A few months ago, my blog post focused on the work of the Private Archives Team. It seems like a good time to introduce another way that The National Archives is working in its archive sector leadership role. So I talked to Isobel Siddons, Head of Engagement, about how our work is developing in this area.
Q: What’s new and different about how The National Archives is working with the archives sector through engagement?
Isobel: The National Archives has a longstanding relationship with the sector around regulation of the keeping of public records and support for development against best practice standards. We want to maintain that, but within a context of engagement for sector development. We are taking a broader focus than preservation and access of collections, taking a step back to see archive services in context – if you like, turning the telescope round! In particular, we want to work with parent bodies of archives, what their priorities and challenges are and how archives can help; to identify local opportunities and broker partnerships; and to highlight new ways of working.
The National Archives also has a longstanding commitment to supporting services in crisis, which we need to maintain. But we also want to work with services to support innovation and positive developments. That will help us to highlight good practice, identify the ingredients for success and suggest models to follow.
So there’s a new range of relationships added to The National Archives work, and we aim to use our position as lead sector body to talk with senior managers, funding bodies, politicians and others who can open doors for archives.
Q: Who’s involved in the Engagement Team?
Isobel: The team structure reflects the marriage of regulation and improvement in our work. The Places of Deposit team (Andrew Rowley and Nicholas Coney) lead on regulation and developments relating to public records. Engagement managers each cover a number of regions. Their role is to get to know the services in their regions, and to understand the wider cultural landscape in which those services operate.
Q: What are your priorities for the coming year?
Isobel: The team’s headline priority is supporting sustainable services. Until Christmas, we’re very much in that phase of engagement managers getting to know their regions, building relationships with archives and key stakeholders, and identifying opportunities – for example skill sharing networks that could be developed further. The Places of Deposit team are reviewing priorities and streamlining processes. We aim to have a very clear framework of priorities to work to by the new year, and some strategic projects on the go. We’ll be building relationships with Arts Council England in the regions, to ensure useful cross-sectoral approaches continue, and to amplify our regional presence for maximum impact.
As accreditation comes in 2013-14, supporting its rollout and use as a self-improvement tool becomes one of our key activities. A new phase of the 20 Year Rule rollout begins, and we will be working with Places of Deposit on how we can most effectively support them, minimising adverse impacts and strengthening deposit procedures.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge?
Isobel: Prioritising what we do for maximum impact within slender resources. We have multiple regions for each engagement manager to cover at a time of enormous change for the sector. That means not just tackling immediate problems, but making time to foster positive developments too. We’re developing our web pages for the archives sector to answer a lot of bread and butter questions, and to offer a whole range of information, advice and guidance. We can’t do everything alone, nor should be try: part of the answer has to be unlocking the expertise and knowledge of the archives sector.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing you’re looking forward to?
Isobel: Feeling that we’ve made that shift to strategic working and are undertaking strategic projects with bigger impact across multiple services. Seeing positive change within services – and helping senior managers to see archives as real areas of opportunity.