You’re probably aware that The National Archives and partners are currently rolling out Archive Service Accreditation. The programme is a management standard for UK archives, but also a development tool. It identifies sector standards and helps archives to see where they can improve. Accreditation covers the full range of archive service activity, from collecting to description, preservation and access. It also asks about the sustainability of services, their planning and resources.
Our vision for Accreditation is to improve both the viability and the visibility of archives. Accredited Archive Services are more sustainable, and plan better for the future. They also have improved communications and opportunities to celebrate what they achieve. Every applicant service gets detailed feedback on their application against the Standard, and a headline statement highlighting their achievements. As the programme rolls out, Accredited Archive Services will be asked to check in with the programme, and eventually to complete a full reaccreditation. The aim is to provide the entire archive sector with support, as applicants, and in the longer term.
Planning your application: take it in stages
If you’re in an archive service which is considering applying for Accreditation, and want to get started immediately, you may find this action planning framework useful:
- Check your service is eligible. Accreditation is available to public and private sectors, and eligibility is widely drawn, to encompass the range of organisations which hold archives and make them available. We use scalability in assessment to make sure we understand your service’s position, according to its size and the legal framework and audiences that are most important to you. For example, the difference between a large local authority archive service and a small charity archive which primarily exists to serve internal audiences.
- Map what your service already has in place against all the requirements of the Accreditation Standard (referring to the detailed guidance where necessary – we’ve aimed to give you onwards links to help you with anything which is completely new to you)
- Identify any total gaps, and consider how you could most usefully fill them. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean writing a new document for every single one.
- Review what you already have, to identify what is still current and what needs refreshing or expanding to meet the Standard. Remember, you don’t have to have documents in a prescribed format, so long as you have something which does the job.
- Prioritise: what will have most impact in improving your service? You don’t have to be perfect to be Accredited. Put your effort where it will be most useful.
- Plan: what can you realistically do, when, with what resource (cash, people, time)? That should give you your timescale for application.
- Then get to work.
Make sure you don’t do this alone. Even if you’re a sole professional, share ideas with colleagues and in groups like SfNP, seek support from your manager, and include team members – perhaps volunteers – too, as they will benefit from the experience. Accreditation shouldn’t just be about filling in a form and (hopefully) getting a shiny badge at the end. It’s a chance to review what your archive service does, and why, and to communicate that within your organisation and beyond.
Planning your application: workshops and support
It’s usually helpful to meet with others in a similar situation and discuss Accreditation in person if you can.
We run workshops in conjunction with ARA and other sector bodies to introduce the programme and how it can support services to improve. At present, we offer two workshop types. The first is an introduction for applicants, which includes information about how the entire programme works, from eligibility to assessment, award and feedback. We then work through the three modules of the Standard, and pick up particularly on elements which may be less familiar to professionals.
Our second workshop option is aimed at specialist groups of professionals who perhaps haven’t worked within a policy and planning framework before. For this workshop we work through a scenario as a newly-appointed archivist, starting from scratch. We look at elements that might form part of a single governing policy for a small archive service, which satisfies multiple elements of the Accreditation Standard. We ask what would be useful to such a new professional role; what you can establish working alone; and where you need to look more widely for support and sign-off. You should leave with a better idea of how a strong policy background benefits an archive service of any size.
By all means book onto a relevant workshop to hear more about these opportunities. We have a generic workshop coming up in ARA South East region (28 April, in Oxford), and specialist workshops with a number of interest groups including the Cambridge Archives Group and the Section for Business Records. If you would like us to provide targeted information or training directly with SfNP, let us know what would be useful.
Personal development opportunities
Accreditation offers development opportunities for individuals too. Most archive services will use Accreditation to identify some potential improvements in documentation or practice as part of preparing for their application. When they get feedback on an application, it will include improvement actions to take forward. Whether you are a lone professional or part of a bigger team, it should be a chance to do something new, within a development framework and with guidance available. That might involve writing a first collection development policy, undertaking new audience research or reviewing anything from social media guidance to preservation risks to training and support for volunteers.
If you are working towards ARA Registration, you can probably see the potential already for Accreditation to contribute to your portfolio with new work achievements. Within the workplace, there’s scope to contribute to activities which are new to you, and perhaps new to your colleagues too. Taking responsibility for an area of the application, or indeed leading on the whole thing, will make you think about key professional concepts, and lead you into new areas of practice.
We also involve sector representatives directly. Half of the governing Accreditation Committee are recruited from the wider archives sector, to give us the benefit of their experience and expertise. In addition, we have a panel of peer reviewers who contribute to assessments and site validation visits. This can be a great way to consolidate your experience after a few years in the sector, contribute to the wider profession, and find out more about how other archive services tackle key issues.
Whether or not you are currently employed in the sector, or currently working on Registration credits, you can use Accreditation as a framework for your own development. Are there elements which are completely new to you? Maybe that’s a good place to start some background reading. That’s true of any professional, new or old.
Programme Manager (Archive Service Accreditation)