Saturday, 5 September 2015

CLAA conference 2015

The theme for the 2015 Cathedral Libraries and Archives Association Conference was 'Placing the library and archive at the heart of the cathedral', which doesn't immediately appear to be connected to my current job! However, the theme could be applied to any institution and proved to be highly relevant to many working situations.

Westminster Abbey
The conference was held in the beautiful historic surroundings of Cheyneygates at Westminster Abbey. The first speaker was Ellie Jones, the Archivist from Exeter Cathedral Library & Archives, who spoke about the cathedral's highly successful HLF funded project to share their treasures more, which eventually also led to them becoming one of the first institutions to earn Archives Accreditation.  She outlined the improvements they had been able to make to their facilities, and how their increased outreach had made it possible for more people to experience their collections. This included a year 8 teacher who had seen one of their blog posts, leading to a project about Shakespeare. They have had a big push to make material more accessible online, partly via having an EOSweb catalogue, although there is currently no archive finding aid available online. Working with colleagues in the cathedral was very important, so they encouraged directors to bring their families in to visit to support more engagement with the collections.

Emily Naish, from Salisbury Cathedral Library and Archives, then gave a talk on the dangers of encouraging collections to be for scholarly use only, as had happened at Salisbury from 1983 until recently. This had resulted in the library becoming invisible within the cathedral and attaining an almost mythical status, with the only catalogue one printed in 1880 and available in a few Oxbridge libraries. The big change in recent years had led to the creation of a number of policies covering access and collections. Collections have been consolidated, spotlight talks now take place in the cathedral, with improved information available on the website. They are also working with the Education Officer to encourage school groups to visit. Volunteers and cathedral staff now have dedicated drop in sessions twice a week, which has encouraged guides to know more about the library. It is important that the library is relevant to the cathedral rather than an historical curiosity - it has to be useful to staff and volunteers, and has to be useful to the fundraising department.

General Synod chamber
After a trip round the corner to Church House to see the Cathedral and Church Buildings Library, Synod chamber, an extremely good lunch and the CLAA AGM, we returned to Cheyneygates for the afternoon's speakers. First was Lisa di Tommaso, from Durham Cathedral, on the renewal of their collections. Durham had already supported scholarship and learning for 1000 years and are working to make their collections more accessible now. Lisa gave a brief overview of the history of the collections and the team working there, before explaining the "Open treasure" project, designed to bring the collections into the heart of Durham Cathedral's visitor experience. The project encompasses an exhibition space and a new specialist search room, along with outreach programmes. This includes developing reading groups with people who historically have had less contact with the cathedral, and 11 - 15 year olds will be able to have a go at curating an exhibition. Key activities have included taking a replica of the Lindisfarne Gospels to visit people who couldn't visit the physical exhibition and raising awareness of the collections by making exhibition loans.

Finally Vicky Harrison, Collections Manager at York Minister, spoke about unlocking their collections. She gave an outline of York's successful HLF bid for "York Minster revealed". Communication with the rest of the cathedral, particularly Chapter, was key, and reports were structured into four sections as per the Accreditation standard, which helped to show that they were working to the future rather than concentrating on the past. The future will involve working together rather than as three separate disciplines (library, archive, collections). The key is to plan what you're doing, and to communicate this. And always have three top messages you want to get across at the forefront of your mind.

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