Accreditation and what this means for Gloucestershire Archives.
Many UK archives, including those in the public sector (such as Gloucestershire Archives) are accredited archives services. This means that they have successfully applied for accreditation by the National Archives and a team of peer reviewers. Gloucestershire Archives has been an accredited archives service for several years, but we are required to reapply for reaccreditation every 3 years. Accreditation is the bench-mark for the service; it defines good practice and agreed standards for archive services across the UK, thereby encouraging and supporting the development of the archive service.
These days, very many services – especially those in the public sector – have to go through some form of bench-marking; the most obvious one, that the majority of people may have heard of, is Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education). Ofsted undertake inspections and assessments of all schools in the UK. All local authorities (such as Gloucestershire County Council) are similarly assessed.
So what does accreditation look like? Well, it examines all sorts of things around the delivery of the service; the staffing structure and skills, opening hours, policies, budget, outreach, collections and management. It is a fairly lengthy process, and nearly all staff will be involved to some degree. In essence, accreditation is about standards laid down by the National Archives; it is a badge of external recognition which demonstrates quality services, and encourages professionalism in the archives sector.
So is it accreditation for accreditation’s sake? No, absolutely not. It is an external affirmation of what we do, and how good we are at doing it. It gives you the opportunity to consider who does what, why we do the things we do, and how we do them. It is very much a peer-led review of exactly how we are performing. It shows our strengths and weaknesses, and gives practical support and guidance on how we can make improvements.
Professional archivists are a relatively young profession – the professional qualifications needed, for this role, are less than a century old (although archivists, in one form or another, have been around far longer). Accreditation has another important aspect; it can be about establishing, or sharing, best practice. It can set bench-marks for others to aspire to. And it can record, in a moment in time, that which is important in terms of policies, trends and sector-wide resources and priorities. We gather lots of evidence to help us with our application for reaccreditation, from how many customers and volunteers we have, to the nature of our collections. Accreditation plays an important part in stewardship of the collections – ensuring that we make them accessible, that we are fit for purpose and that we have the tools to do the job.
The first attempt at any kind of regulation for archives was the Public Record Office Act of 1838 to “keep safely the public records”. Most notable since have been the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967, which introduced legislation such as the “30 year rule” (subsequently amended by the government to 20 years, in 2013). With the proliferation of places of deposit, in the intervening years since the various Acts, there needed to be some sort of agreed accreditation for the profession.
Here in Gloucestershire, the record office (the antecedent of Gloucestershire Archives), was set up in 1936. The records of the county of Gloucestershire (which then included what is now known as South Gloucestershire) were scattered across various offices, including having been deposited for safekeeping with the library service. The record office was initially housed at Shire Hall, and moved to its Alvin Street site in 1976. And just over 40 years later, we have the new Gloucestershire Heritage Hub, the home of Gloucestershire Archives and some of its partners.
Accreditation can help us see exactly where we have come from. Rather like when you’re looking at generations of the same family!
As part of our application for reaccreditation we have reviewed all our policies. If you would like to comment on any of the draft policies www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/news/policies-for-consultation-2020/ please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org by 6th November 2020.