Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Developing collaboration between archives services and Higher Education

The National Archives
I attended this day long event at The National Archives in June - it was designed to launch a refreshed guide to collaboration between archives services and Higher Education worked on by History UK.

The previous guide was produced by RLUK in 2015, based on research done in 2014, so this is a much needed update. It had been found that individual archives were being approached by academics keen to collaborate, but archives were unsure what REF2014 was, and the relationships that formed were not particularly resilient as they were often reliant on a single academic. From this the DCDC (Discovering Collections; Discovering Communities) series of conferences emerged.

The new guide
Includes refreshed case studies and references to REF, TEF and KEF, the 2017 HE Bill, UKRI and the Office for Students, all of which affect the landscape in which collaboration is now happening.

Several case studies were offered. These included Our Criminal Past, which brought together academics and archivists through engagement vehicles such as workshops, an advice forum and social media. They used HistoryPin to allow members of the public to add information about their criminal ancestors. I found the case studies particularly useful as they outlined the obstacles they had found to collaboration. It was apparent the same issues cropped up repeatedly, namely:
  • Time/resources - without the resources for an assistant it becomes very difficult to keep the momentum of the project going.
  • Maintaining relationships with the other collaborating organisations, each of whom may have their own interests/objectives, which are different to yours.
  • Collaborators will have their own routines, working practices, lack of expertise and skills. There may well be several layers of processes that each collaborator has to work through internally before a project can happen
  • Managing a website, particularly the costs of developing and maintaining it
  • Copyright issues, particularly around using images
  • Lack of awareness of the amount of work involved, eg the timeframe to produce an exhibition is usually years
  • Some funding streams aren't available if you're not an accredited archive service
My group worked on identifying the challenges and benefits of collaboration

The audience at this event was fairly evenly split between archivists (working in a variety of sectors) and academics. We weren't allowed to just sit and listen either, there were several group exercises including "speed dating" where we had a few minutes at a time to talk to various academics in turn about what we were hoping to gain from a partnership. These were a great way to meet academics engaged in a variety of areas, plus people looking after other collections. 

The guide itself outlines the steps needed to be taken when instigating a collaborative partnership, and encourages the answering of some key questions, such as who are the key decision makers, finding out what is important to each partner and getting everything in writing. It also provides a complete project template to use.

Priority cards
The final exercise was to arrange a series of priority cards into a diamond nine shape, which encouraged us to explore in groups why others had different priorities and how they might align with ours. I particularly liked this diamond nine produced by another group, who had added an extra priority card for 'budget for cake and refreshments'!
Prioritising cake!

As a result of attending this event, I:
  • have joined the HEAP (Higher Education Archive Programme) mailing list so that I can remain informed about developments in this area
  • am looking into using HistoryPin to put our collections on the map
  • have put a reminder in my calendar to check for the publication of the new collaboration guide this summer
  • have followed up with a couple of academics from other universities who are interested in using some of our Special Collections in their research and/or teaching
  • have put a reminder in my calendar to check on work being done to track citations of archive services across published papers and journals

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