Archive Service Accreditation – ready for use!

A woman in 1930s clothing runs across a finishing line, breasting the tape

Crossing the finishing line in style (LSE ARCHIVES, LSE Sports Day 1931 IMAGELIBRARY/963)

Today we are publishing the new Archive Service Accreditation Standard, and its supporting guidance.

I’m more pleased than I can express here to be able to write that sentence. I’ve been closely involved in developing Archive Service Accreditation with partners for 18 months, and it has been a sector-wide aim for much longer than that. So, personally, it’s a day of real celebration. We’re crossing the finishing line of a marathon effort.

I hope it’s a day of celebration across the archives sector too. That’s certainly our intention: that this new standard should be a real support and guide for the sector in the coming years.

The new Standard sets out expectations for an archive service in three key areas:

  • Organisational Health
    Is this a service that can define why it exists, what it is aiming to do and for whom? Does it plan effectively, is the governance and reporting in place to offer robust support? And does it have the resource (premises, people and funding capacity) to deliver what it aims to?
  • Collections
    Collections are at the core of work with archives – so does this service collect effectively to reflect the community it serves? Does it describe its collections in a way that follows standards and allows information to be shared? And of course, are collections secure, well cared for and at minimal risk? If the answer is no to any of this, what is the service currently doing to improve things?
  • Stakeholders and their Experiences
    Every service has stakeholders, but how well are their needs understood? Is access to collections offered in ways that work for users as well as the service? What is the offer to parent organisations or depositors who have loaned collections for public benefit?

If you know the Museum Accreditation Standard, you’ll recognise the broad headings here, but the underlying detail is specific to the needs of archive collections and their users. The Standard is also supported by guidance, which sets out expectations of archive services of divergent sizes and roles. The work of a small specialist archive is quite different to the work of a large public body like The National Archives, especially when you look at the audiences they are aiming to support. Equally, the work of a university library or county record office is delivered in a different way, and with different legal and institutional drivers, from the work of a business records unit or the archive of a charity which is supported by volunteers one day per week. The trick for building Archive Service Accreditation has been to recognise all these differences, accept that these are all valid approaches in the right context, but still identify those core principles that all archive services hold in common.

People have been asking me in recent weeks what I’ll be doing ‘now that accreditation is done’. I give them a hollow laugh, and explain that we’re really only just starting. What we have done so far is create the Standard and support that lets archives start developing their response.

What next? We aim to see hundreds of applicants through the scheme in the coming years, so there’s training for applicants and assessors still to come. We need to recruit the committee which will oversee the way the scheme operates and approve any updates needed to the guidance. We intend to work with peer reviewers in some home nations, to support assessors, ensure the scheme is grounded in real-life experience, and to share learning from the scheme. We need to give the scheme a unique look, so that in future, when you visit an accredited archive service in person or online, you’ll know what they have achieved. (Just at the moment, the Standard looks a bit workaday – but we wanted to share the content so the sector could get cracking, before prettifying anything!) Most of all, we need to get some real live applications in and assess them, make awards, celebrate success and give constructive feedback to all applicants to support their developing services to offer more in the future.

And after all that, we need to review the standard, make it work for digital-only collections (not yet in scope) and map out the five years after that

Rather than crossing a finishing line, really, we’re only just beginning!

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