Preserving your charity’s archives: first steps

charlotte-clementsCharlotte Clements is a Research Assistant at the UCL Institute of Education and a PhD student at the University of Kent. She researches the history of youth clubs since 1945 and is interested in youth welfare history and social policy. Charlotte is the Research Assistant on the British Academy project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’.

The archives of voluntary organisations are vital assets – and they are at risk. In 2014, the British Academy adopted a new five-year project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’. To date, the project has received many enquiries from organisations large and small, but we need your help!

Archives tell your organisation, supporters and donors who you are, why you are here, and what you want to achieve. They are crucial to your sense of identity. They are also huge strategic resources; outlining how the organisation has been governed, what it has achieved so far, and how its aims have been embodied in the work that it does.

Your archives are under threat

Yet we also know that the archives of many charities are vulnerable, and that many of you feel you need some support and guidance in dealing with your records. In times of financial constraint and change for the sector, prioritising the preservation of archives is difficult and many organisations simply do not know where to start. This situation was recognised by the British Academy in 2014 when it adopted a new five-year project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’.

Now we need to make a start on figuring out what to do about helping charities preserve their archives. I’ve just been appointed as a part-time researcher on the project and I want to work with you in the voluntary sector on where we go from here.

1. Save the date (5 June 2015)

Firstly, we need you to save the date! On the afternoon of Friday 5 June 2015 we will be holding a launch event with our partners at the British Academy in London. The event is aimed at voluntary sector organisations of all sizes, especially those who need some advice about managing their archives.

We want people in charities – particularly those who might be interested in or responsible for archives – to come along to find out more about the project, hear about recent initiatives and case studies, and most importantly to tell us what they hope the project can do for them. You can register for the event here.

2. Make a list – what do you want to know about archives?

Secondly, we want to hear from you. What are your questions about looking after archives? Do you know where to start? How far have you got? Are you stuck? If so, how can we help you? We know some organisations have deposited or catalogued their archives, fewer have started digitising them, and many have boxes in basements and storerooms that they simply do not know what to do with. Whatever stage you are at, we want to hear about your experiences and – more importantly – the questions you need our help to answer.

3. Think about the barriers and challenges you’re facing

In order for this project to be a success we need you to talk to us about what your needs are, to help us shape the project in a way that will be of most benefit to voluntary sector organisations. We have experts from The National Archives, the British Library, Heritage Lottery Fund, academic institutions, existing charity archives, and many more lined up to offer their support and guidance. We want to use it in the best way possible, so tell us what we need to ask them!

4. Tell us what you need help with

Different sizes of organisation, working in many different areas, will have a variety of questions and needs. We want to know about them so we can prioritise the areas of most urgent need. By sending your questions and views now, we can look to work some of them into our launch event and really get the project off to a great start.

If you want to send your questions, express an interest in the launch event or tell us about what you have been doing with your archives, please contact me. The archives of our voluntary organisations are crucial, yet they are vulnerable. With your help I hope we can begin the difficult task of preserving them for the future.

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