The new Archive Service Accreditation scheme has provoked a flurry of queries from the archive sector. Our expert Archives Agony Aunt is on hand to answer your concerns.
My service is really excited about accreditation, and we want to get started. But weâre going through a major service change, with a number of options on the table and nothing decided yet. Itâs going to take years to sort out. When can we think about applying â or do we just wait indefinitely?
GH, Blogshire Record Office
Iâm glad to hear youâre enthusiastic! There are areas you really can start working on for accreditation, which should support the service changes you are considering too.
If the service is undergoing major change, itâs a good time to be thinking about your mission and your stakeholders. In fact, itâs essential. What do you want to offer to your users, your depositors and your parent body? Work in this area will help you to meet section 3 of the accreditation standard, but it will also be essential to any decisions made about your serviceâs future. It’s a good example of how accreditation is about supporting services to improve, not just filling in forms.
Remember there may be other areas of the Accreditation Standard which are not core to whatever the change is, where you can also be preparing. For example, if your service change involves new governance, you can very likely still develop your collections management procedures and user services to a high level. If the change means moving to a new building, you can still work to confirm your governance, planning and staff training, even if the detail of your collection care has to wait till the new premises are known.
Lastly, donât feel you have to wait until every i is dotted and t crossed to make an application. A significant part of accreditation is showing that you have considered the challenges facing your current service and planned realistically for the future. When you know what the change will be, and have concrete plans, you may be very well placed to make your application for accredited status. You will have thought through your serviceâs mission and its new role in a lot of depth, and you will know how the service will develop in the short to medium term.
Iâve heard lots of big archive services are applying early on. As a part-time archivist with a small collection, Iâm daunted by the competition. Surely we arenât top priority?Â
PQ, Charity Archives Are Us
Your collections may be small, but that doesnât mean they are insignificant! Weâre keen to see a real mix of archive services benefiting from the scheme from the outset. Archive Service Accreditation is designed to work for institutions of very different size and purpose: make sure you refer to the scalability criteria and look at the guidance to see what is expected of an archive service of your size and type. It should be reassuring!
And remember, accreditation isnât a competition â all services which meet the standard for their size and type will be accredited.
I thought weâd apply in the middle of the four year roll-out. It just feels more comfortable. Is that all right?
VX, Imaginary University Special Collections
Thatâs absolutely fine if thatâs the right decision for your service. Applying when youâre not ready wouldnât be productive. But do think about whether youâre putting off your application for good reasons.
For example, if your strategic plan expires in mid 2014, it makes perfect sense to think about your new plan alongside an application, and apply once the plan is in place. That way, youâll have done the thinking required already, and your plans will be a real guide to Accreditation assessors about what your service ambitions are.Â Equally, if youâre in the middle of a major move, thatâs not a good time to be finding bits of evidence, and youâll need all your resources to manage the project.
But if none of those apply, ask yourself why youâre thinking, âIâll wait and see how the others do.â Are you proud of the service you offer? Do you have a good sense of what you do, why and what you plan to do to improve? If youâre nearly there, why not start work now? You might well find your application goes more smoothly and can be finished earlier than you thought â and the work you do for accreditation will help you to think positively about your serviceâs future development.
Weâre never going to be accredited; our repositories are in bad condition and we have a huge backlog of uncatalogued material. We feel very depressed. Whatâs the point in spending time even thinking about accreditation?
IJK, Mythical Borough History Service
You have my sympathy â itâs not an easy position to be in. But Iâd like to challenge a couple of your assumptions, to show that things neednât be as bleak as you currently feel.
Firstly, archive services donât need to be perfect to be accredited. That would be completely unrealistic. If your strongroom arrangements have some risks, but they are well known and well managed to minimise impact, it is not an insuperable barrier to being accredited. Your feedback will still note these risks, and also where managing those problems is taking up a lot of staffing resource, which may be useful to you in arguing for improvement works. Similarly, most archive services have a cataloguing backlog, but if you have a prioritised, managed approach to doing what you can with the resource you have, you wonât necessarily never be accredited.
Secondly, even if your serviceâs problems are so major that youâre currently not accreditable, there are actions you can take. For a start, use that: report upwards on what the key barriers are that prevent you from achieving a national accreditation standard. Meantime, why not use the Standard and guidance to identify what youâre doing well and what you can change within your current situation? Some pieces of work youâre already doing may fit very well with the Accreditation Standard, or you may be able to make small tweaks to improve your service at limited resource cost. Perhaps itâs time to review how you get user feedback, or how you respond to it? Perhaps itâs time your collecting policy is reviewed, or youâre planning an expansion of your volunteering which breaks new ground. This is all work which is worthwhile, improving your service for the longer term, even if for the moment you also face some big challenges.
Do talk to our Engagement Managers or Private Archives team about your options and how The National Archives can support you to improve and develop.