Monday 21 September 2009

CAIS Study School Seminar '09

CAIS held its annual Study School seminar last Friday evening. Those attending heard four distinguished speakers reflect on the development of the recordkeeping profession and the changes apparent to them over the last c.40 years.

Marion Stewart, latterly Archivist for Dumfries and Galloway Council, focused on the changes in the ways that recordkeepers are trained and the developments in professional theory. She noted that her first archival post at the Scottish Records Office (now the National Archives of Scotland) required her to undertake formal legal training at the University of Edinburgh. The belief was that without an appreciation of the legal status and purpose of any record an archivist was unable to properly manage the records in their charge. She also emphasised the rigorous in-house training she received from senior colleagues in Latin, palaeography and in the subject matter of the collections held by the institution. This understanding of the records and knowledge of diplomatic became one of the cornerstones of her career. Marion emphasised that in her subsequent posts she had always worked to ensure she had as full a knowledge as possible of the collections in her custody. She spoke of the implications of uncatalogued collections, with inevitable barriers to access and use.

Marion went on to reflect on the developments in the theoretical underpinning of the profession, particularly emphasising the rapid growth and development of records management as a discipline and the need for archivists and records managers to take the broadest possible view of the records for which they are responsible. The fundamental precepts she learned as a new entrant to the profession remain as important and as relevant as they were then.

Bob Steward, the retired Highland Council Archivist, responsible for a geographic area equivalent to Belgium, built on the themes introduced by Marion and also emphasised the importance of understanding the records and the record types for which archivists and records managers are responsible, noting the changes he found in record types when he moved to Scotland having worked as an English archivist. He also emphasised the need for recordkeepers to be able to manage stakeholder relations. He noted that relationships within organisations and with the broader stakeholder communities are vital for success in terms of the records and service development. Without a knowledge of the organisation recordkeepers are unable to properly fulfil their key functions and without a knowledge of internal and external users they are unable to illustrate their value. Bob used the development of the Highland Council Archive as an example of a small service which grew under his management, moving the archival services to Inverness Castle, developing a records management service by initially taking charge of a store on behalf of the Planning Department and developing a 'hub and spoke' approach to service provision with satellite office in Wick to help ensure community engagement. Since his retirement a new satellite office has been established in Fort William and a new bespoke archive building is almost complete in Inverness, which Bob placed in the context of a long term development based on the management of relationships and the engagement with the community.

Kevin Wilbraham, Corporate Records Manager, Edinburgh City Council, spoke from a records management perspective. Having had a successful career as an archivist which included establishing the Ayrshire Archive, Kevin had moved into Records Management. He stressed that the issues associated with electronic records and the ever increasing amounts of information within organisations offered the greatest challenges to recordkeepers. He asked the question, do you need to be an archivist to be a records manager, emphasising the need for programmes, like the ones offered by CAIS, to ensure that those persons entering the profession have a broad and relevant range of skills. He contrasted the formal university-based provision of archival and records management education today with that received by Bob and Marion and his own more recent training. Kevin also stressed the need for relationships with stakeholders. Finally, as a Records Manager with responsibility for Archivists, he used his own circumstances to highlight the shift in the priorities of many organisations when calling in the skills of recordkeepers.

Siobhan Convery, Head of Special Libraries and Archives at the University of Aberdeen, illustrated the changes in the profession during her time as an Archivist, starting out as a volunteer, becoming qualified and moving to Aberdeen to work in the City Archives there, before moving to the University. Siobhan highlighted the importance of the collections and the records and diverted from the earlier speakers in her assertion that it is possible to work as an Archivist within an organisation and remain relevant without taking responsibility for records management, though acknowledging the vital relationship between all branches of the recordkeeping professions. Siobhan concentrated on the need for stakeholder management to ensure success, of aligning service provision with the business aims of the parent organisation and the need for cross-domain working with partners in museums and libraries. As one of the lead officers in the development of the new library, which will house the Special Collections, at the University of Aberdeen Siobhan was able to illustrate her points with reference to the reality of developing this multi-million pound research facility. She also highlighted the need for recordkeepers to become managers in a general sense and understand and interact with the strategic vision of their organisation. She illustrated the change from the days when archivists could concentrate on the collections alone with no involvement with their organisation’s strategic goals.

The seminar was a very interesting and enjoyable evening. The recurring themes were ones of stakeholder management and a need to understand the organisational culture and community structures in which recordkeepers work, without losing sight of their fundamental roles and responsibilities with the records. Programmes like those offered by CAIS must reflect both the traditions and the future of the profession.

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