In the wake of this week’s announcements that the Globe Theatre and the Royal Albert Hall may have to close, Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Managing Director of the Barbican Centre and former director of the BBC Proms) stated on BBC Radio 4 this morning that the survival of the arts can no longer be a side issue. He believes - and rightly so - that different approaches to recovery will be needed for the different sectors of the arts. Social distancing is being relaxed to enable sport to resume, so why, when more people go to the theatre than attend a premier league football match, is there such disparity in funding and political support? If more government support is not forthcoming, so much of our culture and heritage will be lost.
Julia Gillard, the first woman to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister (2010-13) of Australia, described her appointment as the new chair of the Wellcome Trust as “a dream come true”, adding that “I will relish supporting and speaking up for scientific research into key health challenges. I look forward to working with all those in the Wellcome family, including the Board, the staff who are led by the remarkable Jeremy Farrar, the research community and all those focused on the health of humanity.”
Gillard was a prominent figure in Australia’s economic recovery from the 2008 financial crash and also implemented significant education and healthcare reforms. Since leaving office in Australia, she has taken on roles as chair of both the Global Partnership for Education and mental health awareness body Beyond Blue. Her appointment is to be welcomed. She will replace another inspiring woman, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5, the outgoing chair in April 2021.
This was the stark headline of an article in The Times yesterday (1 May) by its arts correspondent, Richard Morrison. Without the influx of foreign visitors the national museums will suffer. University museums will face funding losses as international students fail to enrol. Many museums and galleries are facing the possibility of permanent closure because of the Coronavirus pandemic and not just the smaller ones: the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth and the Postal Museum in London have already signalled their imminent insolvency. Moreover, the culture secretary seems to be more interested in getting top-level football played again rather than opening any aspect of the arts. As Morrison states, if it’s deemed acceptable for footballers to stand side-by-side in a defensive wall, why shouldn’t dancers be allowed to perform? If we’re allowed to visit supermarkets, why can’t social distancing be applied to our cultural assets? Museums and galleries will need to be creative in what they offer and how they make it available to us. So we must all do our bit to support our cultural heritage once re-opening starts. After all, with the drop in foreign visitors, social distancing will be easier to impose and we’ll be able to enjoy some of our best loved sites without huge crowds. But, above all, we need to lobby government to provide financial support for the hard-pressed smaller museums and galleries that simply may not survive this crisis otherwise.
Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian at the University of Oxford, has made an impassioned plea to organisations to implement open policies and practices to preserve our digital memory. He argues that the preservation of digital information is a cornerstone of good policy and that organisations also need leadership, resources and collaboration in order to succeed. Many solutions are being developed though open communities, including software, standards and tools, such as JHOVE for validation and format identification. We all need to take action if we want to avoid losing our collective social memory and not fall into a “digital Dark Age” (see also post, "An Information Black Hole?", 14 February 2015).
This year’s Business Archives Council conference (21 November) focused on the rewards and realities of diversifying your service. There was a wide range of speakers, not just from the business archive sector, so there were different perspectives and lots of great ideas to discuss, including working with volunteers, reminiscence therapy, community engagement and novel and exciting ways in which to involve employees in significant company anniversaries. In my role as a PhD student (gamekeeper turned poacher!), it was good to hear how the Boots Archive is being extremely proactive in its approach to the academic community. Wonderful hospitality from HSBC during the day and also from Barclays for the evening reception for the Wadsworth Prize, where the HSBC history The Lion Wakes by David Kynaston and Richard Roberts was the worthy winner. Thanks too to HSBC for giving all conference delegates a copy!
Autumn seems to be the preferred season for self promotion and advocacy in the information world. Maybe because everyone is back at work after their summer break…? First off the starting blocks was the Society of American Archivists’ “#AskAnArchivist Day” on 1 October to launch American Archives Month. Archivists around the States took to Twitter to answer questions posted with the hashtag #AskAnArchivist, which the SAA hoped would help break down some of the barriers which might make archivists seem inaccessible. I’ve yet to see a full critique but the feedback looks like it was very effective.
6 November saw AIIM’s annual event “World Paper Free Day”, which asks everyone to pledge to reduce the amount of paper we generate in our everyday working and personal lives. Every little helps, as the well-known advertising saying goes!
This week sees the Archive & Record Association’s annual “Explore Your Archive” campaign with events, talks, exhibitions, creative workshops and activities for children taking place in archives all over the UK to raise awareness of archives. Let’s hope it’s as successful as last year.
Interesting article in The Economist this week about succession planning in American art museums. Accordingly to a survey of the Association of Art Museum Directors by The Economist, more than a third of directors have reached retirement age. The article focuses on the change in priorities that has taken place over the tenure of some of the longest serving and compares the issues facing them today with the slower pace of life of their early predecessors. For example, since Glenn Lowry, the Head of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), took up his post in 1995 the museum’s footfall has doubled and its endowment has quadrupled to almost $1 million. Modern directors have to be not just curators but also CEOs, responsible for the business side of their institution as well as the collections, including fund raising and advocacy.
Many directors have stayed in post for fear of disrupting the smooth running of the service in difficult times. An influx of new blood at the top, however, would provide opportunities to review the role and question assumptions about the way in which museums are run. The Economist believes that new directors face three challenges: engaging more imaginatively with audiences, addressing America’s changing demographics, and negotiating the ever more delicate balance between wealthy donors and the public. In particular, if museums are to make headway in engaging audiences they need to broaden their appeal. Part of the problem is that the potential pool of new directors does not reflect America’s racial diversity. All these challenges should resonate with the heritage sector in the UK.
It’s been a busy week for archives!
Attended the Business Archives Council (BAC) annual conference on Thursday in the spectacular venue of the Royal Albert Hall. It attracted a large number of delegates, including some from as far away as Switzerland and Japan. The programme, entitled ‘Let the Right One In? – Challenging Perceptions of Access to Business Archives’, discussed ideas and issues around access with the aim of producing a policy statement on access. Kiara King gave a fascinating run-through of different types of social media with examples of how business archives had used them, so there’s no excuse for not giving it a go! It was interesting to hear from the director of Pentabus, a small community theatre company based in Shropshire and recipient of the first cataloguing grant for business archives related to the arts. She outlined the value of their volunteers to the project and how receiving the funding had been the basis of building a new working relationship with Shropshire Record Office. There was an opportunity at lunchtime to look at some of the treasures from the Royal Albert Hall’s collections, including Queen Victoria’s commode from the days before lavatories were installed in the building! Some of us also managed to have a peek at the auditorium from a box. The day was rounded off with a celebratory drink in a nearby hostelry in honour of the BAC’s 80th anniversary and more opportunities for networking!
Explore Your Archive 2014 was launched on Monday. The successor to Archives Awareness Week, the Archives & Records Association (ARA) aimed to build on and exceed last year’s success. They seem to have achieved it as Twitter traffic was high and some national press and media coverage was gained although it was probably more successful at a local level. To read some of the stories click on the link – http://exploreyourarchive.org/#about
Finally, and closer to my heart, last week also saw the launch of Unilever Archives’ online catalogue as part of the service’s 30th anniversary celebrations, accessible here http://unilever-archives.com/ or from the Archives page on the Unilever website.
Following on from my posting about the JWT anniversary and the great website, I’ve recently completed a piece of work reviewing the web pages of a well-known business archive. My research looked at the websites of business archives in the UK and overseas and it threw up some interesting results, not least the number of major businesses which, seemingly, do not allow their archives to have a presence on their website. I looked at almost 30 sites and more than half concentrate on the history of the company or have timelines with only a cursory page devoted to the archive and how to access it. Which is all very sad when the archives can be a great advocate for a company in drawing people in by helping to demonstrate a business’s corporate social responsibility agenda, as well as the longevity of its brands, amongst many other positives.
There are some great examples out there, carrying a lot of information about their service and collections, which are easy to navigate. Even though they are restricted by corporate branding, both Lloyds and BT have excellent sites and Barings is visually attractive as well as informative.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check some of them out!
It was great to hear on the radio this morning that Staffordshire Archives had been awarded funding to catalogue the records of tribunals for men appealing against conscription, which was introduced during World War 1 in 1916. But why oh why did the reporter have to describe the records as “just been discovered”, as if they’d been hidden away and no one ever knew they were there! Of course the archivists knew they were there. They wouldn’t deserve to be in their jobs if they didn’t know the contents of their strongrooms. Sadly, though, stories about archives just don’t seem to be deemed newsworthy unless they contain the words “discovered” or, even worse, “dusty”.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture