Today I (Nina) am really happy to share the musings of Simon Moody, my former manager from my happy (nearly) 2 years at the Air Force Museum.
Before I went to work as an Archives Assistant at the AFM, I wasn't really sure if archival work would be a long-term thing. I always imagined I might seek out ways to return to fashion and textile work in museums - my first love. But something changed in me while I was down there, and it wasn't just realising that I didn't actually hate living in Christchurch (which was my assumption before moving there). It was that I LOVED archives. They weren't dusty, quiet places but absolutely full of voices, stories and lives. I became obsessed with the potential they held to form connections, to draw threads between narratives across time and space. You know that line from True Detective season 1, "time is a flat circle"? Well that's how I have come to understand the environment of an archive and it's largely because of the wonderful, funny, honest conversations I had with Simon in our offices on the old base at Wigram. So, thank you Simon - your support, friendship, humour and korero has meant a lot. Kia ora e hoa mahi mā!
In five words, describe your role in the sector.
Exploring, preserving, sharing, supporting, advising.
What is it about the sector that you love?
Telling the stories; it is the stories that really interest me and having the opportunity to discuss and share them. Coming from an archives background documents fascinate me. Holding, sharing and preserving these fragile links to past lives is such an incredible honour. I also like the people who work in the sector. Many of them are pretty special (I mean that in a good way, mostly!) and passionate about what they do, highly skilled and fun people to work with. I have also been incredibly lucky in that I have always worked with military collections, a subject I have found interesting since I was a kid. I have also really enjoyed being part of an important sector in our bi-cultural society. Coming from an archaeology/anthropology background originally I have also been very lucky to work with collections containing so much rich and diverse cultural content and really enjoy embracing and learning more about them.
What have been some challenges in your career?
Being a specialist in archives and recordkeeping can be challenging in the GLAMS sector, particularly working in museums. Like many specialists, you can get pigeonholed. In addition, museum practice sometimes clashes with archives and records ways of doing things. Striving to find common areas of interest is therefore very important. But archives and research libraries are so vital to museums. They are the brain, the memory and the holders of whakapapa within GLAMS organisations. Without them, museums can have a sort of dementia, a loss of contact between the collections, their stories and their users. Sadly, in some places I have worked archives have not been recognised as such, or considered a burden of a public service that has to be provided but with minimal resourcing. Physical access is still very important, even in the digital age. Coming from the UK another challenge has been adapting to the different way the UK museums and New Zealand museum’s are structured and function and the different public attitudes to them in the two countries.
What challenges can you see moving forward?
The digital world is a huge challenge, but also a massive opportunity. Twenty years ago the thinking was that we would all just have collections management databases to help us manage collections with little thought about how stories, experiences and information could be shared. Now, the possibilities are endless. The challenge will be recognising that digital collections need to be managed just as effectively as our analogue, physical collections. I also think that in New Zealand, confronting difficult parts of our history needs to happen. Recognising significance and relevance of hugely important subjects like the New Zealand Wars is so important but there are other social and policy decisions which have shaped New Zealand (like gender history, mental health and political protest) that need to have more coverage. I think GLAMS organisations need to confront and provoke debate sometimes, as well as inform and entertain.
What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?
A MASSIVE amount! Museology and wider GLAMS thinking is constantly evolving. New staff freshly exposed to this change through professional and academic training can inject a lot of energy and provide these ideas to established staff. In return, experiences, collections knowledge and older tricks can be shared back by those longer standing curators. It is all about everybody listening to each other freely and communicating what is needed because everyone has different needs. I have not always got this right every time, but I have learned how important it is to do it. That is how it should be. I have always enjoyed listening and discussing issues with new professionals – it can really open your eyes.
I think really successful GLAM organisations have a real blend in their staff make-up. It is also so important that established staff and leaders accept and offer support and opportunities to inspire and broaden skills and experience and morale among early stage museum professional colleagues. It does not always happen, however. I recall that in my first museum job back in the mid-nineties, we twenty-somethings fresh off museum and archive courses were sarcastically called “the young Turks” by our established colleagues because we had so many ‘new’ ideas! I would like to think I am still a little bit radical, even after twenty years!
What is your spirit animal?
The tuatara; a little bit slow, somewhat unique and I sometimes need little bit of protection!