of Art in 1870. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement!

This was 12 years ago. Since then the archive has moved twice, more material has been found, I never gave up trying to promote the archive and shouting very loudly on its behalf, and a one day a week post as archivist was established a year ago.

Part of the library building became vacant during 2010, and it has been converted to an archive and special collections area with a reading room, a climate controlled repository, and a goods reception/wet area. I took the decision to resign my 4 day a week Senior Assistant Librarian post (yes, I did finally become “a professional”) last December, and the archivist post has subsequently been increased to 3 days a week.

So how does it feel to have achieved the dream job after all this time, at a point in my life when others are looking at retirement? Amazing! I’m still pinching myself when I walk into the new facility in the mornings. I can concentrate totally on the archive and the software I’m using, instead of trying to keep up with all the library software and procedures as well. I can offer a much enhanced service to researchers, and as we are now considering acquiring external archives which will enhance and augment our teaching and research activities, I am hoping that the archive will add considerable value to our standing in the university league tables.

I have a great deal to do – although I’ve been using CALM for a couple of years, I now want to explore more of its functionality, and see how well it can work for me. Much of the institutional archive is still to be catalogued and assigned a place in the classification hierarchy. The external archives, I’m sure, will present their own challenges.

One thing of which I am sure – this is what I want to do, and it has been well worth the wait to be able at last to give the institutional archive the recognition it deserves. And retirement? Not quite yet…


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