Special Collections managers increasingly report to senior managers who come from very different professional backgrounds. Witness archives in local authorities reporting to social services or super-converged university services which combine library, IT, careers etc.
Though this can have advantages e.g. bringing together services with a customer or teaching focus, it does mean there is no common base of understanding as there would be with fellow librarians or archivists. Senior managers are at risk of seeing Special Collections as dusty backwaters and not realising how much management, innovation, customer care etc is involved. Often Special Collections and archives services are among the most engaged with communities, the most creative and the most dynamic parts of their organisations.
External recognition (awards, chartermarks etc) can help advocate Special Collections services to such managers and other decision-makers who may not know much about them. This came across very strongly at the Archives Pace Setter Showcase last Friday. Several archivists said the scheme had helped them in exactly this way.
The meeting included a workshop on mentoring (which I will write about separately) and a chance to share some of the Pace Setter projects with other archivists. The projects come in all shapes and sizes: externally funded or not. I was particularly impressed by the strong concept of the Welsh “Tesco clubcard” archives card and the archivist at Berwick who took archives to 3-5 year olds. You can find all the projects, some written up as case studies, here. Ours is the 100 Objects exhibition, which combines a strong (borrowed!) concept, social media and creative recycling of existing material to bring Special Collections to new audiences.
The Pace Setters scheme is particularly persuasive because it doesn’t just recognise great collections. It celebrates new ideas and rigorous project management. These are exactly the qualities that senior managers and other stakeholders may not realise we can offer. The scheme also offers ongoing support to those who have the award and to the whole sector. So, if you’ve got a great archives project, why not enter it for Pace Setters?
I should add that all the Pace Setters are happy to support other archives in developing their projects. I’m keen to contribute to projects involving social media, online exhibitions, marketing or advocacy – so do let me know if you’d like some informal help …