My Career Story: Philip Hatfield, Curator at the British Library

U.S. Studies Online is excited to introduce our new segment “Career Stories”.  Our “Career Stories” feature is an attempt to incorporate more professional development posts on U.S. Studies Online and address some of the wider anxieties in the postgraduate and early career cohorts regarding employment, employability and the options available. We hope to include interviews with professionals in a variety of research or American studies related positions.

With us this week is Philip Hatfield, Curator for Digital Mapping at the British Library. From 2011-2015 Philip was also the Curator for the Canadian, Caribbean and U. S. Collections at the British Library. He holds a PhD in Cultural Geography.

Current role

How would you describe your current role at a job interview? 

I’m responsible for managing born digital maps and digitised historic old maps at the British Library, as well as helping researchers engage with this material in innovative ways. The Library also holds a developing body of digital material which is geographic in nature, such as place data in the UK Web Archive, and we’re thinking of innovative mapping ways of dealing with this too.

What professional organizations are you associated with and in what ways?

I’m a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society as well as an Associate Fellow of the UCL Institute of the Americas and Honorary Research Fellow at Royal Holloway Geography Department.

What do you see are upcoming trends in the industry? What developments have you seen in your industry during your career?

Digital mapping is a huge growth area in the tech sector but it has seen a signifiant shift from being run by cartographers (at the likes of Ordnance Survey) to being innovated by data scientists (the likes of Google, Apple and many others). On top of this, researchers in all disciplines are increasingly finding ways to map their data and provide innovative research results; an example being one of my PhD students’ recent work to map the geographical distribution of North American anti-slavery publications.

Is there anything you didn’t do during or after your education that would have helped you better prepare for a job in your industry? What’s the one skill I should learn to make myself more marketable in your industry?

I’d have worked harder to develop a wider range of language skills, it adds a great deal of flexibility to working in the cultural and research sectors.

What are you most looking forward to over the next 12 months?

Setting up projects to look at how we can work with geographical data embedded in collection items (such as place of publication) as well as how we can begin to map non-cartographic mapping material.

What do you think is the most common misconception about your job role/industry?

That to work in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector you need a libraries or museum studies related qualification. Experience is key.

Across your working life

What has been your most rewarding accomplishment so far?

Putting together the exhibition Lines in the Ice, we did it in under 9 months, with a shoestring budget but got the highest ever visitor numbers for the public gallery – over 100,000.

Is this where you thought you would end up? Would you do anything differently if given the opportunity?

It’s certainly not where I thought I’d end up, I followed opportunities as they fell and am delighted to be where I am.

Can you name the most exciting place your career has taken you? Who has been the most inspiring person you have met in your career?

Doing a road trip (admittedly self-funded) around south-eastern Australia to visit various cultural institutions as part of my covering the Australasian Collections in 2012-14. As for inspiring people, too many to count. I meet a huge number of people every year who have fought against the odds to reach a particular point in their research or career and it’s a privilege to help them with their work.

What were the formative moments that have contributed to where you are today?

Being offered my Collaborative Doctoral Award back in 2005, it opened the door to where I am now.

Life after the PhD

How have the skills you gained during your PhD impacted your career path?

A PhD provides a huge amount of transferable skills for the work place. Managing a complex routine, being self-motivated and the ability to communicate a complex project to others are gained during any PhD. For me, there were more specific skills, such as working with digital collections, social media use and working in a large institution which also came as part of the bargain.

What contributed to your decision to stay, leave or take a hiatus from academia?

I fell in love with working at the Library as part of my CDA. I’ve not looked back since.

And finally…

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Some of the Library’s founder collectors; George III, Sir Hans Sloane, Sir Joseph Banks, Thomas Grenville and Sir Robert Bruce Cotton

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