Students studying quietly in the Old Library at LSE: this isn't the only way of working with Higher Education! (Via flickrcommons: LSE IMAGELIBRARY/706)
We talk a lot about partnership these days, in the archives sector. It’s more than a buzzword: partnership building is seen as absolutely critical to how archive services (which are usually quite small) are able to develop audiences, broaden funding, achieve visibility, sustainability… a lot, in fact. But it’s not always easy to find good examples of partnership, or examples that apply widely. We also know that partnership takes work and resource if it is going to be effective, be something more than a brief one-off collaboration.
So it was a huge pleasure that when we issued a call for papers on collaboration between universities and archives, we received almost 40 proposals. Evidently, there’s a lot of work going on, across a whole range of types of work. The resulting conference – ‘Enhancing Impact, Inspiring Excellence’ – is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and The National Archives, in association with Research Libraries UK. It is now open for booking.
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Did you know that The National Archives has a Business Archives Advice Manager? Alex Ritchie is the man in question, and I thought today’s blog should introduce you to some elements of his work. It’s all part of a national strategy for business archives, in which The National Archives is a partner.
The home of the archives at F Hoffmann-La Roche
What’s so special about business archives?
The written heritage of Britain is not only in public hands, and represents more than individuals, families and organisations. Any commercial entity, from massive international corporations to small family businesses and sole traders, needs to maintain records to succeed. They keep accounts, staff records and production records. Designs, publicity, staff records and product images are also kept. Their value can be anything from heritage branding to patent information crucial to company income or Victorian engineering diagrams for structures still in active use today. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many businesses retain an archive and that they are among the richest collections for historical research.
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It’s a pleasure today to wish a happy centenary to Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service which – as Bedfordshire Record Office – was the first ever county record office to be founded in Britain, in 1913. As any archive student knows, this foundation was the start of a network of county-based archive services which came to form the backbone of local archive provision in the UK.
…Except any archive student also knows, it’s a bit more complicated than that!
RAIL 1031/10: Bradshaw's 1839 railway map of the UK. Like the railways, a local archives network stetches across the country
By 1913, there were already many local institutions deeply involved in preserving local records. Some were within local authorities themselves – the clerks of the peace and those who cared for city and borough muniments. Local public libraries collected important historical documents. And in some areas, antiquarian, archaeological and records societies were providing a third sector solution, collecting and preserving their local history through voluntary effort. The solution that Bedfordshire adopted, of a county records committee which evolved into a record office run by the County Council, was by no means the only solution. (Hertfordshire actually got there first with the records committee model, though they don’t claim to have had the same unbroken institutional history.)
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The packed Forum programme included plenary panel discussions
The National Archives was pleased to host the third annual Archives Discovery Forum on 7 March. The Forum brings together information and archives professionals from across the UK to talk about how to open up access to collections and information about collections. You can see the full programme on the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) website. The Forum is a key part of the work of the UKAD network, to get people together and discussing progress in this area. That can be about major changes to standards affecting the sector internationally or about improving awareness of individual archives’ collections, and anything in between. We know not everyone in the sector is progressing at the same rate, but so long as everyone is going in the same direction, towards ever-broadening access, there is value in sharing our progress.
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Just a selection of the campaign badges held by the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (with thanks to Bishopsgate Institute for the image)
We’re now well into LGBT history month, celebrated by The National Archives and many other heritage organisations and communities across the country. It seems like a good moment to reflect on how LGBT archives appear in the historical record, without which LGBT history month couldn’t exist.
Older records can be really problematic for studying LGBT history, and seem almost to conspire to hide histories rather than to reveal. Where a community was of necessity trying to avoid the eye of the authorities, there’s relatively little in the official records, and when it does exist, it’s often a negative portrayal. Jenni’s blog earlier in the month outlined what The National Archives is trying to do about that, revealing hidden histories and bringing together information on LGBT records so that it is easier to find. Continue reading »
It is six months since I last blogged about my own major project, the new Accreditation Programme for Archive Services. Then, I was introducing the pilot we were about to launch and describing what we hoped would come out of that process. Today, I can reflect on what we have learned from the pilot.
I listed three main aims for the pilot:
- Working out the kinks
- Getting the guidance as good as it can be
- Making sure that one size fits all
We recruited 20 different archive services from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to achieve this. They represent a huge range of service types, from national institutions – The National Archives itself led the way as a pilot – to very small, privately-run archives who nonetheless can provide a public service to interested parties.
The strongroom at Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, one of our pilot services
We worked with business archives, who often have serving internal users as a priority; archives in museums, where we needed to review how this new programme works with the existing scheme for museum accreditation; and we were very pleased to have a volunteer from the audio-visual archives sector who tested how the principles of archive service accreditation would work with their different media. So we gave ‘one size fits all’ a good workout.
What we heard back
Of the 20 services who began the pilot, all 20 were able to make a return, despite having to work to a tight timescale of just three months to help us launch the programme on schedule. That gives us real assurance that the process is not too burdensome. We recommend that once the scheme is live, archive services make it part of their long term planning and development, rather than setting an artificially short deadline like this.
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Some responses are not too hard to interpret: Do you keep an accessions register?
I posted back in November about our annual survey, Accessions to Repositories, which maps new material taken in by archive services across the UK. I also mentioned that we were asking the services who participate in Accessions to Repositories to tell us how they find the experience, and what we can do to help them. We now have the results, and they make interesting reading.
I’m glad to say that over 100 archive services took the time to respond – that’s over a third of the total who participate in the Accessions to Repositories exercise – and that there was a good mix of types of archive: local and specialist, national and higher education archives were all represented. We’d like to thank all who responded.
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Archiving the arts
We’re embarking on an exciting new collection strategy this month, called Archiving the Arts. Our work on collection strategies generally is about identifying those areas of our society which need support to ensure that their archives survive and are accessible into the future. Those archives won’t usually come to The National Archives – very often they will be collected and held by a big range of archive services across the UK, keeping collections with relevant communities.
There can be many reasons why a collection strategy becomes essential – in the case of Archiving the Arts, it is a direct response to the needs of the arts community, who are increasingly interested in exploring a ‘second life’ for their archives and collections. They want to reuse and respond to evidence of their own artistic heritage. The arts is a complex area to archive, because arts organisations’ and artists’ heritage is more than their documents and records: to capture the essence of an art form for posterity, a variety of audio and visual media are often needed, and objects can be a crucial part of the heritage too. Though many arts archives already exist and can be very rich and exciting in content, there is a real danger that other aspects of the arts will not be accessible in the future. Continue reading »
All the best things go in cycles - thanks to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for the inspirational diagram
One of my very first posts on this blog was about our annual survey of collecting, known as ‘accessions to repositories’. It’s a crucial way we keep in touch with hundreds of archive services across the UK, finding out what they are collecting and how the archival map is evolving. Archive services’ collections grow constantly: they add items to document more recent history, and also when new collections become available, whether because new relationships have been built, or because of a major event, as when a company has closed or an owner has died and the records need a safe new home.
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The new Hull History Centre: an example of a transformational new archive building
It’s been a good few weeks for news of new developments for archive services across the UK. With the invaluable help of the Heritage Lottery Fund there has been a series of announcements of substantial support for some key projects which will ensure safe storage and high quality access for important collections. Among the recent good news stories are Manchester Archives+ , the project to transform the historic Central Library; West Yorkshire Archives Service’s Wakefield development and the funding for the Battersea Arts Centre. Experience from across the sector shows how new archive buildings can also reinvigorate services: acting as beacons to highlight the potential of the collections they hold, freeing up staff time from managing an inconvenient former home and offering scope for new activities where once the premises were too cramped to contemplate such work.
Designing a new or converted archive building is exciting, but also challenging. What goes into an archive building? The simple answer is: space for researchers, space for staff and space for collections. But exactly what that comprises depends on the space available, the collections to be housed and the activities it will host. The building needs to be well specified, to cover all the functions it will deliver, but not over specified, full of specialist spaces that are underused.