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Money, money, money

November 19, 2012

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.

You are welcome to join us for the Twitter chat on 26 November. Please leave your suggestions for chat questions as comments below.

  1. My question for the Twitter chat is perhaps a slightly provocative or dangerous one. Is it likely that archivists’ traditional image (dust, cardigans, etc) deter financially savvy people from entering the profession?

  2. LouiseARay permalink

    My question comes at this from a slightly different angle. There is a lot of emphasis placed in the fundraising profession on the value of storytelling. Archives are full of fascinating stories. How successful are we, as a profession, in using those stories to connect potential givers to the ’cause’ of archives?

  3. Rachel Hardiman permalink

    Hello all,

    I haven’t been able to take part in the discussions so far (being based abroad) but keep meaning to join in on Twitter, so maybe this time …

    An issue I’d have relates to the parallels with academic funding: IMO, the academic funding regime really skews research towards short-term, bite-sized, instrumentalist projects that can be pitched in terms of the funding bodies’ requirements of the day, and away from more long-term deep and/or speculative research. It’s the equivalent of studying to the test, and is damaging to scholarship, not least because of the inordinate amount of time spent filling in forms and trying to twist what is needed into some sort of match with the specifications.

    Is there comparable cause for concern with archives (or, in the current climate, even records management)? The goal could unconsciously shift to getting the funding rather than doing the job or project, and ending up with a lot of disparate, unconnected, and even unnecessary or counterproductive ‘bits and pieces’ that impede rather than facilitate the development of strategies, collections, and services. How to get the sort of funding that builds for the long term and according to archival principles and priorities rather than the sort that re-casts the archives in the mould of whatever politically expedient criteria drive the allocation of grants?

  4. My question: How important are business skills in archives? Are there enough CPD courses that offer business skills training?

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