A career in archives

 15 May 2012

Emily Ward is an archive assistant at the National Archives in Kew. She is the first point of contact for people who want to use the archives, which hold over 1,000 years of the nation’s records.

Emily Ward has just finished her in-house training to become a reading room advisor.
Emily Ward has just finished her in-house training to become a reading room advisor.

The National Archives look after historic documents – and other items, such as maps – them secure and making them available for the public to access. Anyone can call, during public opening times, without an appointment.

A career in archives

"I’ve always had an interest in history and wanted to work in an archive from when I was doing my GCSEs. I did work experience in a university archive and then worked there in the holidays. I joined the National Archives after my A levels as a document production assistant, retrieving original documents from the repositories.

"I applied to move to the Advice and Records Knowledge team, where I started as a reading room assistant. Led by our records specialists, it covers the most popular types of information, such as War Office records, railway records, early divorces and census information.

"The reading rooms are much less hushed than they used to be."

"I’ve just finished my in-house training to become a reading room advisor. The training had to be fitted in round my shifts over a year and finished with written and oral exams – which I passed!

Working in public archives

"I spend four hours a day on public duty. At the welcome desk we tell people what they can take into the reading rooms and direct them to the lockers. Anyone who is here for the first time is directed to the ‘Start Here’ section. They can find out how to search and use the archives. 

"We are open six days a week. I work a fortnightly shift system – Monday to Saturday one week and Tuesday to Friday the next. Every other week, I cover our late opening. On those days I work 11.00am to 7.00pm, otherwise it’s more usual office hours.

"The reading rooms are much less hushed than they used to be. People often come in pairs or groups to do their research so a reasonable level of talking is OK, outside the quiet areas. Food and drink are not allowed so we have café and restaurant facilities – where visitors can eat their own food too.

"We have banks of PCs available. Much of the most commonly-used material is now digitised so many visitors do their initial searches online. Online access also means anyone can have access from anywhere in the world.

"Visitors can also request original documents, which are delivered to the reading rooms to an allocated, numbered desk space.

Developing a career in archives

"When I’m not working with the public, I have admin and office duties. The main task is cataloguing which includes updating the catalogue, transcribing material for loading onto the database and enhancing the descriptions to improve access to our archive material.

"I’ve always had an interest in history and wanted to work in an archive from when I was doing my GCSEs."

"I work on modern domestic history and records which covers from Victorian times up to the Second World War. I’m still a generalist though, trained to know a small amount about a wide range of subjects.

"As I progress and have further training, I’ll specialise. I’d like to become a records specialist. I’m interested in the Ministry of Health Board of Control for Lunacy."


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