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Remembering departed friends and colleagues

on Monday, 22 February 2016.

Last time out, I promised to share some thoughts on Freedom of Information (FOI). As many of you will know, the government has been reviewing FOI since the 2015 general election. Records are our business, so any changes will inevitably impact on ARA members in the public sector. We have been trying to engage with the new senior team at the Information Commissioner's Office for a while, and have finally got a meeting lined up next week. So, I'll write about that next time.

Meantime, we've been grappling with an issue on which many people have strong views and which we're not sure we've quite got right in the past. When the archives, records-management and conservation community loses someone who has contributed much to his/her profession, shouldn't we at ARA mark their passing, remember their contribution and enable members to add their own thoughts and memories? Shouldn't we also be in the business of establishing an 'archive' of our own on those who have meant a lot to us personally or professionally? Also, would it not help the family who have lost someone to know how special they were to others? We do have an obituaries space in our Journal, but the nature of publication schedules means that it is often a year after someone's passing that we recognise the fact.

There are reasons, of course, why we've hesitated in the past. We don't have the in-house resources to commemorate everyone we lose in the way that we would like to, whether through a memorial service or a written obituary. Putting a two-line notice on the website of someone's passing, for example, could even have the opposite effect, and seem callous. And if we chose some to remember, it would mean not remembering others, and we're never going to get that balance right. How on earth could we judge who was 'important' and who was not? To close family and friends, everyone is important. Finally, we can only do something when we know something. Sadly, we often only find out some months after having lost a member, and sometimes only at annual membership renewal time.

But all of these (justifiable) challenges shouldn't stop us from trying harder. Other organisations find a way to do it, after all. We reflected, following the recent sad news of Derek Charman's passing, that we should be doing things better. Coincidentally, our project team was also finalising work on the ARA Cloud-based NAS system, which will enable us to manage more effectively our own internal records. Several people kept referring to the outstanding contribution to this project by ('the late, great') Carl Newton. (I'm even going to suggest we call the new system 'CARL' in his memory.) Another member wrote in about Rosamund Meredith, who was 100 years old when she passed away last September. Others we have lost this past year include John Cantwell, Michael Willis-Fear, Chris Jeens, Miss E Melling, Leanne Neal, Shirley Corke and Dr W.A.L. Seaman. Apologies in advance if I've missed anyone else.

I sat in on a chat that John Chambers and David Mander had about this the other day, and here's what we're planning to do. We can't (and shouldn't) operate a hierarchy of who is deserving of 'official ARA recognition' and who is not. The most practical solution we can think of is to put it in the hands of individual members and let you decide on a case-by-case basis, while giving you the tools you need. So when we reconfigure the website, which should be done by the spring, we will create a new obituaries page (probably under 'News'), along with pages where members can post notices and comments.

There will of course have to be some ground rules – on length of obituaries, getting a family member's permission, etc. – and some sensitive policing of the pages. But we'll try to keep these to a minimum. Susan Healy and I will edit draft obituaries before Lorraine puts them up (Susan will continue to manage obituary entries in the Journal as well; that bit won't change). Then it will be over to you. We'd just encourage, as a routine, that anyone posting a notice about a member having passed away also inform the Chair of their local regional committee or specialist section.

What are we hoping for? So many members leave a lasting legacy during and after their careers. It should be a basic principle that they are recognised. But it is also important that the next generation of aspiring archivists, records-managers and conservationists should know of them and what they achieved.

Of course, the usual blog rules apply here. If you think we are going about things the wrong way and have a better idea, please email or tweet or even write in on vellum. I doubt we'll get the change entirely right at the start (who ever does?), but hopefully we'll at least begin in a better place than we are at present.

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