Career reflections

A series of articles where we invite leaders and managers from the record-keeping sector to reflect on their careers so far. In this edition Chris Sheridan chats to Margaret Crockett FARA, consultant Archivist and records manager at Margaret Crockett Ltd

What was your first job in this sector?

My pre-qualification experience was with Praktikantin, Stadtarchiv Mannheim (Germany) in 1984. After graduating my first temporary role was Assistant Archivist at the Wellcome Institute. My first permanent role was Assistant Archivist, Bristol Record Office, 1986

At what age did you decide you wanted to work in the archives and record-keeping industry?

I started young, at 17!

Has your career taken the path you had envisaged when you first started out in the industry?

No, I wanted to be a city archivist and I am now a consultant with a portfolio of policy/strategy advice, training and practical project work

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Working this summer with African Archival Educators on improving their digital curation curricula to teach the next generation of African archivists to manage the records and archives of the future

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?

From Janet Foster, my business partner, who told me I would easily find consultancy work and I would be successful at it.

What do you think are the key competencies that managers should have, and why? How might less experienced professionals develop these competencies?

Several competencies are very important: advocacy skills to get support for archives and records management, without which the operation cannot flourish; strategic and organisational skills, the ability to set goals, plan and implement to deliver programmes and services together with the competency to identify the ways and means to do it, not only according to the plan but according to setbacks and opportunities along the way. The most essential competency is interpersonal skills and the ability to get the best out of all members of the team. It requires understanding of individuals, what motivates them and how they interact with each other, as well as suiting them to the appropriate daily and developmental tasks for them. Sometimes this will be hard because it will require firmness with bad behaviours and underperformance. Less experienced professionals can develop these skills in three ways: watching others who may be good or bad at it and analysing their methods; studying online or hard copy literature; doing it, hopefully in a supportive environment, perhaps with a mentor.

What do you think are the key issues for the sector? How might the sector respond to them?

There are so many of these but I think the most important one is the way archives and records management are not seen as being essential to accountability, transparency, good governance, societal memory and democracy. There are already good tools and initiatives going on at national level, for example ARA’s work with the ”Explore your Archives” and “Know your Records” campaigns and its membership of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History. The International Council on Archives developed and champions the UNESCO endorsed “Universal Declaration on Archives” as well as supporting archivists around the world and advocating at high governmental levels both nationally and internationally. These should be continued and stepped up, we should seek ways to pool resources and collaborate. Even at the individual level ensuring that you have the skills and confidence to seize opportunities to speak up for and justify archives and records management is something anyone can do. If we can get this right then the other issues, such as lack of understanding, skills and resources, will be easier to tackle. Also, join the International Council on Archives and take an active role!

How important a role has continuing professional development played throughout your career?

It’s been immensely important. Initially I did not even know that was what it was but I pursued it to learn how to do things I needed for my job, to make contacts from whom I could learn and because it was fun to be part of a professional body. For example, early in my career I joined the Specialist Repositories Group committee and was co-organiser of the first Basic Archives Skills Training Day, from that experience I gained confidence and skills – and found my business partner with whom I still deliver popular training days. Later I began to realise that CPD played a crucial role in characterising the profession, along with the professional association, the accredited entry-level qualification and the initial pre-registration period which collectively are hallmarks of professionalism. I am proud to have been one of the first to achieve fellowship status in ARA although it was hard for me with my history of unstructured and poorly documented CPD activity – my personal challenge now is not so much to keep doing it but to ensure that I remain thoughtful and reflective about it.

RMARA is a professional qualification that recognises achievement. How important has this been to you in your career?

Over the years the assessment criteria for Registered Membership has improved and in doing so,  acquired more value and respect. Without the Registration Scheme and my involvement in it and the opportunities for my own CPD, I would not have been able to achieve Fellowship.

The Professional Development Programme is the next stage in developing professional standards across the sector. It builds on the success of the Registration Scheme.   How important are professional standards to the archives and records management sector? What do you think are the key benefits?

Professional standards are important in any sector because they provide confidence both within and to outsiders that there is a body of knowledge, expertise and ethical behaviours that can be expected of individuals and the sector as a whole. For as long as I have been an archivist and records manager we have struggled for recognition as a profession with unique and pertinent skills and knowledge. Clear, accessible and transparent standards and other governance documentation are even more crucial for demonstrating our credentials. They impact on individuals who, in meeting these aspirations and conforming to the standards, show their competency to manage archives and records and will have the ability to continue to learn and develop that competency. Credible professionals in a well-defined profession are essential to advocate for the ongoing and vital role that archives and records play in the health of current and future societies.

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