The archives and records sector in the UK and Ireland – and indeed globally – is currently operating within a very uncertain and unusual environment. In light of government advice to avoid contact with others wherever possible in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, employers are increasingly instructing their staff to work from home and those still operating a public service are doing so under exceptional circumstances. With similar situations across the Globe, lots of advice is being shared for how to effectively work from home and how to manage archives and records services throughout this time.
An ARA statement has recommended that “all archive services should suspend their public-facing services and facilitate working from home for staff where possible.” All ARA events until the end of May 2020 have also been cancelled, including training events, meetings and the AGM. On Thursday 19th March, ARA held a special Archive Hour to discuss how the pandemic is affecting our sector and share advice on how to cope with it.
If your workplace is remaining open, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus. Follow NHS advice on how to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus in both your home and workplace. Advise staff, volunteers and service users to stay home if they are showing even mild symptoms of a cough or high temperature, are over the age of 70, pregnant or have pre-existing health problems or a weakened immune system.
If you are still going into work, regularly clean all surfaces, maintain a safe distance between individuals (at least 2 metres) and limit the number of people allowed into the building to avoid close contact. Be mindful that some cleaning products and the introduction of moisture through cleaning can be harmful to collections, so seek guidance from a conservator where possible. Whilst those handling collections must always do so with clean, dry hands, this is all the more important now. Research by the Library of Congress suggests that washing hands with soap and water is preferable to the use of hand sanitisers, as soap and water will remove dirt and oils from your skin that sanitisers will not and alcohol-based sanitisers are potentially harmful to the preservation of archive materials.
If you are making a case to your employer to close your service, the ARA recommendations are a valuable advocacy tool, as well as official government advice to work from home wherever possible and to adopt social distancing. You may also cite your employer’s duties to safeguard your health under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and to support disabled, pregnant or older employees under the Equality Act (2010), if you feel you are being placed at inappropriate risk.
For those adapting to working from home, the Archivists at Home toolkit, compiled by the Society of American Archivists’ Accessibility and Disability Section, offers a very comprehensive list of tasks that can be completed remotely. Whilst this document was compiled within the US context, many of the practical tasks are relevant to work in the UK and Ireland. These tasks include any collections management work that can be completed using cloud-based tools, exploration of digital projects, social media outreach, remote enquiry services and administrative work such as updating policies – now is a good time to add global pandemic response protocols to our disaster preparedness plans. The Association of Canadian Archivists have also issued this helpful list of potential remote working tasks and many of those accustomed to working from home are sharing practical advice on Twitter.
This is also a good time to focus on professional development, something which is typically difficult to make time for. There are many options of online courses and webinars available, often free of charge, including:
- This upcoming webinar on evaluation by Kevin Bolton
- Preservica’s webinars on digital preservation
- Webinars by the UK National Archives
- An introduction to GDPR
- The history of copyright legislation
- Fundraising for arts and culture organisations
- Diversity and inclusion awareness
- This series of courses in digital skills
This list compiled by Jessica Dai gives details of a number of webinars and online courses available, although mostly focusing on library and information studies from the US perspective. ARA’s sections, interest groups and regions also share various guidance documents and resources on the ARA website, if you are looking to read up on a particular subject matter, with interest groups covering everything from legislation and standards to community archives. The Digital Preservation Coalition website contains their informative Digital Preservation Handbook, as well as other specific reports and resources. And if you wish to improve your collections care knowledge, the Collections Trust website signposts to a huge number of useful guides. If you have access to academic journals and ebooks, you could take some time to get up to date on recent archives and records scholarship.
Whilst focusing on work is a helpful way to distract yourself from scary news stories and maintain some degree of structure and stability at this strange time, we must all be prioritising our health and wellbeing, and that of those around us. If you do become unwell, follow NHS advice on how to care for yourself and how to self-isolate. If you are isolating or social distancing, try to get some fresh air and exercise either through sitting by an open window and making use of the many workout videos available on Youtube and various fitness apps, or by getting out for a walk if you are able. Speak to your loved ones on the phone and compile a list of activities that make you happy and relaxed, to make the most of all this time at home. Mind have compiled a helpful webpage with lots of advice on how to look after your mental health whilst staying at home and manage anxiety about COVID-19.
I personally am taking a cue from my cat, an expert in staying home – plenty of sleep, snacks and sitting in patches of sunlight.