2012 Public Services Quality Group FORUM

The seventeenth annual Forum was all about Skills. Marie Owens summarisesthe day:


Faster, Higher, Stronger? What Skills Do We Need in Archives Today?


The seventeenth annual Public Services Quality Forum took place at London Metropolitan Archives on 7 November 2012. There were 7 speakers and 49 delegates.

In the Olympic year, the theme for the day was ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger? What Skills Do We Need in Archives Today?’

The first presentation was from Jo Reilly, Head of Participation and Learning at the Heritage Lottery Fund. At a time of diminishing resources for many, the amount of money given to the HLF from the Lottery ‘Good Causes’ strand was increasing and there was £15 million available in its ‘Skills for the Future: investing in work-based training’ fund. Projects were invited which aimed both to diversify the heritage workforce and help avoid ‘the recession-led skills gap’ by offering trainee programmes. All the funding was targeted on getting people into work; Jo made clear there was no funding for improving skills of those already in work or to ‘upskill’ volunteers.


Rachel Davies from TNA presented on ‘Opening up Archives: skills for the 21st century’, TNA’s programme which aims to diversify the archives profession by providing an entry into the sector for those who have not followed a traditional qualification route.
Instead of focusing on specific qualifications, the programme seeks people who can bring talent and energy to the archival world, who are keen to develop their skills, who want to engage with their local community, and who want to create better online services. It also encourages archives to recruit a broader range of skills, with a staff that reflects the community they serve.

The scheme offers paid work placements in a number of specialisms including collection development, community engagement, online engagement, palaeography and digital preservation. There are currently 39 trainees working in 12 archives for a year. Trainees also spend time in TNA. Each trainee has a mentor as well as a manager.


Emma Stagg, from Glamorgan Archives, had led a project (CLOCH) which had offered traineeships to 8 local men aged 18-30 in Glamorgan. Unemployment was particularly high in this group and positive action to recruit in this group had been allowed. The trainees had worked for 3 months at Glamorgan archives before moving to placements in museums, libraries and archives. They were taught core skills and were working to a level 2 certificate in libraries, archives and information services.

Jim Grisenthwaite, Assistant Director Local Services, Cumbria County Council, gave a frank and amusing presentation on how his career began in the archives but took him to high levels of local government management. Jim had undertaken an MBA, which had given him a new range of skills – and recognition – in his organisation, but Jim put much of his success down to being curious about life beyond the archive and being keen to engage with colleagues doing very different kinds of work. His skills – and this curiosity - had led to him join a number of pan-Council projects. ‘If you want a quiet life in the archives’ said Jim, ‘don’t complain if you’re not listened to’.

When planning the Forum programme, the organisers were keen to find out the effect of leadership and management initiatives ‘over time’. Deborah Tritton, Archives Services Manager at Cornwall Council,  had undertaken a Clore Fellowship in 2004. She looked back at the work and thinking she did during that time.  She was honest in the challenges and the difficulties involved when she was thrown together with Fellows from very different creative and arts organisations but knew that her management style had been positively affected by the need to listen and respect others.  She remembered how useful it was to hear leaders from the cultural sector talk about the way they worked and the way they thought. 

Laurence Ward from LMA explained what LMA had done to engage through social media. He presented a clear and helpful explanation of what LMA had used for what – Flickr, Twitter, WordPress, History Pin, You Tube -  and to what effect. ‘Think of your work in this area as one social package’ he recommended. Discussion was lively on the topic of how you manage the interest that social media can awake.

Caroline Williams has been undertaking work for the ARA to try to define the Competencies required for those who work at all levels in archives. This was seen as a first step to a comprehensive, fit for purpose, CPD offer. Put simply, at any level, an individual – and his/her manager – should easily identify the skills and competencies required (and fill any gaps) and look ahead to what is needed to progress. Caroline presented the work she had done over recent months to consult widely with ARA members on their views. Feedback had confirmed that there was an appetite for such a framework. Caroline’s work was being submitted to the ARA Board.

The Public Services Quality Group works to improve many aspects of archive services. Key to their work is to ensure the sector receives regular feedback from its users. The UK Survey of those who visit archives in person is firmly established; Geoff Pick, Chair of PSQG, presented findings from the first survey of archive users ‘at a distance’ , who accessed their chosen  archive via email, letter or telephone.

Sixty six archives took part in the survey and 845 responses were received. This was enough to give some good national feedback, but not enough to give detailed feedback to individual archives. There had been some technical difficulties which had impacted on the level of response, but Geoff believed the survey would become as trusted a part of user feedback as its sister survey.

The next ‘Survey of Visitors to UK Archives’ takes place in October and November 2012. The next Distance Survey is expected to run in autumn 2013.

The Distance Survey is available at 2012 PSQG Forum - Survey of Visitors

The Forum ended with a roundup of the work being done under the PSQG banner:  Declan Kelly reported on the Archive Pace Setter Scheme, which has now ended (with 19 projects having been awarded Pace Setter status) and is being thoroughly evaluated;  Louise Ray spoke about Volunteering and the Action Plan that has been agreed and is being rolled out; Tim Harris spoke on the work of the Security and Access Group. Tim spoke of a relatively quiet year in terms of theft of and damage to archive material.
The day ended with a commitment to a major review of the questions in and coverage of the next Visitors Survey.

Geoff Pick thanked all speakers, the delegates for their participation and Wendy Hawke for her excellent administration of the day.