A New Vision For Archives: Make Your Voices Heard

You may have seen or heard that The National Archives is starting discussions about a refreshed vision for archives, building on the experience and evaluation of Archives for the 21st Century. I hope you were instantly engaged, and wanted to get involved.

But I can imagine that some of you didn’t feel that way. Perhaps you haven’t any experience of contributing to strategic development activity and weren’t sure how to get started. Or perhaps you assumed that developing such work is done only at a super-senior level, by people with decades of experience. But I’m here to assure you that’s not the case. We value input from longstanding professionals, of course, but we want to hear a variety of voices representing the whole of the archives sector. Engaging with the sector now is our opportunity to think big, look ahead, and shape the overarching themes of this future vision.

Jeff James Archives Inspire compressed

Innovation: Jeff James, CEO of The National Archives, launches Archives Inspire 

I sat with this blog post open for ages before deciding how to start. That’s because my message is really very simple: You’re the future of the archives profession, and we want to hear from you.

What’s the aim?

We want to work with the whole archives sector to set a new vision for archives. It needs to support the case for archives as a vital part of the nation’s heritage.

We aim to explore and build on some themes which are at the heart of archives development:

  • Digital transformation and how this fundamentally changes our archives world
  • Innovation and financial resilience: how we can survive and prosper in a turbulent climate
  • People and education: how we can develop our workforce further, to draw in a wider range of people and equip them with the essential skills to navigate the archives world
  • Sector leadership, addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the sector at present

These themes are all key to looking ahead, to what we hope the archives sector will become, and how its development can be sustained. They should resonate with the experiences of the sector, including yours as new professionals.

Transforming Archives trainees at Archives Plus cropped_smaller

Trainees from Transforming Archives visit Archives+ at Manchester Central Library to explore how that service is developing.

From this activity, a new government policy on archives will emerge to secure the best possible long-term future for archive collections and services. Policies are only a part of the answer, but getting this strategic direction right will help all archives to demonstrate their value, advocate for their services and contextualise themselves within a national effort.

If you’re not familiar with Archives for the 21st Century, it is well worth having a look at that policy, its action plans – and especially its evaluation which inspired some of the new vision themes.

How can I get involved and when?

We’re aiming to give many opportunities for people to contribute to this activity, in ways that suit their capacity and interests. At time of writing, there are still a few places available at roundtable discussion  events later in July. Here you can engage in face-to-face debates, hear from other professionals and help to shape the vision very actively. If you can’t be there in person, there will also be an online sector survey and chances to get involved in Twitter debates under the hashtag #ArchiveVision. Keep an eye on the development page for more information.


If this is not a good time, or you want to see what comes out of early discussions, there will be further opportunities to get involved. This is the initial engagement stage, prior to drafting documentation, and there will also be a chance to respond to a formal consultation. As the collective voice for new professionals, I hope the Section for New Professionals (SfNP) itself will consider making a response at that stage – but you’re more than welcome to respond individually.

What is the scope?

The vision is intended for everyone working in the archive sector including public, independent and voluntary organisations and for all others who have an interest in preserving our national written heritage.

Archives_085 Vicky Stretch_smaller

People: Vicky Stretch, Archivist at Network Rail, celebrates Archive Service Accreditation at an All Party Parliamentary Group event (Credit: Simon O’Connor)

While this work relates specifically to England, in line with The National Archives’ strategic leadership role, colleagues elsewhere are welcome to be involved. We’re working closely with the home nations to ensure that we are aiming in a similar direction, as many of the challenges we face are common to us all.

We look forward to hearing your ideas!




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