Access to 13 archive collections is set to be transformed by a series of grants announced today. The National Cataloguing Grants Programme 2012 has awarded £407,950 to archives across the UK to help make these vitally important collections fully accessible for the first time.
Warwickshire Record Office's successful project - 'Boaters & Bright Sparks' will catalogue the archive of Willans Works, Rugby
Managed by The National Archives, the grants programme helps archives to catalogue previously inaccessible collections. Cataloguing past collections has uncovered treasures, which have provided unique insight into our nation’s history.
The programme is funded by a collective of charitable trusts and foundations including the Pilgrim Trust, the Foyle Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation – we are very grateful for their renewed support.
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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.
The latest edition of The National Archives’ research newsletter will be out on Monday. We’ve decided to give you a sneak preview by publishing one of the articles for today’s blog!
Victoria Lain, Research and Grants Advisor
At the beginning of September 2012 the Research Team at The National Archives grew exponentially from two people to three! Victoria Lain has joined us as the new Research and Grants Advisor. I spoke to Victoria about her thoughts on her new role.
What were you doing before you joined the Research Team?
Prior to this position I worked for four years at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History as head of the Teaching American History Grant Department. I worked with school districts across the United States to apply for federally funded Teaching American History Grants from the Department of Education. We would then use the funds from these grants to organise workshops with historians and teachers from the school districts to enable them to improve their content knowledge and, hopefully, pass that along to their students.
Before that, I worked for a financial/publishing company to organise events. These were mostly for investors and financial managers and I got a lot of experience in how to arrange a successful conference. The fact that they took place in Grand Cayman, Bermuda and California didn’t hurt either!
What attracted you to your new role?
The idea of working in the UK grants world was very attractive, as I am mostly familiar with the US landscape for funding, so it seemed like a great opportunity to broaden my own knowledge. The National Archives also has such gravitas, and that was appealing in itself. The broad reach of the role meant that the job would require working with lots of different people, scholars, and organisations which would be a change for me, and something I look forward to.
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The deadline for this year’s round of the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives is fast approaching. This is a programme administered by The National Archives in partnership with a group of charitable trusts to offer strategic funding to open up archive collections for research. It’s the first year I haven’t been the programme administrator, so I’m feeling a little nostalgic about being involved in something so successful and fulfilling. (You might like to take a look at the Five Year Review of the programme to see why I’ve enjoyed being part of it so much.)
Sketch of a card game at Blenheim, 1880 NPG7/3/4/2/116 ©National Portrait Gallery, cataloguing grant recipients 2009
I’ve also been an assessor for a wide range of archive grant programmes in the past decade, and I thought as my swansong I might share some key tips with you. These don’t appear in any guidance for applicants but they are essential to a successful application, whatever the programme and well beyond the archives sector.
It’s often the little things
You are applying for a grant of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. You’re probably very busy, and have many tasks on your plate. But taking a few minutes to proof-read your application could be the best time you spend on it. Remember you will be in a competitive application process: don’t miss out by giving a sloppy first impression.
Spelling all the names and addresses correctly; making sure your costs add up; sending only what is requested and relevant to your application (but sending everything you’re asked for); making sure you’re not sending a draft with tracked changes: these are really basic points. But you would be amazed how often they get overlooked.
We’re always keen to hear from people about ideas for collaborative working. We regularly hear from academics who want to talk about new and interesting collaborative research projects. Usually, after lots of meetings, phone calls and emails, ideas are firmed up and a detailed proposal is put together.
But, obviously, we have limited resources and, therefore, can’t say yes to everyone and everything and that’s why we have a formal process to sift through the proposals, this is known as the Grants and Academic Support Panel (or, GASP). The Panel, which meets fortnightly, has representation from each of The National Archives’ Directorates (all at Head of department level) and is Chaired by the Head of Research, Dr Valerie Johnson.
As you’ve probably picked up from the themes of the blogs over the last few weeks, the work of The National Archives is extremely varied. In the Research Team we are keen to support new thinking across a range of topics from history and conservation to new technologies and digital preservation.
The Research Team consists of two people – myself and the Head of Research, Dr Valerie Johnson. In autumn last year Valerie and I started thinking about the organisation’s research strategy for 2012/13. We decided to ask the Executive Team’s help in shaping some strategic research priorities to feed into our new strategy. With no constraints or instructions from the Research Team, the Directors were asked to simply come up with the four key questions that they wanted answered within the year. The kind of questions that were keeping them awake at night. They came up with the following:
- What is the nature of the digital archival record?
- How has digital changed the needs, expectations and nature of research and user behaviour?
- How can we develop and exploit digital information extraction tools to help support digital selection and digital sensitivity review?
- Can we develop Open Data models to provide better-quality, authentic and trusted data for use and re-use?