June 2017

One of the aims of our monthly blog is to dispel the assumptions people have about archives being boring places run by people who cling to the past. The archive sector is one which is rapidly changing and in order to be in touch with new developments it is important to leave the office once in a while and get out into the real world! So, this month we would like to share some of the recent visits that Mollie (Archive Trainee), Gillian (Archivist) and Charlotte (Deputy Archivist) have been on, from York to West Sussex.

Archive-Skills Consultancy, York - 'Building Blocks of Records Management'

As well as archiving, we have to undertake a process called ‘records management’ which is the maintenance and preservation of records which are not in current use but still need to be preserved for a period of time for legal or operational reasons. In order to get a better idea of what records management entails and how to implement it, our trainee Mollie attended an Archive-Skills Consultancy course at the University of York. The course explained how to create retention schedules (which dictate how long different types of records should be kept), how to store digital records and how to convince other people that records management is worth their while.

Marks & Spencer Archive, Leeds - 'Bid Writing for Archives'

The world of archiving is very competitive and funding for projects is highly sought after. Archivists often have to apply for money from external sources and therefore need to understand how to present themselves and write effective bids. To gain some advice Gillian, Charlotte and Mollie travelled up to the Marks & Spencer Archive in Leeds for a Bid Writing session run by The National Archives. The day consisted of activities and practice bid writing which has helped to focus our efforts for future applications. It was also a great chance to meet other archivists who were experiencing similar problems and share knowledge.

West Yorkshire History Centre, Wakefield - PD.5454

Archive buildings have developed considerably since the wooden clad 1970s image you may have in your head. Nowadays, archives are rather high-tech – they even have windows! Recently, Charlotte and Mollie drove up to the Wakefield branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Services which has been expertly refurbished to a high specification (PD.5454 is the British standard to which all repositories aspire). The event was a chance to see the new building – which is intended to represent the coal seams that helped make Wakefield wealthy – including the purpose built conservation studio and strong rooms as well as the open plan reading room. It was interesting to see how modern and technical an archive could be. The most impressive part for us was the colossal conservation studio where their conservators were able to work on a full wall light box to repair large scale maps.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon - Visitor Services

Up to this point, it is been pointed out that our visits have centred very largely on Yorkshire (much to our Leodensian trainee's delight). Although it is nice to venture afar it is also useful to understand what is going on in the local area. Our trainee Mollie took an afternoon off to visit the Reading Room Services Co-ordinator at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archive. When visiting the Archive, Mollie was shown round the reading room, strong rooms and working areas with the specific view of finding out about how people were able to access the records. It is always important to be aware of what other archives are doing to improve their user services to gain ideas on how to better our own. Therefore it is very useful to visit other archives and to talk to staff about their experiences.

The Ridings Care Home, Banbury - Community Outreach

Although we often leave the office to partake in training, June has seen the archive team up with Adela (our Audience Development and Community Engagement Officer) to assist with a reminiscence session for a local care home in Banbury. Part of what makes working in an archive worthwhile is being able to use what we collect to improve the lives of others. Adela frequently visits care homes in the local area with a box of motoring items and images to help spark memories and discussions for elderly residents, many of whom may be struggling with short-term memory problems. The session was extremely rewarding as residents were able to handle objects which they remembered from when they were young and were very excited to share their stories.

R & L Lancefield, Southampton - Conservation

The BMIHT Archive employs a dedicated Conservator, however sometimes we have jobs that are too extensive to carry out in-house. One of our larger projects concerns build record ledgers for Triumph, Austin Healey, Mini and MG. They are presently undergoing digitisation and rebinding that is being carried out by R & L Lancefield, experts in paper conservation and book restoration, who are based near Southampton. Many of the ledgers have been damaged by over-use, so are being repaired and then digitised so that they no longer need to be handled on a daily basis. So, once every 6 weeks or so, our Conservator and another member of the Archive Team get to take the next batch of ledgers down and collect the conserved ones. It's quite a nice trip down and we usually have sunshine for our trips, which makes it even better.

National Arts Fundraising School, West Sussex

 The furthest south we have ventured this year is the village of Alfriston in West Sussex where Gillian attended a week of intensive training about the many sources and methods of fundraising. As established sources of funding, through grants and lottery funds, become ever more difficult to access it is essential to hone our skills so we can increase our chances of success, while learning about new opportunities such as donations, sponsorship and crowdfunding.

This course was run by experts in the charity sector and attended by representatives from a wide range of arts organisations, from the Edinburgh Festival to touring performing artists. As such it was a perfect opportunity to learn from others. Gillian brought many lessons away, not least the important warning that 'I am not the target market', something it is all to easy to forget when planning campaigns!