University of Salford Archives and Special Collections
University of Salford Archives and Special Collections contains material relating to the history of the university, from its foundations in 1896 to the present day. It also holds collections relating to brass bands, canals, railways, businesses, the Duke of Bridgewater, and the author Walter Greenwood, among others. The archive has one staff member, an archivist, who is part of the University Library and reports to the Head of Learning and Research Support.
While they engage external audiences and some internal users, the collections do not currently have significant use in the university’s teaching and research. Being part of a university with a heavy teaching and student focus means that the strategic development of the archives has not been a high priority. There have been discussions within the University Library on how the archive should develop their collections to better serve the subjects and courses offered by the institution, and also how it might widen its engagement and impact. A Collections Development Strategy was created in 2015, but since then there have been changes in personnel, including a period when the archivist post was vacant, so the plans have yet to gain real momentum.
It is clear to colleagues in the library and archive service that there are real benefits for students and researchers who engage with archival collections, but this is not well understood or appreciated by students and colleagues. However, in order to increase and energise the wider internal use of the collections, the archivist recognised that this process needed to start by strengthening the sense of their purpose and value within the library.
What did they do?
The Library Leadership Team agreed to take part in a workshop with the archivist to work up a vision for the archive which would help to raise its profile within the wider university. The archivist wanted the team to have ownership of the new vision and to refresh their awareness and understanding of the archive. They also invited the curators from the University Art Collection to the workshop as they already had a strong vision and are good at advocacy within the university. The archivist also wanted to make sure that the new vision would enrich the connection between the art collection and the archive, which have a good history of partnership working.
The workshop was facilitated by the archivist and focused on what their audiences (e.g., students, academics, external users) and stakeholders want or need from the archive. The format was an open brainstorm followed by a practical activity focused on imagining interactions between different stakeholders. Several themes and concepts emerged which were used to develop a vision statement. The draft statement has been tested with some key stakeholders, re-drafted and is now ready for wider consultation. The vision statement will be used to spark fresh dialogue around the purpose and potential of the archives and to start informing collecting priorities.
What advocacy benefits were there?
- The workshop helped to refresh the Library Leadership Team’s knowledge and awareness of what the archive does and its potential, providing a solid foundation for future advocacy work.
- The archive now has a clear vision that it can use to articulate the contribution it makes to the university.
- The Library Leadership Team created the vision and as a result are more likely to act as advocates for it within the university and externally.
- The archive has developed stronger links with the University Art Collection.
- Understand the priorities of your institution and be realistic about how your archive service fits in. This will help to shape your ambitions for advocacy, and make sure you focus on a purpose that aligns with your institution’s.
- Prioritise – the archivist is the only member of archives staff, but feels it is important to prioritise strategic planning and advocacy. However, this can mean putting other things on hold.
- Take the moment when it arrives – the archivist used the discussions over collections development as a way of approaching the Library Leadership Team about creating a vision and delivering the workshop.
- Be brave – the archivist was not sure whether the Library Leadership Team would engage with the workshop, but it has been a positive experience.
- Do it early – the archivist regrets not doing something like this earlier with the Library Leadership Team. Don’t wait for strategic direction from senior leaders whose attention is inevitably drawn in multiple directions. As an archivist, you know the value of your collection better than anyone and are best placed to advocate for it, so take the initiative.