The ARA Conference

This annual event brings together the influential players of the recordkeepingsector. High profile speakers discuss latest developments and delegatescan network with fellow members of the community

Welcome to the ARA conference pages.


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Hilton Gateshead, Newcastle 2014 - (27th - 29th August)

'Survival of the Fittest: strengths, skills and priorities for 2014 and beyond


ARA Conference 2014 – Reflections from David Mander, ARA Chair

There was a great atmosphere at this year's conference – all those I spoke to enjoyed the events and praised the quality of the papers on offer. It is always valuable to meet colleagues from abroad and Martin Berendse, the President of the ICA brought the thoughtful perspective of an outsider to the archive world. I was struck by the challenge he faced when becoming National Archivist for the Netherlands of managing the archive on the one hand and simultaneously taking an archive qualification on the other.



0K4A4910Click here for our post conference interviews from our Keynote Speakers Rick Prelinger and Martin Berendse and two first time attendees of our conference.




                                 Click here for photographs and reports on the conference social events





Conference - Wednesday 27th August (Day One)


Rick Prelinger
Rick Prelinger
Jonathan Rhys_Lewis
Jonathan Rhys-Lewis

Two very different opening speakers to the ARA 2014 conference: Rick Prelinger and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis. Rick is Founder of Prelinger Archives/Internet Archive, based in the US. Jonathan is a Consultant, Conservator and Educator.

But both spoke a great deal about how this sector communicates. And how it needs to 'make a noise' in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it's about not using jargon and just listening very carefully to what is actually being ASKED (Jonathan). Sometimes it's refusing to allow the conversation about the future of archives to take place somewhere 'above our heads' (Rick). Rick wanted a loud conversation, for archives to be noisy workshops where creation happens. Some of his mission was to 'find what people are not looking for'. Put it out – people will come.

Jonathan, after decades of advising and teaching on good collection care, was clear that there was the 'standards' side of promotion and the 'advocacy' side. Share the very best information. And answer the question being asked. We have to convince that 'forever' is worth investing in.


Rick Prelinger, Archivist, Writer, Film Maker, Professor and Founder of Prelinger Archives/Internet Archive

The noisy archives      

Rick Prelinger, Archivist, Writer, Film maker and Professor introduced us to his concept of the Noisy Archive, highlighting that everyone has something to say about the future and that archives should open themselves up these contributions. He promotes a more interactive relationship with the user and the archive, allowing users behind the scenes in a way that enables users to "scan, shoot and copy" and use material in creative and innovative ways to encourage "babble" and noise about archives.

He also discussed the privileging of serendipity, using collections without traditional catalogues and search tools in order for people to find what they are NOT looking for. An exciting point is the fact that it challenges our traditional ways of thinking and allows a way for us to create an environment from which to resist silence and ensure that our archive services survive, a theme which ran throughout the rest of the day.


The session on Users and Technology: Embracing Change consisted of three talks which looked at the potential technology has to change the way we interact with both our archive collections and our users.

Rebecca Bradley

The first speaker was Rebecca Bradley from the Special Collections at Newcastle University, talking about their collaboration with Culture Lab to develop creative interfaces which visualize their archive collections. 





Secondly, Geoffrey Yeo from UCL suggested that provenance based arrangement of archival materials doesn't suit all users, and that we should embrace digital technologies which offer multiple ways of ordering archives and demonstrating their context, so that users can interpret the records better and in different ways.





Finally, Rhian James, a PhD student spoke about her Digital Humanities PhD, showing how crowdsourcing the transcription and mark-up of Welsh wills could be used to create a pool of data enabling new patterns and trends to be seen in the historical documents.

The key message from this session was that we should embrace the potential of this new technology to engage with our collections and our users in new and exciting ways. These new technologies allow us to give each user a truly personalised experience of archive research in which they can create their own collections and draw their own connections between different items. By visualising data in non-traditional ways we encourage serendipitous discovery and can ask new questions of our archival material.




Richard NicholsConservation

Richard Nichols, Senior Conservator at Staffordshire Archive and Heritage Service gave a talk on "conservation or restoration?" Ethical challenges in treatment and binding of archival volumes; where he talked on the importance of ethics in the decisions a conservator makes when choosing a suitable treatment.

The main aim of a conservator is to make collections accessible to the reader, however ethical considerations need to be taken into account. Roger Ellis was perhaps one of the first people to put down an ethical code for conservators in his work entitled 'Principles of archive repair' 1951. Key points being that there should be no compulsion on a conservator to perform or not, as this should only be secondary to the evidence of what has been performed, repairs must be visible, documented and reversible. However sometimes added materials can be too evident causing a binding for example to bear no resemblance to its original state, therefor an important ethical balance needs to be reached. Richard raised a few important considerations when deciding on conservation treatments and also in the consideration of using mass treatments on collections as a whole, such as mass deacidification, which does not take into account the individual needs of items but rather takes on a collective approach, important in times of financial constraints for many institutions. It's certainly got me thinking of the ethical consideration we must all take into account when choosing conservation treatments and the weighing up of ethics and the pressures all conservators must feel at one time or another.


This session Working Together for Sustainable Services saw Isobel Hunter, Head of Engagement, The National Archives, Sue McKenzie, Head of Libraries, Arts and Heritage, London Borough of Brent, Vicky Stretch, Network Rail and Edward Rogers, Head of Libraries, Heritage and Culture, London Borough of Hackney talk about a Future Ready Archives.

Isabel_hunterIsobel Hunter presented the challenges many archives will face in the future, such as, more spending cuts up to a possible 66% by 2020 has been predicted, how audiences are changing and how new ways need to be found to interact with this trend.  The emphasis on archives is to control the pace of change and find new ways to do things differently.  Help is out there, The National Archives can help with funding support, knowledge and know how, tools to support change such as the Giving Value programme, Explore Your Archives campaign and the Accreditation service which have already proven to be successful.  If you wish to know more contact the Engagement managers from the National Archives for support.


Vicky_HoyleVicky Stretch talked about the many benefits to Network Rail having been externally assessed by the Accreditation Service.  This will accredit your service against a set of approved standards.   During the process Vicky found this gave her an opportunity to update the Network Rail policy, found areas to be improved within the service, gave her the basis to forward plan and a better understanding of stakeholders.  The feedback from the Accreditation service was encouraging, positive and very useful which gave her a certificate she can now publicise.  Finally, Vicky urged the audience to use the Archives Accreditation standard and the assessment form to better understand and develop their services. 


Sue McKenzie and Edward Rogers gave a joint presentation on the London Archives Partnership which consists of 22 London boroughs working together to support and display their collections.  Many archives are looking at more spending cuts which can make their services vulnerable and so why not look at a collaborative model to support each other.  Supported by funding from The National Archives which enabled the Forrest report to be commissioned, the London Archives Partnership is growing stronger daily.


Conference - Thursday 28th August (Day Two)


BerendseMartin Berendse, President of ICA and CEO of Amsterdam Public Library.

From ARA to ARA - Reach out and touch; make the world a better place if you can!

Martin Berendse opened the second day of conference with some very interesting thoughts on the role of Archivists and Records Managers in the information society.  Throughout his paper he emphasised the professions' primary mission as 'serving everyone's right to information' and to ensure the quality of data.  He suggested we could achieve this by making available as much data as possible for free.  This concept at first seems to undermine our commercial needs, but he argued that the idea of providing data for free had enabled him to secure funding for a project on appraisal and selection at the National Archives of Netherlands.  He argued access to information for business and government could often be more important than the costs and more readily the needs of users.

Martin also drew upon his own experience as President of the International Council on Archives (ICA).  He stated that the international archive community was often dealing with the same issues but that our voices are rarely heard outside of the profession.  This reflected the thoughts of Rick Prelinger, yesterday, who stressed the need for the profession to be more 'noisy'.  This theme was continued by Martin who expressed concerns about the professions ability to be an integral part of the information society.  Indeed, there often seems to be an abscence of Archivists in the IT world. He suggests the way to remedy this for the future is for Archivists to give more thought to the legal issues which enable access to information and more crucially to build partnerships and relationships with other information professionals, especially with the development of open-source software.  Partnerships can enable the profession to reach out and be much more visible in the information society and importantly advocate better for the profession.


photo_1_5Richard Hunt, Archivist, Vivacity Peterborough Local Studies and Archives

The many faces of volunteering in archives

Richard discussed the two archival opinions of how we approach volunteers and volunteering.

So how should we approach volunteering?  Think of a volunteer as doing the jobs normally put aside until time allowed for them to be done.  Volunteering keeps the hierachy in your service happy, volunteers have voices and different experiences, they can become cheerleaders enthusing about your service and finally they could become your next customers.

The roles given to volunteers need to be clearly defined so there is no confusion between the roles of the volunteer and the qualified professional.  If you just swapped a role from professional to volunteer that is when managers might ask why need an archivist?  Use your volunteer for large scale projects like data inputting.  Cataloguing is another role a volunteer can carry out whilst the records keeping professional would be free to be on the frontline to face the customers using your service.  Other roles which he felt should also be carried out by the professional would be courses and outreach activities.

Summing up he said, 'If done correctly volunteering is not a threat but something which should strengthen your service'.


Leonard Foreman, Managing Consultant, Forman & Partners, Dr Patricia Whatley, University Archivist and Director, CAIS, University of Dundee and Terence Pepper, OBE, Senior Special Advisor on Photographs & former curator of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London.

New York state of mind: The Peto Collection and the power of partnerships.

This joint presentation highlighted the benefits of working in partnership to display and promote The Peto Collection which is a magnificent collection of 130,000 negatives and prints held by the University of Dundee.  Michael Peto is considered as one of the leading photojournalists of his generation and after his death in 1970 his family donated his collection to the university.

whatleyDr Patricia Whatley opened this presentation by outlining the Peto Collection, the external expertise sought and the partnership created to enable maximum exposure of this excellent collection beyond the university.  The effects of this partnership has benefitted the university archives in many ways including encouraging the use of the archives, supporting the university strategic ambitions, promoting the collection, developing a strategic partnership and helped secure external income.  This partnership has also opened a new and wider network of contacts for the university archives and enabled a wide experience of cultural public engagement. 


Leonard Foreman continued this presentation by asking the audience to consider the power of how we think and communicate with the outside world and the relationship between archives and culture.  He suggested the potential of any archive is only limited by our imagination and the public form our thoughts on why we matter to the outside world.  The public shape our audience and the benefits of continuing engagement with them enables us to connect with that outside world.  The final message was that a partnership is not about organisations working together but about people working together.

Terence_PepperTerence Pepper explained the journey the partnership experienced in promoting The Peto Collection from the first display at the University of Dundee to the National Potrait Gallery and finally the New York Public Library.  Although initially met with some resistance persistance in the partnership won through to achieve a much wider exposure of this collection by Michael Peto.

Concluding this presentation Dr Patricia Whatley outlined the results of this high profile partnership which has secured funding for the cold store of the collection and the international recognition of the Peto collection.  Further details of this collection can be found at   



Roger Barlee, Leather Tanner, J Hewitt & Sons Limited

Leather Manufacture - what went wrong between 1850 and 1930 and how this has now been resolved

Today the conservation strand of the conference were treated to a talk by Roger Barlee, a 6th generation leather tanner from J Hewit & Sons Ltd. Roger talked about leather manufacture and specifically what went wrong in leather manufacture between 1850 and 1930. We learned about the leather manufacturing processes they use at Hewits, from the removal of fur and fats to the tanning processes and the final dying and finishing of leather into what we all use today in our bookbinding. All details can be found in the publication by Hewits: Skin Deep volumes 1-11

Roger talked of the problems during the late 1800's whilst using certain acid dyes unsuitable for the longevity of leather as well as unsuitable manufacturing processes that did not benefit the leather condition through age. Hewits have been through a lot of research along with the leather conservation center; ( testing certain qualities required by conservators for their leather. Leather goes through numerous well tested processes now to ensure the lasting quality of skins. Along with controlled storage environments, appropriate care for leather bound items and the use of quality made for purpose skins the future looks a lot more promising for our volumes.


Changing perspectives on description: The Descriptive Standards Roundtable (Break-out session)

The Descriptive Standards break-out session offered the chance to catch up on the latest news from members of the Descriptive Standards Roundtable, which is an informal group associated with the ARA Section for Archives and Technology.

After an introduction from Jenny Bunn of UCL, Chris Hilton from the Wellcome Library gave an account of his experiences converting paper catalogues to an electronic one. He claimed that ISAD(G) changed his life and that the searchability of the online catalogue allowed new areas of research to be identified across different collections. Victoria Peters from the ICA's Experts Group on Archival Description (EGAD) then spoke about their work to develop a conceptual model to represent the principle concepts of archival description and the relationships between them, which will be applicable to both archives and records, both paper and digital. It's hoped that the model will enable us to understand the relationships between the different ICA cataloguing standards, pave the way for new perspectives and enable the archival community to take advantage of new and emerging technologies. It's also a chance for archivists from around the world to get together and share ideas. The session ended with a chance to chat about our experiences in small groups, and we came to the conclusion that we need to learn from our library and museum colleagues, and cultivate better relationships with the creators of archival software.


Martin Bazley, Digital Heritage Consultant, Martin Bazley & Associates

Understanding online audiences (Break-out session)     

The session was intended as an overview session to raise awareness of the different techniques available to analyse and understand online audiences. A visual test at the beginning of session highlighted to the audience that visual clues as to the nature and content of websites is picked up by users in as little as half a second, so design and layout is key. "Don't make me think" a book by Steve Kruger, recommended by Martin in the session, sums up the website user's experience in its title! With recommendations on surveying and analytical methods Martin highlighted how we can start to understand our website users and his final mock user group test emphasised that talking to people about their online experience yields the most insightful responses from users.



Antony Oliver and Sarah Oliver, Sheffield Archives

Basic Conservation Techniques for Archivists (Break-out session)

With a focus on photographs and bound material, the session was a great practical and informative introduction to the materials, techniques and equipment that archivists can use in record care. With practical demonstrations of book cleaning, photograph repair and the making of protective book jackets we were able to see how easily we could take these methods back to our own collections. The overriding message of the session was gently does it when it comes to carrying out preservation tasks ourselves and if in doubt, ask a conservator!


Conference - Friday 29th August (Day Three)


Information Bites?  The Impact of the Information Revolution on the Profession      

In "Information Bites? The Impact of the Information Revolution on the Profession" we heard four speakers talk about how the information revolution is affecting their work as archives, records and information professionals. Jane Stevenson from Archives Hub, Lee Pretlove from TWI, Francis Garaba from the Lutheran Theological Institute Library and Jane Maxwell from Trinity College Dublin all gave their personal perspectives.

This information revolution is making the work of archivists more challenging. Francis Garaba identified how the archival landscape is transforming as information becomes more abundant. He suggested that if we keep our gatekeeper mentality, we could lose users. There's also an increasing demand for information to be available online.

Jane Maxwell questioned whether digitisation really is good for archives. Does it mean parts of a collection get forgotten? And is it really about advertising, not access?

Lee Pretlove, coming from an information security perspective, showed how we cannot ignore the information revolution and its associated risks, suggesting we should embrace this revolution so we remain engaged and relevant. But there were also a few hints that this revolution could be a good thing for archives, an opportunity to try new things and rebrand ourselves as a profession.

Jane Stevenson showed us that the data we create has the possibility of going into lots of different online worlds, even ones we haven't seen yet. And although this means we have to be very careful about the way we create our cataloguing data, if we get this right, our data has the potential to go far!



Skills for the Future: Getting Education and Training Right sessions

Dr Andrew Flinn, Reader in Archival Studies, University College London

Meeting the future: new skills and priorities, the challenges for archival education in the digital age

Andrew started off the Skills for the Future section with an overview of changes and challenges to the profession and how they influence the curriculum at UCL and other ARM courses. A key point that he raised was the need to look towards the future and how the artificial distinction between digital records and other records will not exist so the curriculum has to develop to match this change.





Craig Moore, Consultant, Moore Information Security

The career lifecycle and continuum of the records professional

Craig continued the session by demonstrating professional frameworks in the form of the career life cycle and career continuum. Although his improvised subtitle was "Learning without Meaning", He highlighted the need to be aware of your own professional development in order for you to shape your own progression and showed different development streams that our careers could take.







Giovanni Michetti, Assistant Professor, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia

Managing the professional skills: the knowledge tree

Giovanni then wrapped up the session by suggesting a new way in which records professionals can view their skill set and the skills and gaps in their knowledge. This idea was based on the Knowledge Tree model which would enable professionals to see where their knowledge and skills sit in the community so we can see where we are and where we need to go as individuals and a profession.




Continuity, Change and Building Capacity for the Future

Claire Knowles, Development Manager and Grant Buttars, Deputy University Archivist, University of Edinburgh

Building capacity for collections creativity

Claire Knowles and Grant Buttars discussed some of the issues they encountered in providing online access to the very substantial collections of archives, library and digital material at Edinburgh University. They described how they had worked through numerous uncoordinated ideas iteratively to come up with a solution which met their multiple complex requirements. Archives Space, a free, open source interface was chosen partly because there was already an active online community of users in the US, which meant that they could see what issues users were facing before they actually selected it. The key to the success of their project was, they argued, good communication with colleagues in other fields, including librarians, conservators and technologists. Since completing the project, the relationships they built with colleagues in other teams has been maintained through regular meetings, workshop training for all and further collaboration on other projects.


Rachel Bracha, Archivist, World ORT

Archivist as artist: some thoughts on creative archival practice

The issue at the heart of Rachel Bracha's presentation was the relationship between artists and archivists, in which there has been growing interest over the past decade. Rachel contrasted the standards, linear thinking and ideals of objectivity and impartiality which characterise the education and professional activities of archivists with the subjectivity and experimentation which are the mark of the artist's work. She showed a number of examples of artists' creative and innovative use of new technology to engage with archives and went on to ask whether archivists could learn from artists by being more creative in all their activities, above all in their use of new technology.


Dr Craig Fees, Archivist, Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre

" Archive problems are fun problems": Building an archive service around traumatic experience: Continuity, change and believing in the future

The Archive and Study Centre of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust was established in 1989 to gather and preserve the records of the organisation and the memories of the members of this therapeutic community. Dr Craig Fees explained that one of the functions of the archive was to act as a tool to forge a sense of community and shared identity amongst both present and past residents and staff. The greatest threat to this mission was, he argued, a potentially self-fulfilling loss of belief in the ability of the archive to do this. The organisation had countered this by taking a pro-active approach to the creation of opportunities, for example through the establishment five years ago of an oral history project on the organisation's history.



Margaret Brooks, Trainee Conservator, Pembrokeshire Archives

Volunteers and keeping them safe in the Conservation Lab/Studios

Margret Brooks, Trainee Conservator at Pembrokeshire Archives talked on ' Volunteers and keeping them safe in the conservation studio'.

Volunteers are becoming a large part of working life for a lot of us and the health and safety implications within a conservation environment cannot be overlooked.

Margret talked of the many Health and safety related documents that should be consulted when creating a risk assessment not only for our volunteers but also other staff and ourselves.

In the past year there occurred 1.1 million work related illnesses, 173 people were killed at work and 27 million working days were lost due to illness, which created a bill of £13.4 billion for society from workplace illness. So Margaret really highlighted the importance of health and safety in the workplace.

An interesting point that came from Margaret's talk is opinion on what exactly our volunteers should be doing for us and what should be left to the professional. This point raised interesting discussions and highlighted that one needs to be clear on exactly what types of activities your asking your volunteers to carry out before risk assessment is even approached.


Keynote Speakers, Rick Prelinger and Martin Berendse conference overview            

In the final section of the conference Rick Prelinger and Martin Berendse reflected on the conference themes and how the output as a wholesale contributed to the dialogue about the future of archives. Rick commented on the thoughtfulness of the presentations and the need for archivists to cross-pollinate their ideas and learn from one another. He argued that people needed to be persuaded of the importance of fighting for archives in the same way that they had fought to defend public libraries. Martin noted that one of the most outstanding aspects of the conference was the obvious commitment of a younger generation of archivists to archives and to thinking about ways of relating to the past. For him one of the conference's messages was that survival of the fittest meant survival of the most active, the most collaborative and the most creative. He also picked up a point raised in the very last paper of the conference, that when archivists spend time talking to people about archives, this should not be seen as time wasted, or time spent not doing their 'proper job'. Communication is at the heart of the archivist's functions, and may in the future become even more important a determinant of the fitness of the archives sector and its ability not just to survive but to thrive.