Redefining Quality

Annual PSQG Forum tackles the big issues 

TNA at KewThe sixteenth annual quality forum for archives and local studies, organised by the Public Services Quality Group,  took place at The National Archives on 2 November.

The day had two clear elements: ‘big picture’ thoughts and experiences,  and a number of sessions where speakers offered their experience of specific ‘ways forward’ in times of reducing budgets and high service expectations.

Malcolm Todd from The National Archives set the scene from a national level. He confirmed that the ‘Archives for the 21st Century’ actions were being revisited in the light of political change, but that the direction of travel for archives – being ‘sustainable and popular’ and having ’relevance, measurement and perspective’ – had not changed. He, like nearly every other speaker, urged that all who work in the archive sector engage with change to make sure that we provide solutions and do not have things ‘done to us’.

Dr Deborah Jenkins from the London Metropolitan Archives, was inspiring about shared services. Not a new thing, she emphasised, and not a ‘one size fits all’ solution but in many cases, a very good solution. She shared with the audience how her work over recent years to co-locate collections within the LMA had allowed her to develop a set of ‘implementation principles’ that were non-negotiable. Quality was one of them. She was not prepared to co-locate services unless the existing standards (in her case at LMA the TNA 4 star mark) were able to be delivered for the newly-arrived collection. Deborah was clear: long time arrangements were only sustainable when co-location savings and efficiencies were part of the plan. And when outreach work to keep local links fresh was integral to the future.

Sue Thiedeman of the London Cultural Improvement Programme, stood back from the archive world and shared trends and statistics on ‘winners and losers’ on cuts and investment. The cultural sector at government level was losing about 21% overall – some areas were far worse. Sue had two clear messages:  try to be champions, not victims, of change; and learn lessons from those who have ‘gone before’. So many sectors and services had got it right and wrong on change – don’t reinvent the wheel. 

Dr Sarah Horton and Mary Ellis spoke about CyMAL’s work to see if the Welsh Public Library Standards could be applicable for archives. The library experience in Wales had been that while the Standards should not have worked, they had become a very useful tool for services to evaluate where they were and how they could develop.

Lizzy Baker from East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service at Beverley explained real day-to-day issues that she and colleagues were facing in their change (Transformation) programme. She touched on practical issues – how to run a service while trying to plan a better future – how to keep everyone informed of change – how to make sure you were not being ‘precious’ about your own service when every service had to change and listen.

Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan’s presentation on the Heritage Change Programme reminded colleagues that useful ‘tools of change’ were available. The National Archives was now ‘owning’ the Heritage Change Programme findings and tools so they would remain available.

As well as the six main presentations, the day also allowed Anna Siddall of TNA to update those present on the progress of the future Accreditation Standard. Funding was secure for the creation and piloting of the standard.  Ensuring the full breadth of the sector is represented in creating the standard is essential – this is taking place between December and April.  To find out more and for details of how to get involved go to or Anna Siddall, Transition Manager 020 8876 3444 (x2044).

There were also short presentations over the range of PSQG work: Volunteering, Archive Pace Setters Award, Security and Access and Surveys.