Money, money, money
Many thanks to Andrew for the following write-up…
It was a smaller group than usual that met on 5 November to discuss the Funding the Archives Sector report, but we were pleased to welcome Louise Ray, one of the report’s co-authors, who was able to join us for the evening.
As always, the discussion was wide-ranging, but these are the four themes that loom largest in my (rather scrappy) notes:
Relevance to the profession
The report is meant to be a piece of stand-alone research, written without any particular policy or agenda in mind other than the hope and expectation that the profession will find it useful as an ‘evidence base’. It’s chiefly aimed at relatively high-level bodies (such as The National Archives and CyMAL) but also intended to be of interest to individual repositories and practitioners.
The group’s reactions to the report were broadly very positive. It was thought to be well-structured and, although fairly dense, very readable, and not nearly as dry as its subject might have suggested. Although its ‘businesslike’ approach is relatively unusual (and possibly refreshing?) for archivists, it’s more familiar to records managers. The recommended actions seem achievable and the success indicators make sense. If other readers feel the same about the report, then it’s a ‘successful piece of research in at least one sense.
The challenges of gathering data
The archive sector is so small and diverse that it’s particularly difficult to compare like with like. It’s well recognised that private and public archives can be very different from one another, as can small and large archives. Many different combinations of joint services, e.g. archives and special collections, archives and records management, or archives and ‘heritage’ (local studies, museums and archaeology) complicate the picture even further. This diversity is no less true of funding needs and opportunities than of other aspects of service provision.
There was some discussion about whether the response rate to the survey was disappointingly low or just realistic. Although the authors had put considerable effort into making the survey as straightforward as possible, it was still relatively long and included questions requiring in-depth questions. Some potential respondents had apparently lacked the time (or willingness to invest the time) to complete it. Others had apparently felt that it was inappropriate to share the financial information necessary to answer some of the questions, despite the fact that all of the responses were anonymised. Ideally, both a longitudinal study (measuring changes over time) and a variety of detailed case studies were needed but we recognised that it could be difficult to achieve these, especially the latter, in practice.
More skills for archivists
Like many articles that the group has read, this one prompted discussion on the need for archivists and records managers to ‘keep growing their skills’ – in this case because relatively few archivists seem to have strong fundraising skills or experience. Although it would be unrealistic to add anything else to professional postgraduate training, we thought that it could be useful for financial action planning to become a standard CPD activity for archivists and records managers.
There was a suggestion that some heads of services and other senior archivists in larger services can be too reluctant to become ‘strategic’ and to leave hands-on work to more junior staff, but everyone recognised that most people who become archivists want to be archivists, and not general managers, and that getting the balance right was often far from easy.
Although records managers tend to be comfortable with ‘business’-type language and thinking, archivists often find these more difficult. Many archivists are also naturally quite risk-averse. Ensuring that ethical concerns are met can require a lot of careful, strategic thinking, as can ensuring that new sources of funding add to, rather than replace, existing funding streams.
Learning from other sectors
The question was raised about how academics learn to be successful at applying for funding. The answer seems to be less to do with formal training than as a matter of trial and error with early attempts at funding bids, and not being put off by the fact that not all their applications for funding are successful. Some university archivists have adopted the same attitude and benefitted from it. In the academic sector, funding bids are usually less about ‘chasing money’ than about having plenty of ideas for suitable projects, planning them well, and matching them to funding streams as these come up.
Heritage-related charities can be very good at tapping into people’s emotional connections with places, organisations and particular collections. Although donations prompted by a particular project or collection are sometimes ring-fenced for a specific piece of work, they needn’t always be. ‘Legacy giving’ through wills, which is important to many charities, is inevitably a very long-term strategy but understanding the long term is, of course, a great strength of recordkeeping professionals.
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