Report on a course at Hereford Archives and Record Centre (HARC) on 13th March 2017
Richard Wade is one of the four archivists at HARC who has worked with many records. He gave a very useful general introduction on archives in an afternoon session organised by the Catholic Archives Society at HARC.
We had submitted questions in advance which he used to plan the talk. He covered general archive management and more specifically how to deal with archives as well as giving lots of practical tips and making everyone think about their own archives.
Although based on his own experience in Hereford, Richard stressed throughout how important it was for policies and procedures to be relevant to our own institutions. He also assured us that all collections had backlogs – we were not alone! Even small tasks could take all day if extra research was needed.
He covered the definition of archives, the value of archives, policies and procedures, accessioning archives, the arrangement and description of archives and even the packaging requirements.
Some complex issues such as data protection would need a separate session, but he gave a few useful pointers about personal information and ways of handling such enquiries. He advised making sure that current material is not put in archive collections as it could create too many issues including legal problems. He explained about the value of a consistent retention schedule: if you agree to keep items for a fixed period only you must ensure they are not kept after that period (this may be a requirement of Data Protection regulations).
He suggested that with electronic and some financial records it would be sensible to get into discussions at an early stage of the record cycle; the best way of keeping electronic records for the future is still work in progress.
The importance of consistency in arrangements, cataloguing and descriptions were some of the key points, as was keeping collections together; the provenance and original order can be valuable in making the most of the item, whilst catalogues and indexes can link related items in different collections.
Richard gave us some exercises on how to sort different archives; these gave him the chance to highlight some of the potential pitfalls. He encouraged all to avoid using the term “miscellaneous”!
It was an extremely interesting and useful afternoon, giving all the participants plenty to consider when they start on their own archive collection work.