Thursday, 29 January 2015

HLF conference 2014: Beyond the bid

The 2014 Historic Libraries Forum conference took fundraising, project management and related issues as its theme. I was one of the co-organisers, and also hosted it at Brunel University Library. These topics had been suggested by attendees at previous conferences and workshops. Slides from most of the speakers are available on the HLF website.

I found all the speakers really interesting, although I must admit that I missed some parts as I was running around behind the scenes as the host too!

The first speaker was Fiona Talbott, Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives at the Heritage Lottery Fund, who talked us through the various funding streams available from the Other HLF and offered guidance on making a successful application. The key thing seemed to be to take advantage of all the help and advice offered from the HLF, such as submitting a project enquiry form and then taking note of any feedback in your final application. Fiona was very encouraging, urging people to apply - they have £375m in grants to award each year, and I found it particularly useful to be able to ask questions at the end of the morning.

The second of the morning speakers was Louisa Yates, Director of Collections and Research at Gladstone's Library, who introduced us to the library and talked about what they need to do to keep it running, as it is completely independent and needs to generate all of its own income. Louisa talked about the implications of higher education funding, and looking for collaborative opportunities (which are very attractive to funding bodies). Gladstone's Library has been working on a huge project to make manuscripts available as a collaboration between libraries and universities. This meant a lot of cataloguing and recording (using standardised terms, Dublin Core and LCSH, plus some local subject headings) before digitization could take place. Some of the problems they faced during the project were:
  • Took time away from working on other projects - with a small staff someone still has to do the work
  • Many of their volunteers were reluctant to use laptops or tablets. You have to work with the people you have. The solution here was to go low tech and use pencils and paper.
  • Working out IT issues as they needed equipment. They already had a Heritage OPAC, and opted to use cloud storage.
Following a rather tasty lunch, the first afternoon speaker was Ann Barwood, Canon Librarian at Exeter Cathedral, who talked us through their collections and how they had managed to go from 2001, when the collections were at risk of sale, housed on different sites, and with little space and no money, to the present day, which is very different! Ann's talk was very positive and encouraging, relating how things had started with a Preservation Assessment Survey from the National Preservation Office and started to make approaches to grant-making trusts. They also began public engagement work, holding a month long exhibition in the cathedral and used Heritage Open Days to link with events in the city. There first application to the HLF was unsuccessful, but they talked to English Heritage and local authorities about improvements, and tried to move away from the previous "culture of elitism", where the library was only used by academics and clergy, to making everyone welcome. The building they now have has brought the collection together, and includes a space for exhibitions. This meant that a subsequent application was approved, and they have since gone on to become one of the first accredited archives in England!

Louise Anderson, Librarian at Downside Abbey, told us about their experience with managing volunteers. Volunteers are generally an essential part of projects, particularly as funders often want to see volunteer contributions as part of the project before they will award funding. Downside is in receipt of an HLF grant for their 'Beacon of learning' project and is using volunteers initially to work on modern accessions, preventative conservation and recording bibliographic details. Once building work has finished, they will help to invigilate the reading room, re-shelve items and act as tour guides.Volunteers were asked to stick to a particular day/time so that a rota could be organised. The arrangement was formalised with a handbook. The main issues with using volunteers were:
  • The original volunteer ad wasn't viewed by the archivist/librarian before it went out, resulting in a mismatch between volunteer expectations and the reality of the work. This could make maintaining job satisfaction difficult.
  • Supervising volunteers can take up a lot of time, as does scheduling. It can help to keep at least some of each week volunteer-free. Sourcing work of the right level for them to do can be challenging.
  • All volunteers had to be DBS checked, which was done by Downside School, but took a very long time as it wasn't a priority for their HR department.
  • There is a limit to what volunteers can be asked to do, and they may be unreliable, after all, they are under no obligation to turn up!
  • Remember that resources are needed - computers, desk space, as well as staff time.
Using volunteers had been a success though. They were providing social media content and helped with book moves at the start of the project. They have been able to speed up cataloguing times, by counting pages and undertaken preventative conservation work that otherwise would not have happened. Getting volunteers involved has also helped to improve public perceptions of an institution that had been perceived previously as inward-looking.

The final speaker of the day was Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at the London Library. Dunia explained how they had managed their retrospective cataloguing project to bring three different catalogues and finding aids into one place and update them. This was an enormous project, which is still ongoing, and commenced in 1991 with their 150th anniversary appeal. Apparently attaching fundraising to an anniversary can be a big help! They have needed to maintain momentum throughout their project and some things that have helped are:
  • Each cataloguer works on one subject at a time to help with consistency.
  • Try and take into account staff interests when assigning cataloguing, as this helps with motivation.
  • Track and keep regular statistics. Monitor productivity.
  • Stay flexible
  • Have regular meetings, as this also helps with motivation.
Highlights of their project had included contributing to COPAC in 2012 and gaining designated status, a brilliant indicator of the worth of their collections. This can also help with fundraising.

I really enjoyed my day at the conference. I feel like I have learnt a lot about managing projects as a whole, and not just about fundraising for them.

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