Archives Unlocked – one year on

The cover design of Archives Unlocked

The cover design of Archives Unlocked

A year ago today – 29 March 2017 – ‘Archives Unlocked’ was launched by our then Minister, the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (now Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport). Archives Unlocked is the Government’s strategic vision for the archives sector, with the following ambitions:

  • Trust: people and institutions trust in the authenticity of archive records and how they are preserved and presented
  • Enrichment: archives enhance and enrich our society intellectually, culturally and economically
  • Openness: archives cultivate an open approach to knowledge and are accessible to all

Archives Unlocked was created in collaboration between The National Archives and the archives sector across England.  It sets out how the archives sector needs to address a range of opportunities and challenges – developing digital capacity, building resilience and helping the sector demonstrate the impacts that archives have on society. One year on, we look back to what has been achieved so far.

Developing digital capacity

The National Archives launched a brand new trainee programme – Bridging the Digital Gap – supported by HLF funding of just over £720k over three years, with our digital trainees due to start work in their host archive services later this year.  We renewed memorandums of understanding with both Jisc and Research Libraries UK, to take forward work on developing digital skills across the archives sector. The National Archives also continued to work closely with the Digital Preservation Coalition on finding solutions to the digital capacity challenges facing many archives.

The National Archives helped fund and support a wide range of digital preservation projects and are currently in the process of creating a ‘Digital Action Learning Set’, through which archives around the country will be able to share their knowledge and learning around the discovery, presentation and preservation of digital records.

‘Manage Your Collections’ was launched, allowing UK archives – whatever their digital capacity – the opportunity to publish item-level collections data on our online Discovery catalogue for the first time ever, making more information easily discoverable for more people.


Archive Service Accreditation is the UK-wide standard for archive services – a national benchmark and quality standard 1. Over the past year it continued to thrive, celebrating its 100th archive accreditation – The National Theatre – with many more archives expected to achieve accreditation over the coming year.

We published a workforce development strategy for archives, framed around knowledge and skills; clarity on job roles; entry and progression routes; and access to appropriate qualifications, training and professional development. This major piece of work was shaped by a sector wide survey which received over 200 responses from across the country.

Over the past year the National Archives worked with archives around the country to support the development of ten regional and two subject networks of archives, which pool resources to tackle common challenges.  An evaluation of the networks set out case studies, lessons learned and tips for successful network development.

At the end of last year The National Archives launched ‘Archives Revealed‘, a funding programme to support the vital work of cataloguing in archives.  Archives Revealed secured continued funding of the Pilgrim Trust and new funding from the Wolfson Foundation.  Archives Revealed will strengthen transparency and encourage a greater diversity of cataloguing.


Archives Unlocked talks of the enrichment that archives bring to society – intellectually, culturally and economically.  Archives need to demonstrate that impact more clearly and make sure that their wider contributions are equally recognised.  Over the year, we  developed a series of impact seminars to create measurable outcomes against which services can assess their real world impact, and a bespoke training event, ‘Measuring Impact, Exploiting Data’, helped archive services to better measure the impact of what they do and demonstrate how they are making a difference.

Local authority archives face particular challenges at present around funding and sustainability, and we have worked closely with the Local Government Association to develop useful guidance on the statutory basis of archives, on income generation and charging. We also commissioned best practice case studies and developed a suite of useful guidance and information for their Culture Hub platform.   We commissioned work on citation capture – to enable archives to track the use of their records in academic publications, and strengthen the recognition of the role played by archives in research.

In November last year, The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association delivered another successful ‘Explore Your Archives’ week, with stronger evaluation tools to enable archives to better capture the campaign’s success and longer term impacts. ‘A Year in Archives‘  shone a light on the successes of the archive sector over the year.

Next steps

Looking ahead, we plan to publish a revised action plan for year two of Archives Unlocked, which sets out progress made so far and our plans for the year ahead.

Over the next year The National Archives will continue to work in collaboration with the archives sector and our partners to continue to deliver the ambitions set out in Archives Unlocked.   The National Archives is  working on developing  a new grants scheme for ‘testbed funding’ to support innovation, test new ideas and share the results– so that together archives can understand what doesn’t work as well as what does.  We are also hoping to announce new memorandums of understanding and new funding opportunities that will make a real impact on the archives sector in meeting the challenges and opportunities set out by Archives Unlocked.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in Archives Unlocked so far:  our partners and stakeholders, including the Archives Unlocked Steering Board members with representatives from archives, from Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Archives and Records Association, Digital Preservation Coalition, Creative and Cultural Skills, and Wellcome Collection. Working together, we will build on the achievements of the past year as we go forward with Archives Unlocked and help secure the strongest possible future for our amazing archives.


  1. Archive Service Accreditation is a partnership of The National Archives with the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland), Archives and Records Council Wales, National Records of Scotland, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Scottish Council on Archives and the Welsh Government through its Museums, Archives and Libraries division.


  1. colin lynam says:

    I am most impressed at your persistence and rewards. I am interested in why “university” collections and museums are not mentioned. Are there none? Are they not participating?
    If the museum’s scenario is as it is in Australian universities, then rescue work needs to start immediately to protect scientific, engineering, entological collections from rubbish skips. The rental price of a university floor space now exceeds the collection value, it would seem.

  2. Jeff James says:

    Thank you for your comment Colin. University archives and special collections are very much at the heart of Archives Unlocked and our wider work as sector leader definitely encompasses collections from across the whole archive sector. The original Archives Unlocked document ( includes case studies and think pieces from a range of institutions including HE.

    As part of our action plan key themes around resilience, demonstrating impact and building digital capacity we facilitate and work with the steering group of the Higher Education Archives Programme ( on various issues including collections at risk. As part of this work we jointly funded a report with Research Libraries UK on Collecting Drivers for Higher Education Institutions with Archives and Unique and Distinctive Collections ( which you might be interested in having a look at. It is feeding into wider work in this area across many kinds of archives and collections, so watch this space!

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