Tuesday, 19 August 2014

New Management Skills

As a relatively new manager, I qualify to take part in the National's new management skills training programme.  The scheme is focused on providing new managers with coaching training as well as opportunities to gain insight into how some of the NT's managers manage their teams.  Last week we were lucky enough to get an hour of the Head of Commercial Operations' time and I wanted to set out some of the interesting points he raised here.

He had been asked to discuss leading a team as well as some specifics concerning running effective team meetings with agendas.  It was good to find out early on that he is the head of a department with 450 staff members - a tad larger than my team of 4.

Obligatory totally unrelated photos

Here are some of my favourite points, which I think I'll be carrying over to my own management:

Shared values

  • Identify shared values, sourced from the NT's mission statements, which, for Commercial Operations, will be people and money.
  • These shared values then form the basis of appraisals where each member of staff identify how they contribute to the shared values of the departments.  On the flip-side, the appraisal will also look at a person's personal objectives within their role.
  • These shared values are set out in all job descriptions.
  • Care is taken to maintain a path from the NT mission statements right down to the personal objectives so that staff feel part of the whole NT.


Tips
  • Encourage your staff to carry out peer reviews.  Let each identify the 5 things that they want people to think about them and then send these out using the likes of Survey Monkey to all those with whom they work often and want to help.  These are then graded anonymously and usually come back with better feedback than the staff expect.
  • Individuals can be encouraged to take leadership and control of their own areas and they will, therefore, feel greater ownership.
  • It can be useful to have a facilitator in a meeting, who allows everyone to have their own say, summarises points made, maintain pace and link diverse comments etc.
  • Encourage mystery visits to other institutions and welcome feedback about what a mystery visitor may think of the NT if they were to visit.  This way, everyone can self-evaluate and consider what would be best to improve the work of the department.
I found this a really useful opportunity to pick a far more experienced person's brains about how to deal with the challenges I face.  What surprised me was that there wasn't much that changed across departments - even though Commercial Operations is massive and got a very different mandate to the Archive, the skills and techniques are the same.  I am looking forward to putting some of the above into practice as my team grows.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Don't Risk It!

Last week saw the launch of the ARA's new campaign, Don't Risk It!  Know Your Records.  I went to the launch campaign to see what it was all about and how it might help us at the National, where we are taking a good look at our records management strategy.

The campaign has been designed by the ARA Section for Records Management and Information Governance, who are the professionals who work with records management on a daily basis and are perfectly poised to advise the rest of the ARA on best practice.  The launch event was really an introduction to the aims and toolkit as well as some case studies.



Importantly, the key messages are simple:

1. There are significant benefits and economies for organisations which manage their records and information well.
2. Organisations with poor (or no) record keeping systems are risking a great deal - legally and reputationally.
3.  Professionals records managers are highly skilled, organisational problem-solvers.  Modern, successful organisations need their skills.

A presentation from a records manager of the Bank of England showed the way records management can work in a very stream-lined manner.  But, the National Theatre is nothing like the BofE and it is tricky to pick and choose what will suit my institution.  Having had a look at the toolkit, there are activities and advice for all shapes and sizes of institutions and it has been kept deliberately broad.  I am hoping that there will be some information there to help and opportunities to network with those in similar positions.



One of the overarching themes of the day was that of communication.  I have long said that what we need at the NT is a good working relationship between the Archive and each and every department in order to build trust and understanding in what we do.  Only then will we be able to set up a working records management strategy and ensure that we receive what we need to.  This is just one of the three skills outlined as necessary in a records manager: technical and legal skills are also required.

I am working on writing our records management strategy at the moment and am looking forward to putting it into action in the next few months.  It will not be as complicated as it could be, we do not currently come under FOI and we do not have the compliance restrictions on us that banks and financial institutions do but we have to work with the cultural archive material as well as the records required for records management.  We will need to wait and see how my plans work when put into action!

Monday, 14 July 2014

A trip to to the North

Last week APAC had its first event since I became secretary and we headed up to Leeds.  Here we visited two very beautiful and very different theatres: City Varieties Music Hall and The Grand Theatre and Opera House.  

City Varieties Music Hall
The former, the scene for ‘The Good Old Days’ through the 1950s to 1980s, has recently reopened after a huge HLF funded refurbishment.  Painstaking effort has been put into recreating the theatre as it would have been in the early 1900s with wooden velvet-covered seats, gas lamps now powered by electricity and a painted ceiling.  One of the most interesting additions has been the soundscape, which the Learning department has designed to recreate the atmosphere back in the days when thousands of people piled into this small theatre after a day in the mines.  It really does give a different perspective to the silence of theatre that we are so used to nowadays.  Apparently school groups are particularly appreciative as it transforms the static theatre into the hive of activity it used to be.  




We then moved over to the Grand Theatre, which has also been undergoing a refurbishment with original tiles uncovered throughout the theatre.  This is a far more ‘grand’ affair and, what struck me in particular, was how much more space there was in both of the theatres compared to the West End theatres I am used to in London.  There you can get quite severe vertigo if you are in the cheap seats at the top.  Here, however, the rake of seating is far more smooth and there is impressive leg room as the taller among us noted!

Grand Theatre
The highlight of the day was really meeting the volunteers, who have been assisting the Learning team with the Archive for the past 3 years.  The volunteers were recruited through the West Yorkshire Archive Service.  A few of the volunteers spoke about their projects and why they are so enjoying the experience.  They exchange skills and learn new ones while working on a subject that they are all passionate about, whether they are theatre goers or practitioners.  A particularly interesting point was that they are able to work on the collections to much greater detail than a paid member of staff would be able to do.  This really struck me as we are all pressed for time and have limited resources in terms of staff and yet here are volunteers relishing the opportunity really to blitz collections to item level.  Meeting this hardy group of volunteers showed the benefits of having long-term volunteers, who come in for a short period of time per week.  At the NT, we run short full-time volunteer opportunities for those wishing to undertake the MA in Archives.  I think we should really consider how we could benefit a slow and steady approach alongside this.  



Something else that was interesting was that the archive came under the Learning department's jurisdiction, as it does at the NT.  In Leeds, however, the Learning department were presented with a disordered archive which had not been catalogued or used at all and it fell to the Learning staff to make the most of it.  This is a different perspective to the NT where the Archive was not always part of Learning but has sat in the Directors' office and under the General Manager before finally coming to rest in its current home.  In Leeds, they are using the archive for all kinds of outreach activities and this is the focus of their approach to the cataloguing.  It is really helpful to see which departments other archives are linked to and see what sort of relationships we can forge at the NT.  I'd like our work to more linked to the Learning syllabus and, as there is enthusiasm on both sides, hopefully we'll get this happening soon!

I also went to the Coronation Street set in Manchester!
In other news:

I have made the step up to Archivist of the NT and am getting to grips with a permanent position and the thrill of being able to plan further ahead then a few months!

I have been seeing so much theatre that I shock myself.  Surprisingly, I am not getting saturated with it but I am actually getting better at being in the audience.  When I moved to London, going to the theatre was quite difficult for me, I found it hard to concentrate for that long a period without doing other things.  Now, I am finding it easier to switch off and appreciate what I am seeing for what it is.  I have had a run of pretty good shows and I am beginning to sprinkle my usual NT serving with some West End shows and fringe theatre to get quite a cross section of London’s offering.  I’m basically still in awe of anyone who can remember a whole script and deliver it in front of an audience!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The minefield that is copyright

On Thursday I took a trip down memory lane and went to Cambridge for an ARA training day in copyright.  My knowledge in copyright is probably better than the layman but certainly not of the level of a head of an archive department so I was looking forward to some clarification.

I visited St John's just after the storm

The infamous Tim Padfield took the morning training and he certainly is a font of knowledge all things rights related.  If only I could put him in my pocket and produce him at meetings with the digital and broadcast departments!  I'll definitely be buying his book though.  The copyright amendments coming into place on 1st June 2014 will make quite a difference to what we do at the NT and I'm glad I've had some guidance on them.

I'm in Fife and spent yesterday on the beautiful Isle of May
I've got quite a to do list as a result of the day ranging from checking over what is written in every contract we write to new copyright declaration forms; one for NT copyright materials and one for third party copyright materials.  Having discussed the topic with some friends in the film industry last night, I am set in my opinion that this is an absolute minefield but it is my job to understand the issues raised in my own collection and to flag those concerns to those wishing to use the collection.  I think I have some work to do to convey how serious copyright infringement could be for the NT.  One speaker yesterday described the copyright infringement case that he has experienced as an archivist for a local authority and it is not a situation in which I ever wish to be!

A razorbill up close and personal with no zoom
Churchill College was hosting us and gave us an impromptu tour of their reading room and strong rooms.  It was all very interesting, especially the glow in the dark labels they use for their important shelves for the benefit of the fire brigade in disaster recovery (all the more important following the tragic events at the Glasgow School of Art this weekend).  We also got to see Margaret Thatcher's handbag in a purpose-built archival storage and display box with drawer for handbag contents.  She used Estee Lauder.  Churchill allow digital photography in they reading room as do many of the other record offices represented yesterday and I am keen to follow up on this.  Although I obviously see the benefits, I am loathed to allow fans to photograph every piece of paper in the prompt script and costume bible of 'Frankenstein' (2011) that might have been touched by Benedict Cumberbatch.

My furry friend 
All in all, I now have my work cut out to get up to speed and make sure that the service we are providing is as copyright secure as it can feasibly be - a worthy cause I think!

Other news

I have now tried Birthday Cake M&Ms courtesy of Erin...interesting to say the least.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Communication, Communication, Communication

The last week has seen me attend four conference/meetings, all of which were very different.  I started off with the ARLIS afternoon at Whitechapel Gallery.  I had never visited this space before and the tour of the reading room, archive exhibition area and the art installation in the main gallery was very enlightening.  The use of archive material in exhibitions was particularly interesting since the archive is one of exhibitions and so when they exhibit they tend to resurrect an old exhibition with modern twists, which effect the original interpretation.

Next up was the ARA Section for Records Management, who were holding a mini-conference before their AGM.  I had been asked to speak on my ‘unusual’ approach to the archive and records management sector.  I hadn’t considered my approach to be that unusual but as I prepared my presentation, I realised that my experience has been quite unique.  This was the first professional presentation I have done and, as it was all about myself, my journey and my thoughts on the applicability of my experience to the records management sector, I decided to go for it without notes.  I wrote my Prezi, a software I much prefer to PowerPoint since it is far more flexible, accessible on the net and keeps the audience’s attention much better.  I actually enjoyed doing the presentation (a feeling I never had doing talks at school) and I hope that those listening found it helpful.  The rest of the day promised to be very full of discussions concerning the changing definition and role of the profession but I had to leave for my next meeting unfortunately...

I then attended the APAC (Association of Performing Arts Collections) afternoon, which was hosted by the Globe.  After a tour of the Globe and the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre (a beautiful theatre lit by candlelight as in the Jacobean period), we had the general meeting.  This was by far the largest APAC meeting I have attended with around 30 people.  The focus of the day was on authority files and how various arts institutions tackle the issue of name, performance and venue authorities.  This is all with a view to a study day focused on the topic and was to gain an overview of what each institution is doing about authorities so that we can pull our resources to lessen our workload and refrain from reinventing the wheel.  It was a really useful networking day and I am getting to know those in the relatively small world of performing arts information services.

The Globe

Today, I have been in sunny Southampton at the ARA South West training day on Audience Engagement, hosted at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton.  This day was focused on all aspects of audience engagement, from exhibitions to social media to fund raising.  As Laura Cotton from the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies said, every project we undertake has an aspect of outreach, be it a cataloguing project or exhibition or digitisation project.  If there is no outreach element then what is the point of us doing it?  A recurring theme today was: sell what we do.  There is little point in working away in an archive behind closed doors if you do not tell people about what you are doing and spread the knowledge - the phrase ‘knowledge facilitator’ comes back to me from my Masters at Syracuse where Dave Lankes defined librarianship as ‘knowledge facilitation’ in his book ‘The Atlas of New Librarianship’.

The Hartley Library

Another particularly helpful message from today was that exhibitions are as much about audience as they are about the material exhibited.  I have recently found out that I will be curating digital exhibits for the National on a frequent basis as the main site refurbishment draws to a close and it was helpful for me to think about audiences and at whom we are aiming our materials.  Do people really want to stop and read correspondence or do they want to feel more like they are looking and doing?

Rachel Kasbohm of the British Postal Museum and Archives spoke on their use of social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Flickr to their blog and it was useful to get her views on audience evaluation.  The project manager of the Black Plays Archive, created by the NT, uses Google Analytics to monitor response to the site and I am beginning to do so with our online catalogue and it is very helpful (if a tad addictive) to know where your visitors are coming from, what they are looking at and for how long.  I would like to up the social media presence of the archive (which is currently pretty much non existent) and it was encouraging to know that we needn’t target all new media but to focus on the few that attract the audiences we are keen to reach.

For some visual distraction - I went to Godstone Point to Point at the weekend

The Head of Public Affairs from ARA, Marie Owens, presented on the Explore your Archive campaign, which the NT did not participate in due to the stresses of the 50th but I’ll definitely look into it for next year.  Interestingly, she pointed out that outreach has many synonyms: public engagement, advocacy, friend-raising (I like this one) etc. but it is all the same thing: communication.  She told archivists not to be scared of approaching famous people who use our archives (those on ‘Who do you think you are?’ being the most obvious) and asking them if they would mind their story being used for advocacy.  It is a sad fact that celebrity sells but there is a more general message here of archivists getting out of their comfort zone.  It is all too typical that a lot of the tweets sent about Explore your Archive were sent to ourselves i.e. within the profession.  I have mentioned the ‘echo chamber’ before and I first came across it in Cambridge and we need to be careful not to evaluate a project as successful when the positive feedback figures are really coming from other information professionals!

For me, the most pertinent presentation of the day belonged to Tamara Thornhill of the Transport for London Archive.  She seems to be dealing with a similar issue to me in terms of institutional identity.  She has worked really hard to improve the visibility of the archive and its staff and has vastly improved her visitors and users.  Her key has been communication: her team has asked to attend other team meetings to explain the archive service and they erect exhibitions which always include a panel on the archive, where it is and what it holds.  This has raised their profile within the organisation and resulted in more accessible webpages for external visitors.

Our horse lost its rider...
So, really, communication is key and this was the basis of my presentation to the Section for Records Management.  Although I do not have formal training in records management, communication with each department at the National will keep the right records flowing into the archive and build upon the interest in the archive coming from the 50th.  Seeing how others have tackled identity within their institution has encouraged me to be more bold with my advocacy and more defensive of our service.

Friday, 28 March 2014

It's not all grim up north

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip north to visit the ITV archive in Leeds.  I was meeting with the Director of Archive and Information Policy, who had previously paid a visit to the NT Archive.  Although we are two very different archives, not just in scale, there are several aspects of the ITV set-up that I have found very useful in my work on policy and strategy at the National.

One thing that strikes you straightaway is how integrated the archive is with the metadata team and the rights management team.  This department in turn is then integrated within ITV very well, sitting in the same open plan office as other teams such as 'Countdown Team' and those working on documentaries.  As an off-site member of NT staff I can sympathise with the difficulties encountered when running an operation involving every department within an institution from a different location so their new location promises to be beneficial.

I have no photos of ITV so...The North

There are three main strands to this department: the metadata team is where it all begins.  They give each commissioned work a production number (same as our performance code) and then they add the metadata as they receive it.  They likened it to a skeleton that gradually has muscle added and then eventually tissue and skin to create the full record that then becomes available on ITV Player.  They work to a tight 10 day to air schedule to make sure that everything has the appropriate information before it is required online.  This works well for them but I can't see the NT ever changing their methods to the extent that the archive is involved from the start of a show but it isn't a bad model to aim for.

The rights management team deal with all of the rights clearance issues surrounding television production and feed all of that information into the show's record.  This then allows anyone within the organisation to check whether they have the rights to show a clip etc. where they want and for how long and how much they might have to pay for the privilege.  There is also a member of staff dedicated to making sure that the actors get paid for any repeats of material.

The archive on the Leeds site, which now houses all of the ITV archive, is home to 1.1 million tapes.  And it is growing.  They have a very strict policy on what they keep and for how long so as to keep only that material that is directly relevant to them and that will allow them to fulfill their institutional aims eg. the TOWIE tapes will probably be returned to their production company when ITV's copyright expires.

The North again
Obviously ITV is more commercial than us but how they have decided to go about integrating the archive with rights management is incredibly useful to consider as we are facing a larger and larger intake of material that can be requested.  Copyright clarity can be difficult when in a working theatre with designers, actors, directors, photographers, artists etc., who are all on different contracts and represented by different unions but this is something that we are working towards.

Interestingly, ITV have outsourced their stills archive since they had neither the space or expertise to manage it appropriately.  There was no consistency in where photographs were held or how they were listed and now an external company manage this for them with an annual return.  This is an example of pragmatic decision made for the benefit of the collection since it will be receiving better treatment and used more in its new setting.

 I also got to see my dog
One thing that has stuck with me from my discussions with the Director, was not to add to the mess.  We have a fair bit of mess (which archive doesn't?) and so I am making sure that, as I go forward, I am not adding to it.  Over time we can go back and fix what we then deem necessary.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Policies, policies all around

This week saw a training day in Preservation Policy with the soon-to-be-closed Preservation Advisory Centre at the British Library.  This day was focused on writing and using a policy and was attended by a small group of people in a range of institutions, most of whom had been tasked with writing or updating a preservation policy or of advising others about their preservation policy.

I have to be honest, I didn't know much about preservation policies before Wednesday nor how it differed from a strategy and where it fitted into the structure of policies of conservation, digital and disaster planning.  Then there comes the aim and collecting policy of the archive: where do they go?!

The day was aimed exactly at people like me and I am glad to be more confident in:

POLICY being a plan of action addressing the questions of WHAT needs to be preserved, WHY, for what purpose and FOR HOW LONG and...


STRATEGY addressing the questions of HOW this should be done and IN WHAT ORDER

I know that this may seem obvious to many but it really helped me to start thinking about the audience of such documents and to whom I am aiming what can sometimes be quite a jargon-fuelled piece of literature.  In my situation, policies must be clear enough for non-archivists to understand in the absence of an archivist to guide them through the document such as board members or senior management team.  Archive advocacy relies a lot on convincing those in funding positions within our institutions of the worth of our collections and our seriousness about preserving them.  We, and everyone in the institution, have a commitment and a responsibility to the material and a preservation policy helps us to convey this purpose.  

A strategy, however, it much more for the archive staff and immediate management and can be more specific about requirements and standards.  We had a look at various preservation policies with hints of strategies, which must have had different audiences since they varied in length from one to nineteen pages!  It was very helpful to read others' policies and see how easy it would be for new staff to engage with the document and, as a workplace with a high turnover of staff, this was of particular interest to me.  If I write a preservation policy and leave at the end of my contract in December then I need to make sure that the document is embedded enough in the institution's policy structure that it will be heeded by those who follow me.

A preservation policy is integrally linked to how we both develop collections (from library perspective) and how we managed the acquisition of material (from an archival perspective)

Without preservation, we cannot ensure access so we should try to link these policies to the business continuity plan of the institution.  This may well be easier said than done when we consider that archives can be a rather forgotten department but, thankfully, the National Theatre is very involved in the archive and is enthusiastic to improve policies, strategies and work flows.  I am very lucky indeed to have that sort of support behind me!

There is much else of note from the day and, needless to say, the loss of the Preservation Advisory Service will be a harsh blow to the archive profession.