I saw a Facebook post advertising a workshop for the First Steps in Caring for a Community Archive. As a committee member for Kilwinning Heritage I thought this might be useful to the group and signed up for a free (Yes, Free!) ticket.
In my alter ego day job, I work for the National Library of Scotland, so you could be forgiven for wondering why I would even need to attend such a workshop. I am the project manager for the Scottish hub of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, a sound preservation project this has given me a pretty good understanding of sound archives, but they are intrinsically different to paper and photographic based archives. So off I journeyed to Edinburgh, to General Register House, the home of the National Records of Scotland. If you ever get the chance, it’s worthwhile popping in and joining a tour of the building, (even if you aren’t consulting the archives), designed by Robert Adam, then a later addition by Robert Reid, it incorporates one of the very first fire prevention systems. There is also amazing plaster work and a staircase that demands you to be wearing a crinoline!
After the initial introductions from John Pelan, Director of the Scottish Council on Archives and Paul Lowe, Keeper of the National Records of Scotland, we dived straight into a practical session, that Peter Dickson, Conservator, NRS, took a perverse delight in making up fiendishly difficult practice documents for us! (Think of that piece of ironing that’s been at the bottom of the basket forever and you need to take the creases out without an iron and then squeeze it into an envelope, without adding more creases!). We also learned to unroll damaged maps and prepare envelopes for photographic media. This was a great session to focus everyone’s mind on the tasks ahead, as we all have those difficult items like creased documents or dog-eared photos, that we are not quite sure how we are going to deal with them. We learned about the range of materials required to store different items safely, and where to buy them. Peter was generous with his knowledge and suggestions, while being entirely realistic that the budget of a small or medium-sized community archive, is not that of the NRS.
Dr Alison Rosie, Head of the National Register of Archives of Scotland got the afternoon started, and everyone was in attention for her Top 10 Tips for Community Archives. And very good tips they were too, covering everything you ever need to think about regarding planning or running a community archive.
Alison was followed by Craig Geddes, Council Records Manager at East Renfrewshire Council who shared his experience of how local authority archivists can support community organisations, but also entertained us with the reality of some archives that he has come across in his career, which no doubt still give him nightmares!
John Simmons, Head of Information Governance, NRS, really took the fear out of GDPR. So much furore had been made in the media about data protection changes, that it still leaves most community archives worried, but John did an excellent job of allaying these fears and cutting to the heart of the matter.
Robin Urquhart, Online Resources Archivist, gave us useful advice about planning digitisation projects and whether such a thing is even required for a small organisation. This dovetailed into Tim Gollins, Head of Digital Records Unit, NRS, on looking after your digital community archive. Tim covered the things that most of us are probably guilty of, at least in our personal life, 10,000 photographs on your laptop and no way of identifying which is what, plus that mad panic when your laptop doesn’t work to top performance and you realise you don’t have a backup! Some very sage advice for any community organisation, both at the planning and maintenance stages of any project. Tim also made some excellent recommendations regarding a community organisation’s social media presence and web archiving.
Plenty of time was made available for delegates to ask questions of the experts and the chit-chat on the way out was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with lots of ideas being suggested, shared and planned. You can always tell success when the verbal noise level of your delegates on exit, is high!
Audrey Wilson, Community Engagement Officer, Scottish Council on Archives, organised an excellent first steps event, and there are further workshops in the pipeline on specific topics, I can’t wait! Thank you everyone for your time, knowledge and enthusiasm. (And thank you to the staff at the NRS for an excellent lunch and refreshments!)
Personally, I was so enthused by the event, I spent my train journey home making notes on potential projects for Kilwinning Heritage. Being an organisation without its own home (and storage space) makes holding an archive quite difficult, but today has inspired me to take some small and large project suggestions to our next committee meeting!