Collections Management at West Yorkshire Archive Services (WYAS)

West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) is a large local authority service with five local branches in Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, and Wakefield. It is part of West Yorkshire Joint Services (WYJS), provided by a Joint Committee of Councillors from the five District Councils within West Yorkshire (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield) who fund several joint services including Trading Standards, Archaeology, and WYAS.

What is your strategy for collections management?

The archive service has a three year cataloguing strategy, currently covering 2011-14, which is agreed by the Archives, Archaeology and Trading Standards Sub-Committee. It defines what is good cataloguing and why it is important.

It has nine main streams of work:

  • Large cataloguing team projects. The strategy covers three years which are split into six monthly periods to which are allocated cataloguing projects from each district covering substantial collections that the branch archive office staff are unable to deal with. The cataloguing team visits the appropriate office for six months to catalogue the identified collection
  • Extra cataloguing support which is provided to branch archive offices for activities such as accessioning
  • Collections week is twice a year and is when the archive service closes to the public. The work focuses on local authority material
  • Applying for external funding to resource collections management projects
  • Branch office staff are expected to catalogue collections under 0.02 cubic metres
  • Undertaking surveys and box listing rather than a detailed cataloguing of collections. This is changing slightly with a shift to optical character recognition (OCR) of old, paper lists. The scanned lists are converted to Excel, checked and put into CALM. This is a quick way of getting records into CALM and improves access to collections
  • Archivists are involved in specific projects relating to collections work. The idea is to introduce coherence across the service for related collections for example school records. However, demands on staff time have reduced the amount of time WYAS can devote to this area
  • WYAS is now promoting the availability of its catalogues and publicises any newly catalogued material through press releases, twitter and blogs
  • Digital collections have been added to cataloguing strategy. WYAS has one dedicated qualified archivist with digital archiving as their area of responsibility. The biggest issues around digital collections are developing the required level of technical expertise and funding the means to collect and store digital collections

How do you obtain senior management support and understanding for collections management work?

WYAS sits within the Heritage division of West Yorkshire Joint Services and is represented at divisional management level by the Head of Heritage. 

The archive service is well-represented with WYJS, but tends to be considered a smaller partner in a joint service that has traditionally been focused towards Trading Standards. It can be difficult working with officers in the five separate councils who do not always understand the role of WYAS or that WYAS is in fact a part of their services. Promoting collections is a means of raising the profile of the joint service with the individual councils and stressing to stakeholders that collections management is at the core of providing an archive service.  

The archive service considers digital preservation to be the hardest area to advocate for, especially as there is a cost involved.

Are there any underlying trends in your collections management work?

  • WYAS is flexible and pragmatic about collections management. It has become more discerning over selection and appraisal and the service is explicit in its collection priorities - the written heritage of West Yorkshire and the archive service is now considering de-accessioning material where appropriate
  • The archive service is becoming increasingly active in looking for external funding opportunities and has found that local groups are often interested in funding small-scale projects. For example Bradford Family History Society  has funded the digitisation of Bradford tithe maps with a view to making them available online
  • Volunteers are being used more and more to carry out collections management work that the archive service would otherwise not be able to undertake
  • Use of optical character recognition (OCR) has rapidly become a major area of work because it is such an effective and efficient method of putting typed lists onto the CALM cataloguing system 

How does WYAS organise collections management?

  • The five branch offices are allocated an equal amount of resource from the central collections team comprising two cataloguers who are responsible for the management of larger collections. One of the two cataloguers also takes responsibility for CALM and some digital collections work while the other cataloguer undertakes a small amount of promotional work for the collections and liaises with potential depositors. By having a small collections team WYAS are managing to catalogue larger collections, which would take years to complete otherwise
  • Management of smaller collections is the responsibility of the archivist at each branch office
  • As a local authority funded archive service, cataloguing work tends to focus on local authority material
  • WYAS has also amended procedures to speed up collections management, for example, simpler accessioning procedures.WYAS also seeks to involve stakeholders in the collections management process, particularly recruiting volunteers from local history and family history groups so they have a vested interest in these collections

What benefits does the collections management work deliver to the archive service and its stakeholders?

  • Making more collections accessible to a wider audience through cataloguing or listing and document images available online
  • Publicity surrounding the work in collections management has generated more interest in the online catalogue and website material 
  • Through cataloguing work staff have gained a better knowledge of the holdings
  • Seeking more user feedback to inform on its collections management work and develop services that are more relevant to the public 

What are the collection management issues for WYAS?

  • Dealing with a backlog of uncatalogued material
  • Trying to make information available quickly online and via CALM whilst maintaining standards and quality of information 
  • Difficulty in communicating the importance of collections management
  • Repackaging collections where necessary

How has collection management impacted on other archive activity?

Publicity surrounding collections has generated more enquiries and local press, radio and occasionally TV seem to respond positively to press releases about collections work.

How would WYAS like to develop collections management in the future?

WYAS is keen to find new approaches to managing collections, maintaining a service for the traditional users as well as encouraging alternative and imaginative ways of using collections to reach new audiences as, both in person and online. Partnership working may be a means to achieving new approaches to collections management.

What are the three fundamental learning points you would pass on to other archives?

  • Your approach should be flexible and pragmatic. Do not be afraid to change how you do things and be open to alternative methods such as the OCR scanning of lists rather than expecting to produce a full catalogue
  • Re-examine how you do things. Procedures that once were rational may no longer be appropriate
  • Be forward and get yourself out into the public domain, take advantage of the media and embrace new technologies

Find out more about West Yorkshire Joint Archive Service