A Happy Archives Sector New Year!

Cartoon of a cat watching a nesting chicken, caption "With interest all your plans are watched by friends who wish them safely hatched"

We at The National Archives are much less cynical than this cat about supporting your future plans! COPY1/47

I’m conflicted about this whole business of new year resolutions. On the one hand my new year resolutions (lose weight, get fitter, find some kind of solution to my impossibly flat hair) have remained monotonously unchanged since about 1995, apart from the delight I’ve taken lately in discovering power yoga (I may not be much fitter, but you should see my biceps and increased sense of smugness). And that’s a fairly typical situation, isn’t it? Resolutions are all very well on 1 January, but who sticks to them all year round?

Against that, there’s the power of visualisation. So many motivational speakers, and life coaches, and others of that ilk show us how stating what we want to happen helps to make it happen. Perhaps if we set our new year resolutions well enough, we can progress as an archives sector. And I’m feeling optimistic this new year, so I’m going with that option for now. How about one (or more than one) of these?

We will understand our stakeholders better

Some archive services are all-round brilliant at stakeholder engagement, but many will accept that they are better in some areas than others. Maybe you don’t have great contact with depositors and are worried about the consequences for your loan collections? Maybe you struggle to access statistics about your users at all – especially your online users, though you know they are out there? Or maybe you are fantastic at interacting with and responding to your site visitors, but feel they don’t reflect the wider public your service sits within. Could you find out more about non-users, and what they want or need from you? We have a whole suite of guidance on understanding your community that you could put to good use in 2014.

We will collect – and not collect – with confidence

This isn’t an easy time in the archives sector, and I have heard a lot of people talking about how opening hours are being cut or budgets are under threat. This can make it hard to prioritise collecting – but archive collections are what make archives unique. A lapse in collecting can mean that irreplaceable material is lost forever, and that has to remain a guiding principle for archivists even in such difficult times. Maybe you will participate in Archiving the Arts, and find new collections and opportunities with arts organisations and artists arise from it?

That said, archives can’t and shouldn’t try to preserve every vestige of the documentary past. We would, simply, burst. Not to mention that we would be preserving a huge quantity of material at significant cost that no one would ever look at again. So perhaps your resolution this year is to make sure your staff have the support they need to select for permanent preservation with confidence in their decisions. And, much harder, the confidence and support they need to say no when offered collections that don’t fall within your collecting remit. We’re also planning to talk to the sector about the guidance you need about deaccessioning and appraisal of collections as a whole, so that’s one of my own new year’s resolutions sorted!

We will plan for improvement

At difficult times, planning can sometimes seem secondary, or too depressing to contemplate. But at times of cuts, you are much more likely to survive with a workable service if you are clear about what is core to your work and where you need to improve. You may be fundraising in such circumstances, and clear plans will be invaluable in selling your application: ideally, showing how funds will bring a better service, not prop up one in dire straits. Improvement doesn’t just happen – you need to plan for how it will happen, with what resource and when.

We will ask for help when it is needed and seek training to develop our skills

But when big changes and large budget cuts crop up, sometimes it can all seem too much. The National Archives is here to support you, offering constructive advice and plenty of support when you’re going through stressful times. Do ask for our help when you need it to support your service.

We will also be running a package of training next year covering among other things, areas like fundraising, service review and a particular support package for university archives intended to help you to get through the current testing times with the best possible outcomes. We were delighted to receive news our partnership bid to offer a step change in fundraising capacity for the whole archives sector was funded as part of Heritage Lottery Fund’s Catalyst programme just before Christmas. Other archive organisations, particularly Archives and Records Association Core Training, are also offering critically important skills for supporting your service.

We will get Accredited… or at least get nearer to being Accredited

Any of the resolutions above will help you to reach the Archive Service Accreditation standard. This mark of recognition for your service is great evidence of the quality and value of what you do, and a reminder to your parent organisation of how much your service matters in the wider world. There are more training sessions arranged with the Archives and Records Association to help you to find your feet with Accreditation. Working towards Accreditation is in itself a fantastic way of strengthening your service, addressing all these areas and many more: it gives you the excuse to review your service from head to toe. With any luck, you’ll emerge leaner, healthier and with a lovely bouncy head of hair. Or something like that. Because you’re worth it.

Happy new year!

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