Archival Community, Research

Becoming a Research Archivist: Lessons Learned

I’m sitting in Sydney Airport, absolutely wiped out from archival consulting work, and yet so exhilarated. In some ways it’s the opportune time to take a moment and reflect upon the GLAM Blog Club‘s October topic;  ‘How I Ended Up Here’.


During my undergrad (majoring in archaeology) I went on a dig and, rather than being fascinated by the pebble being revealed (because it was a pebble) I was captivated by the archaeologists’ ratty old field notebooks. Cue a change of direction into archiving.

Studying a Masters’ in archives in Melbourne naturally brings you into very close contact with the records continuum theory (which was developed at Monash University) and the work of the eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne.

I set my sights on working at the eScholarship Research Centre (ESRC) early on because of the practical nature of their archival research. For those who are unaware, the ESRC mostly utilises action research methodology, which basically means that they learn through doing.

In order to make my dream of working at the ESRC a reality I spent a year volunteering in the offices of World Vision. The one condition of my volunteering there: that I could use Microsoft Access for the data analysis. Why? Because the system utilised by the ESRC is based on Microsoft Access.

Lesson learned: Create your own opportunities. Your career is something you design.

Some time later, during a casual conversation with my tutor at Monash, I mentioned that my 5 year plan was to work at the ESRC. Little did I know that she would ensure that I’d be working there less than a month later.

Lesson learned: Tell people about what you are aiming for, they just might help you get there.

(In fact, I recently told an academic journal editor that I was keen on her job. And now I’ve told all of you.)

In 2015 I started this blog because I enjoyed writing and recognised blogging as a means of leveraging my time. For example, I could spend two hours at a networking event and meet 20 people, or I could spend two hours writing a blog post and reach 600.

Lesson learned: Be strategic about how you spend your time. It’s your most valuable resource, invest wisely.

A lot of people misunderstand the nature of my work at the ESRC. For the first two years I supported the work of other researchers rather than conducting any research of my own. It was a type of apprenticeship in which I had to learn the craft. So in our spare time, myself and two colleagues conducted the Volunteers in Australian Archives research project. It was only once I had proven that I could do research I was actually paid to do it myself!

That’s why I became frustrated when people responded to my last post How Archival Practitioners can do Research with “But no one is willing to pay me to do research”.

Lesson learned: It’s not for them. Bugger them. It’s for you!

In short, how did I end up in the world’s best job as a research archivist? Serendipity, strategy and sheer, bull-headed stubbornness.


7 thoughts on “Becoming a Research Archivist: Lessons Learned

  1. Great post Annelie. I agree completely! Particularly on the last bit. Reminds me of a quote I’ve always loved from the film-maker Werner Herzog, in response to a film director who complained that he was struggling to make the films he wanted to make because couldn’t get the funding he wanted and the audience was being ruined by Hollywood, etc. etc. Herzog’s reply: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

    That’s my motto. The world doesn’t owe me anything – if I want to do something, it’s up to me to try and make it happen.

  2. Hi Annelie. I agree with all three of your points too! I love spending my spare time trying to educate myself and creating opportunities for myself in the library world. Also, Mike, your motto at the end of your reply is spot on too. Thank you!

    1. Beautiful, I’m so glad it resonated with you Stacey. I always like to hear from other people who are making their own opportunities. I’m adopting Mike’s motto as my own now too!

  3. Hi Annelie. I agree too with your post! I love to always be learning about and improving myself with all things library. And Mike, your motto at the end of your reply is spot on. Thank you!

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