Thursday, February 03, 2005

Career Guidance

We felt the time was right to publish some information to assist budding archivists in deciding whether to make archives their career. In this post, therefore, we examine some of the qualifications and person specifications required for entry to and advancement within the archives profession.

(a) Women

You have chosen the right profession. Archives, along with librarianship and primary school teaching, is exempt under the Equal Opportunities Act. The great majority of archivists are women and your career is therefore on track almost before you join as the career structure is designed by women for women. Competition from men is weak and several women county archivists have been so helpful as to openly vow never to employ male archivists.

Parentage and background

You should be middle class or preferably upper middle class and the daughter of a general, senior civil servant, company managing director or professor. Above all you should have a private income and have no need to earn a living. You should be married to a high earning professional male such as a nuclear engineer, front rank solicitor, general, senior civil servant, company managing director or professor.

We tend to discourage lower middle class, meritocratic women applicants as this would serve to undermine the role of the archives profession as a source of intelligent, middle class wives for higher earning male professionals and business types. The place of the archives profession is therefore as a lower earning one, several tiers below engineering, teaching, the law, architecture and accountancy, etc.

This situation exists partly in order to ensure the jobs market remains depressed in avoid to deter ambitious men from entering the archives profession, thereby reducing employers' costs and partly to maintain differentials, salaries and gradings between male archivists and the husbands of female archivists. Lower middle class male archivists must be kept in their place; there is nothing worse in life than having highly qualified male intellectuals rubbing shoulders with senior male professionals and business types, it would undermine the fabric of society as we know it.

Telephone manner

You should be well spoken. It doesn't matter if you don't know what you're talking about, you can always read up during maternity or sick leave.


All types of physique even the slightest and shortest have a place in our profession. Should you experience any difficulty in lifting and handling, there will always be at least one man on the staff to do it for you. The only exception to this, because of economy, is that you must be able to turn off taps tightly.

Social skills

Team working is of the essence in busy, short-staffed and under-resourced archives services. You should always be keen to stress how much your husband earns and how you don't really need to work. If you work part-time, even better. Never hesitate to resign when your husband has been promoted or moved to another part of the country, without you needing to take up employment again. This way, you will be sure to help buoy the morale of your male colleagues.

(b) Men

Please read (a) above and think again.

Parentage and background

You should be lower middle class and have to earn your money otherwise your female colleagues and their husbands will feel threatened. Don't take your new career too seriously. If you are ambitious, think about the police, law or secondary school teaching, they pay more, involve less work and stress and offer longer holidays.


You should be robust, especially if you are the only male in a record office, as you will be called upon to do most of the lifting and handling. You will also need to be a strong as Hercules if you need to run a tap.

Social skills

Fortunately, as your women colleagues will be doing most of the talking and negotiating, this is not a high priority. However you should be capable of tolerating the condescending attitides of the husbands of your female colleagues at the Christmas dinner, other social occasions and when taking telephone calls from them. Remember, you are only there to assist. Under no circumstances mention your higher productivity or that you take less sick leave.

(c) Working in England

English record offices are mainly intended as places of employment for Scottish, Welsh and Irish archivists who can't find employment in their own countries.

English archivists are encouraged to do contract work or emigrate.

Surprisingly, there is no English National Archives although The National Archives claims to perform this role.

(d) Working in Wales

Welsh record offices are exclusively for the Welsh although largely funded by the English taxpayer. However, you might stand a chance if you learn Welsh.

(e) Working in Scotland

Scottish record offices are exclusively for the Scots although again largely funded by the English taxpayer.

(f) Training courses

For training as an archivist, please see the links on the set-up page under professional training courses.

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