I had a false start in my career and ‘fell’ into archives by accident. I actually started as an Archives Assistant (unqualified) and worked for four years while doing a part-time BA degree by correspondence course. This was before the OU really got going!
With all this prior experience, I had no problems getting onto an archives administration course, very different from the situation today where there are many more applicants than places available or, more importantly perhaps, bursaries to fund those places.
Having qualified I began work in my hometown of Leicester as an Assistant Keeper of Archives (the county record office in Leicester is part of the Museums department, so job titles are museum-type ones). After only nine months I was promoted to Keeper and (in 1979) to County Archivist. Eleven years later I moved to Hertfordshire to be CA there, until 1999 when I was offered – and accepted – early retirement. For the next few years I worked as a consultant, but in November 2007 I took up the part-time post of College Archivist.
One thing I’ve always done in my career is to take a wider interest in archives than my own office. For instance, I held several roles in the Society of Archivists, culminating in the chairmanship in 1995-97. Whilst in this role I attended my first international conference, in Beijing in 1996.
I’ve been most lucky to experience the things I have in my career, of which the most unusual has to be when I was a defence witness in an American legal case. It was all to do with large-headed tennis racquets, but is far too complicated to go into here.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being an archivist, although it is far from being well paid. However, there are compensations and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in local history or related disciplines. Incidentally, I have an MA and PhD, both of them involving academic research, but this is definitely not a requirement!
As far as requirements for becoming an archivist, I would list attention to detail, being methodical (if not pedantic!) and flexible. If you work in the public sector you have to be able to deal with people from many different backgrounds. I believe that the skills an archivist acquires are very transferable, but it is sometimes hard to persuade others of that.