We cannot write the history of Britain without recourse to the records of voluntary organisations. This will be especially true for those in the future wanting to understand social provision and policy as it operates today, given the increasingly blurred boundaries between public, private and voluntary sectors.
However, four persistent problems will make this harder than ever in the future:
- difficulties for voluntary organisations in knowing what to keep;
- a lack of resources in smaller organisations to maintain their older records properly;
- new challenges of preserving ‘born digital’ records such as emails and webpages;
- and inadequate legal protection for charity or voluntary sector archives.
The Voluntary Action History Society has a long-standing interest in charity archives. In the 1990s it conducted a survey of larger voluntary organisations that revealed a wide range of problems facing charities in preserving archives and making these available for researchers. Despite some progress since the 1990s, including the work of the DANGO project at Birmingham University, the current economic climate and shift to digital records present new problems. The VAHS blog has featured several articles on archives since it started in summer 2011, read more here. In 2011 we decided to launch a new campaign for voluntary sector archives.
In October 2011 the first meeting of a new action group was hosted by the British Library. The group brought together colleagues from national charities the Red Cross and the Children’s Society, trusts and foundations including The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and Barrow Cadbury Trust, together with academics, librarians and archivists from a range of bodies including the British Library, The National Archives, London School of Economics, British Records Association and the Charity Archives and Records Management group, (CHARM).
We believe that by linking up academic historians and researchers with archivists and leaders of voluntary sector organisations, we may be able to make a difference. In February 2012 the group agreed to form a Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives following our second action group meeting hosted by the British Library. Brenda Weeden, a retired archivist and member of the VAHS committee, became the Campaign’s Chair.
We are pleased to announce that we will mark the Launch of the Campaign with an afternoon seminar and evening reception at the House of Lords on Monday 15 Ocotober 2012. The event is sponsored by Baroness Pitkeathley and supported by The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The Launch will put forward the ‘business case’ for voluntary organisations to preserve their archives and showcase a range of good practice in charity archiving. We will also announce the Campaign aims and objectives.
The invite-only Launch is aimed at a range of people including chief executives of voluntary organisations, Trusts and Foundations; historians and researchers of the voluntary sector; archivists and journalists. The evening session will feature short talks by historian and MP Tristram Hunt, Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes Ruth Bond and Oliver Morley, Chief Executive and Keeper of The National Archives. You can see the full programme of speakers here.
More about the campaign from around the web:
Georgina Brewis, Shelf preservation (Times Higher Education letter, July 2012)
Rob Baker, Not cluttering up the basement: Exploring the potential of the archives at Blind Veterans UK (VAHS Blog post, June 2012)
Melinda Haunton, Supporting Archival Biodiversity: Welcome to the World of Private Archives (The National Archives Blog post, June 2012)
Georgina Brewis, Wanted: Champions to safeguard the archives of our charities (Guardian Voluntary Sector Network post, February 2012)
Lesley Hall, Records of Voluntary Organisations (Wellcome Library Blog, February 2012)
Georgina Brewis and Brenda Weeden, A New Campaign for Charity Archives (VAHS Blog post, November 2011)
Georgina Brewis, Voluntary sector archives: A hidden casualty of the cuts? (VAHS Blog post July 2011) and rewritten for Third Sector magazine (July 2011)
Andrew Cooper, Visiting the Rockerfeller Archive Centre (Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund post, July 2011)
Anjelica Finnegan and Georgina Brewis outline the case for charity archives at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in November 2011
If you would like to find out more about the campaign please email Dr Georgina Brewis