ARA statement on British Records Association

 ARA: BRA discussions and the future of our offer to the wider membership

We entered into discussions with the British Records Association (BRA) for several reasons. One was to complete a process that began when the ARA was formed, ie that our remit had moved beyond just being a professional body – important though that remains – to become the lead body for archives, conservation and records management. Implicit in this shift was the need to change our offer to enable existing stakeholders to join us as affiliates, by creating a new Supporter category of membership for organisations with an interest in archives or strong links to a record keeping service.

At its 18 November EGM, the BRA decided not to join with us. We respect that decision (which was entirely a matter for the BRA membership). But it does not change our need to make better provision for existing members who are not professional archivists, conservators or records managers. Also, the launch of the new Supporter category is a timely opportunity to think about better marketing the benefits of the ARA to new potential members.

So what progress has been made so far? We have:

  • undertaken an initial revision of our Vision, Mission and Priorities statement to include owners and depositors of records, and to promote mutual understanding amongst the wider communities of archivists, conservators, records managers, users, owners and depositors of records.
  • strengthened our commitment to both provide advice or signpost to members where advice can be obtained. We are now committed to maintaining appropriate structures policies and procedures for users and custodians of records as well as our professional members.

The Strategic Priorities in our current Vision and Mission statement were only designed to be stop-gap and run to September next year, as we intended to undertake a rather more radical revision to restructure the document after next year's AGM. But we are committed to ensuring that the aspirations and means to attract a wider membership roll forward into the new document, which should be ready well in advance of the autumn of 2016.

In addition, I announced at our annual conference in Dublin this year that we would be proposing a revision of our Code of Conduct, and work is now well advance on preparing a draft for member consultation by the end of this calendar year. When we looked at our existing and long-standing policy document, we discovered that it contains references to 'full' members, rather than 'individual' members, as appears in our constitutional documents. This has been rectified, and we have also taken the opportunity of making clear distinctions between our individual, affiliate, supporter and institutional members.

We have also introduced advice on deaccessioning and disposal and clarified the position of individual members who may find their professional decisions, taken with the Code in mind, are overridden by senior managers or members of the governing body of their employing organisations. We will also make a further change, in line with other professional bodies: our Code of Conduct becomes a Code of Ethics.

We have planned the consultation so that members will have a full three months to comment, up to the end of March. We will then present a final revised Code of Ethics to the AGM on16 May.

We will also be asking the University of Leeds, who have a department that specialises in professional ethical codes, to review our current Code of Conduct so that it conforms to the requirements of a formal Code of Ethics. We also need to review our disciplinary procedures – these were last used over a decade ago, since when there have been changes in case law that may affect what we can and cannot do. This review will input into our initial changes and into a second stage revision that we intend to put to an AGM after 2016.

The proposals put before the BRA membership included the formation of an Archives and Users section. In the review of our Member Services, launched shortly after the formation of the ARA, we identified the potential for events for users, but also recognised the limitations of our structures in implementing additional activities that would appeal to users. The ARA-BRA Working Party agreed that there would be value in creating a new section which would bring archivists and users together as well as help members interested in customer service issues. With the ending of the Public Services Quality Group annual fora, we have lost a locus for sharing and disseminating innovation and good practice in this area. The Working Party believed that a new Archives and Users section could also serve this constituency.

It is my hope that an active new section along these lines will attract our affiliate members and potential new Support members – eg, those who will come into contact with us through the membership of Friends' groups and local societies with an interest in archives, etc. I have long believed that the strengthening links between archivists and users is valuable; and I hope that an Archives and User section may generate sufficient content for a future themed edition of ARC.

How might the new section function? This will all depend on the level of support and the interests and priorities of those who join up. Perhaps remote communication, for example themed teleconferences, could be mixed with an annual one day conference, and regional meetings partnered with nations, specialist sections and regions?

But the first stage is for us to gauge the level of interest from you, our members and affiliates, and those keen to get more involved. Let me know directly what you think (or send comments to our Taunton office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), especially if you would be willing to help establish the new section. If the Board feel the momentum is there, planning can begin to get Archives and Users up an active section in the later stages of 2016.

David Mander

December 2015