Primary School to Being an Archivist
My entry into the world of archives was pretty much accidental. My first memory of using an archive is a visit to the public archives in Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire as part of a primary school history project. At that time I, of course, had no idea that working in an archive was a possible future career option and in adult life, when I was introduced to the idea of archives as a career choice, I had pretty much forgotten my earlier trips to archives.
In 2001 I graduated from the University of Hull with a degree in history and politics and was then faced with that difficult decision all graduates have ‘what do I do now?’I didn’t want to be a teacher or a civil servant; the usual graduate recruiting organisations [banks, NHS, prison service, military etc] were not appealing. At the time I lived in Hull, and looking through a local paper a recruitment fair in Manchester caught my eye. I booked a place and went along and it was also a good excuse to visit my brother and catch up. I wandered around the fair aimlessly, not particularly inspired by anything until I came to the Manchester Archives and Local Studiestable. I spoke to them about the profession of an archivist: What was it and what did it involve? They told me something that I always repeat to people now when I am asked about the profession: ‘No day in an archive is the same. If you enjoy learning new things and have an interest in this and that then archives is the perfect profession.’ So, that was it. I decided to investigate this profession further and organised to see some archives in action. These visits convinced me being an archivist was the career for me.
The next step was to find an archive position. I started to apply for archive assistant jobs. My career started at the London Borough of Brent Archive in a great role where I worked part-time as an Archives Assistant and was funded by the Borough to study an archives post-graduate course at UCL. The Borough’s Museum Service managed the Archive and it already had a reputation for museum outreach and access programmes. My colleagues and I added on to this by involving the Archive in these programmes. The archivists and I worked closely with the Museum’s Education Officer organising innovative events and activities around the Archive aimed at a wide target audience. We introduced events to attract younger audiences and those from ethnic minorities who were not used to using or donating to archives. The belief of the need for archives to reach out to new audiences and the importance of widening access has stayed with me throughout my career.
Alongside working at the Brent Archive and studying I worked on on and off a project at the School of Oriental and African Studies. The working culture there was very different because it was in an academic environment and academic researchers mainly used the archive. There, I found that there was less of a requirement for outreach and access to the archive. Instead the role required me to be knowledgeable about the resources available both in the archive and with external bodies. In this particular archive, where the main collections are from missionary societies, I needed to know where other missionary collections could be found, or sometimes family and personal papers of particular missionaries featured in the SOAS collections.
Arriving at the Stanley Kubrick Archive
In 2007 I saw a job advertisement for a Stanley Kubrick Archivist at the University of the Arts, London [UAL] and as a qualified archivist and a major film buff it was, to me, the perfect job. I had read years before about the Kubrick Archive in a weekend magazine piece but at the time of applying for the post I had no idea what it contained in depth and what its function actually was. So, knowing that I was no expert in Kubrick, during my interview I concentrated on my experience of working with archives; opening up access and managing projects. Success… I was offered the job and began in October 2007.
At UAL my colleagues and I are committed to making sure that staff and students across the whole University can access the archive and we work hard to embed archives in course modules. Students being able to use an archive as a research tool or for inspiration is something I feel passionate about. It surprises me that in Hull, where I studied and where of course primary research is essential, no course module used any of the superb collections held in the University’s archives. Sadly, it was only after I had graduated and was pursuing my own archive career that I learned about the richness of the archives at Hull. So it is great to work with equally passionate colleagues to make sure that as many UAL students are aware of the archives here and of other archives in general.
In 2008, as part of the commitment to open up access in an innovative way we established an elective course Inspired by Kubrick for 2ndyear BA students from many different courses (such as Film and Television, Design for Advertising, Sound Arts and many more). The students were broken up into groups and given a brief to use the archive in a research format to inform and inspire a joint project proposal which they had to present at the end of the course. The elective incorporated lectures by professional guest speakers (David Thorold, curator, Elizabetta Fabrizi, curator, Joy Cuff, model maker on 2001: A Space Odyssey, John Ward, Steadicam Operator on Full Metal Jacket and Gay Hamilton, actress in Barry Lyndon) who had either worked on projects in the archive or had worked with Kubrick himself. The project resulted in students creating short films, posters, advertising campaigns, sculptures, books and soundscapes all inspired by the Kubrick Archive [see image]. The elective proved to be very popular and grew from 20 students taking part in 2008 to 40 students 2010 and it is always the first elective to be fully booked each year. Alongside the elective, introductory session are delivered to many other students from across the University and these sessions are also available for external parties: student groups and archive and library professionals.
From Protecting and Preserving to Access and Outreach
I often think it’s easy for archivists to learn so much about protecting and preserving objects that we become too attached to the materials themselves. Rather than seeing objects as information sources for users we only see the intrinsic value. We should never forget our users and the purpose for which we keep our collections. Like cataloguing, the organisation of outreach events should be informed by the users or potential users. When I train cataloguers I always say ‘the trick is to think to yourself – if I was looking for this what would I write in the search box? When organising outreach events, the target audience must be considered too. When asked by people what being an archivist entails I often say ‘well, I look after old stuff and get it out for young people’. I like to think that I put as much effort into the latter as I do the former.
If you would like to visit the Stanley Kubrick Archive please contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org telephone 020 7514 9333.
Author: Richard Daniels, Archivist, Stanley Kubrick Archive, University of the Arts London
Photographs: Julie Reynolds