ARA Annual Conference 2021 Round Up

Read our full round up of our 2021 Annual Conference, including highlightsfrom the keynote presentations and the many networking opportunities thattook place across the three days.

CONF AD 21ARA Annual Conference 2021 Round Up

ARA Annual Conference 2021 Round UpOur Annual Conference was held online for the first time this year. With 561 delegates attending 51 sessions delivered by 90+ speakers, the ARA’s ninth conference was hailed a great success. Each day of the conference, which ran from 1st – 3rd September, was dedicated to one of three themes: sustainability, diversity and advocacy.

The opening keynote focused on sustainability, with Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper of The UK National Archives, talking to our Chair, Lisa Snook. Jeff spoke about how The UK National Archives is working to deliver and enable sustainability, diversity and advocacy for its collections and services, and in its role as archives sector lead.

Jeff shared an inspiring update on how The UK National Archives has cut its carbon footprint by 80% since 2009/10, with a corresponding 50% reduction in energy costs. Via an online chat stream, delegates expressed their interest in seeing the results of research into the buffering effect of archive boxes, which had allowed The UK National Archives to switch off some of the plant equipment at evenings and weekends at its building in Kew. To find out more about the past, present and future of environmental sustainability in archives, sign up for The UK National Archives’ event in November.

Sustainability of the sector was as much a part of the first day’s theme as sustainability of the planet. Jeff also announced that The UK National Archives would be consulting with the sector to identify what support they need from a leadership body across all three conference themes.

Other sessions on Day One expanded on the theme of sustainability, looking at how archives and records organisations could sustain communities. There were fascinating contributions from PRONI (The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) and CAHG (The Community Archives and Heritage Group), as well as further discussions on environmental sustainability, from the macro of passive archive buildings to the micro of the Science Museum Group’s research into the biodegradability and recycling options for gloves. Environmental consultant, Lorraine Finch, also suggested a number of easy wins for us all to implement to help save the planet.

Day Two opened with an inspiring keynote from Arike Oke, Managing Director of Black Cultural Archives, to kick start discussions on the theme of diversity. In her speech, Arike recognised that everyone working in the sector would need to ask difficult questions of themselves and the organisations they work in. She highlighted that if a shift towards equity, social justice and diversity is to take place, everyone working in the sector must be proactive and take responsibility.

Arike also touched on the intersectional nature of diversity, and the sessions held throughout the second day reflected the multi-stranded nature of the diversity theme. The programme provided some really fascinating talks and workshops on reparative justice, decolonising the curriculum, connecting with and encouraging communities to be part of archives, and queering the archives.

Delegates also heard from the Trainee Archive/Archive Assistants from the ‘Coming in from the Cold Project’, a three-year project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to increase the existence of underrepresented groups in official records. The project has created new entry level Trainee Archive/Archive Assistant posts specifically for people of Black, Asian and ethnic global majority heritage to help diversify the record-keeping sector’s workforce.

The final day of the conference, the theme of which was advocacy, opened with a brilliant keynote by Deirdre McParland, Senior Archivist at the Electricity Supply Board. In her pre-recorded presentation, Deirdre spoke convincingly and passionately about how we, as a profession, can spread the message about the value of the work we do. She posed the question: “While we know the value of our records and our collections, how do we collectively ensure that the communities and organisations where we work know who we are and the unique value we bring?”. In answer, she proposed that advocacy is integral to the fabric of our profession. The delegate chat suggested that had her speech been delivered in person in a conference hall there would have been a standing ovation. Sessions across Day Three addressed the theme of advocacy in a multitude of ways, from Instagram and elevator pitches to community engagement and health and wellbeing benefits.

The wonders of modern technology meant there was no need for the usually tricky decisions about which sessions to attend as all sessions were available online for the month of September.

Alongside the conference’s themed sessions, many other interesting and fascinating talks and workshops were to be found, including participatory workshops delivered online, sessions on resilience and emergency planning, an hilarious and informative talk about the saving of the Thomas Cook Archive and a number of useful sessions on digitisation and information governance.

Despite being held online, delegates took full advantage of the virtual networking opportunities. A networking session on Day One enabled people to get to know one another by sharing stories about their favourite books. Friday night would not be complete without a trip to the pub, albeit a virtual one thanks to CXD (Conservation By Design). And delegates could also go on a virtual tour of the new Lambeth Palace Library and round off their trip with a bit of social networking.

We know, though, that there is no real substitute for the in-person, accidental networking of a face-to-face conference so we are already looking forward to and starting to plan for next year’s conference which will be held in Chester from Wednesday 31st August to Friday 2nd September 2022.

The Call for Papers will go out later this year, with the programme available in spring 2022.