Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tips for employers

So you want to employ or appoint an archivist, perhaps at a senior level?

You have come to the right place. The Society of Qualified Archivists can help you. We hope the following tips in the form of questions and answers will assist.

Does an archivist or manager of an archives service have to professionally qualified?

Not at all. Feel free to appoint a librarian, academic, amateur historian or any so-called archivist touting for business out there. The National Archives and other national archives institutions employ a mixture of such people. The National Archives is headed by a general manager and Cambridgeshire and Kent County Councils have recently appointed library professionals to run their archive services (not surprising since the interview panels were made up of librarians).

Naturally, we in SQA recommend you appoint a qualified, professional archivist but of course we are biased. We just think qualified archivists can do a better job. Like not mess up your archives. Would you appoint a librarian or failed academic to run your legal section? Of course not.

Is there such a thing as a qualified archivist?

Believe it or not, yes. One can become a qualified archivist by attending one of several university courses or by distance learning. The qualification is normally termed the postgraduate diploma in archive administration. Some qualified archivists also hold masters’ degrees in archive administration although it is the diploma component that counts as the professional qualification.

Should I pay a qualified archivist with the postgraduate diploma in archive administration the same as an archivist with a master’s degree in archive administration?

Not when you can save money. The archivist with the diploma as we have seen is equally qualified but under most employers’ guidelines the archivist with the master’s degree is entitled to an increment. Thus the latter might earn more than the former even where the former has equal or more experience. That should keep your staff on their toes!

Does an archivist have to belong to a professional body?

You jest. In order to practice, archivists unlike doctors, lawyers, teachers, dentists and clergy, do not have to belong to a professional body, be recognised by a professional body or hold a qualification recognised by any professional body. More than this, any person may be styled or style himself an archivist. Always ask if he is a qualified archivist first. Remember, you could be dealing with the office cleaner (eligible to become a member of the Society of Archivists [sic.])

Can I appoint an internal candidate?

Naturally. Why go to the bother and expense of advertising, long listing and short listing? That you might have the chance of appointing a better candidate shouldn’t come into it. In any case, better the devil you know. Many county record offices appoint internal candidates without advertising so you’ll be in good company. Most of us out here only find out there has been a vacancy when we become vaguely aware of new appointments several months later.

Can I downgrade our post of chief archivist?

Why not? It’s happening in most local government authorities. They achieve this by a range of different devices, e.g. by deleting the post of chief archivist from the establishment; creating a new post of County Heritage Manager or Historic Collections Manager; appointing a non-archivist to the new post and nominating the most senior remaining archivist Principal Archivist. Variations of these have recently been tried at Cambridgeshire and Kent. Alternatively, just downgrade your chief archivist. Let’s keep archivists in their place, never mind their extensive and unique collections. You should also bear in mind your chief librarian might feel threatened by appointing a chief archivist on the same level.

Does the law require me to appoint an archivist?

No. This a matter entirely for your own discretion. Much better to leave your archives in the hands of the most junior clerical staff. In any case, do you really want awkward facts emerging as the result of having well-kept archives? Better to ensure your archives are managed by well meaning individuals with few resources. Perhaps you have a retired member of staff whose exasperating past interest in your organisation’s history can now be used fruitfully? He won’t even ask for expenses.

Does the law require me to appoint a records manager?

Tut tut you are being conscientious. Strictly speaking many public bodies like local government authorities must now conform to the Freedom of Information Act, Data Protection Act and Environmental Information Regulations. Government guidance recommends the adoption of a records management system and electronic document records management system. This in theory would necessitate the appointment of a records manager. However, don’t let this trouble you as most organisations simply get by with their existing IT staff and junior clerical staff. Don’t forget, no public body bound by these new laws or regulations has been given any extra money to help it conform.

Must I keep my archives?

Who do you think you are kidding? Think of the storage space you could save. In some cases e.g. the Church of England’s Parochial Registers and Records Measure and Tithe and Manorial Documents Rules there are special statutory provisions for permanent retention as there are at the National Archives under the Public Records Act but this is probably not applicable in your case. Unlike listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments, you are basically completely free to destroy your documentary heritage.

I’ve already decided which candidate to appoint. How should I proceed?

Carefully. On interview day don’t let your body language indicate which candidate is preferred and if your candidate is internal, don’t assemble the candidates or interview them in the internal candidate’s office or you will give the game away, as happened in Kent recently. Alternatively, if you are unscrupulous, and most interview chairmen are, make sure you give an impassive greeting to all the candidates bar the preferred one, whom you should greet enthusiastically (this technique is recommended by Cornwall County Council). That will ensure the rival candidates, some of whom will already be tired after travelling long distances, are shocked into early submission. Above all, tell the preferred candidate he (or more likely she) has got the job before the interview. That will ensure he or she is more confident and relaxed than the rival candidates and performs better.

Another tip is to let your preference be circulated on the grapevine, especially effective under the new regional arrangements, so that rivals are discouraged from applying or attending for interview.

Crucially, tip off the preferred candidate about the questions and selection procedures and ask different questions of the rival candidates, to ensure only the preferred candidate meets your selection criteria.

I am really desperate not to appoint that so and so from the neighbouring organisation. Can I do anything about it?

Of course, there’s always a way. We recommend you assess the rival candidate’s character and slant your person specifications and questions accordingly. That way you can ensure he doesn’t score highly at all. Better still, appoint an internal candidate, see above.

From whom should I seek further advice on what it takes to be an archivist?

You can try calling any of the chief archivists named in the National Archives’ ARCHON Directory of archive repositories in the British Isles. Find a repository near to you or one similar to your own organisation and ask to speak to the chief archivist. On being put through, ask him (or more likely her) whether he is a qualified archivist.

Related reading.

Rogue employers

Career Guidance in Archives

Знаешь ли ты кто ты?

Understanding the Archival Domain

A glossary of museums, libraries and archives terms

Stress management

Who Do You Think You Are?

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