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.