Our coronavirus response and guidance

We are working to ensure that we can still provide at least a minimal service and point of contact for the archive sector. You can find statements relating to Archive Service Accreditation, Places of deposit, maintaining collection safety and the Archives Revealed/Collaborate and Innovate funding programmes below.

Collaborating with the Archives and Records Association (ARA)

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are working together with the Archives and Records Association (ARA) to support the record-keeping sector in as many ways as possible. As part of our annual grant to the ARA, we have provided additional funding to help the ARA set up a Covid-19 support hub. Both partners are also helping to fund the creation and launch of the History Begins at Home project. Read the full statement about this collaboration.

Archive Service Accreditation

The Archive Service Accreditation partners and governing committee recognise that the current circumstances are exceptional, and want to reassure all award holders that reduced service due to the pandemic will not affect Accreditation status. The programme remains open for applications and scheduled reviews where services are in a position to submit these. For any enquiries, please get in touch via accreditation@nationalarchives.gov.uk

Archives Revealed/Collaborate and Innovate

We understand that many projects funded as part of Archives Revealed or Collaborate and Innovate may be disrupted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, either by staff absences or temporary closure of archive services. We want to be as helpful as possible during this period of disruption. Therefore – if you are experiencing disruption to ongoing projects we would like to reassure you that we will be as flexible as possible. Please let us know if you need to extend your project completion date, delay the start of your project, or delay reporting on project progress for a period of time.

We have also extended the application deadlines of both Archives Revealed and Collaborate and Innovate. For the latest deadlines, please visit each funding stream’s respective webpages. For any enquiries, please contact us at archivesrevealed@nationalarchives.gov.uk or candi@nationalarchives.gov.uk

Maintaining the safety and security of collections

The preservation of unique archive collections remains an important task, and we are aware of the impressive steps being taken by organisations and their staff to ensure that collections continue to be safe and secure during the coronavirus outbreak.

There are a number of precautions that can be taken:

  • regular on-site checks should be maintained as far as possible if there is no continuous presence at the site. This should include outstores and digital storage if this is not hosted remotely. Archive services should, nevertheless, be mindful of government guidelines on travel, using public transport and essential work
  • establish links and working arrangements with site security and facilities management teams, as well as IT providers where necessary
  • ensure alarms are functioning and monitored (smoke/fire, intruder, leak), with appropriate response procedures. Continue to check that detection and alarm systems are working, remain connected with the right agency and elicit a response when necessary
  • monitor the performance of Building Management Systems remotely if possible
  • update the emergency response plan
  • raise awareness within the parent organisation of risks and mitigation
  • maintain contact with third party storage providers and assess the suitability of their procedures, including security and business continuity arrangements. Providers should also inform archive services of any changes in circumstances

We recognise that there may be limits on the ability of archive services and their staff to undertake these precautionary measures and suggest that other means of ensuring security are explored. For example, establishing whether the organisation’s provider of security services can make periodic checks on an unattended building, and informing the local police force if the archive facility has been locked and is unattended, passing on key-holder contact details. Restrictions may change over time and measures can be reviewed.

In this context, The National Archives does not support the removal of records from dedicated archive facilities for the purposes of homeworking.  The principal purpose of an archive service is to preserve and protect the integrity of collections and maintain an unbroken custodial history in the public interest. There are numerous risks associated with the removal of records to unsuitable locations. In addition to the issue of security, risks include loss or damage due to fire, flood, pests, mis-handling, dissociation and environmental conditions. There are also implications for the security of sensitive information, and removal may be contrary to deposit or similar agreements, grant conditions and insurance provision.

Public records and documents subject to Manorial and Tithe Rules should not be removed from approved places of deposit without the approval of The National Archives or the Historical Manuscripts Commission Secretary.

Digital collections

Automated checks on the integrity of digital records should continue in order to offer oversight of collections’ security and viability. This may be an opportunity to consider your policies and practice around digital collections, both in terms of remote access to digitised and born-digital files and also whether processes around digital files (e.g. sales, licensing, accessioning) could benefit from further automation. You may wish to experiment with new tools and approaches and make thoughtful and considered decisions about expanding your social media activity and shifting how you explain and explore collections into online spaces, either through your existing channels or new ones.

Archive services planning to place staff on furlough

The parent organisations of archive services may be considering placing professional staff on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Protection Scheme.  We recommend that attention is given to a number of risks and factors when preparing for the furlough option as the usual complement of archive staff will no longer be available.  These factors include:

  • the on-going provision made for the security and preservation of collections during the furlough period
  • enabling archive staff to contribute to the preparation of temporary arrangements before furloughing
  • the continued availability of other relevant professional staff (such as Conservators) for ongoing oversight of collection care
  • maintaining the organisation’s capacity for emergency response and disaster recovery
  • the extent to which collection information can continue to be accessed online
  • the provision within the organisation for responding to enquiries made under information legislation

We would also suggest that consideration is given to the welfare of staff on furlough and how they could be recalled in the event of an emergency affecting the collections.  Organisations should also consider setting up automated responses that re-direct enquirers to online resources and information about the archive service’s current situation.

If an archive service, and in particular a Place of Deposit, is placing professional staff on furlough we would be grateful if they could provide Archives Sector Development with an appropriate point of contact for the interim arrangements.

Places of deposit

Places of deposit for public records are appointed to hold specific record classes in agreement with their parent authority under Section 4 (1) of the Public Records Act (1958). We recognise that places of deposit may need to close or reduce services for a period of time as a result of public health guidance or an individual organisation’s own risk management decisions. We wish to reassure archive services that this will not affect appointment as a place of deposit.  Our concern is for the well-being of staff and users, and we would also ask that attention is given to ensuring the safety and security of collections during a period of closure.  We would be grateful if places of deposit could inform us of a planned closure or amendments to operations in advance if this is possible, and we aim to maintain contact with archive services and provide advice as usual. For any enquiries, please contact us at asd@nationalarchives.gov.uk

Transfer of paper records

The transfer of paper records to The National Archives has been suspended until further notice.  Transferring bodies are not expected to send deposits to archives until this situation changes, and places of deposit are not expected to accept them.

Temporary return of public records

Access can be provided for urgent requests if it is safe to do so.  However, we recognise that it may not be possible to meet the requirement of s.4(6) of the Public Records Act to return records temporarily to a transferring body. If a place of deposit experiences difficulty with a request, this should be brought to the attention of The National Archives and an attempt will be made to find a resolution.

Loans of public records

Places of deposit that have records on loan with other institutions for purposes such as an exhibition or in support of statutory inquiries should maintain contact with the borrowing institution. Lenders should seek assurances on security measures and environmental conditions, and ask for information about any actions taken. Ideally, in the case of loans for exhibition, records should be de-installed and placed in secure storage. If this is not possible documents can be left in display cabinets, provided that this is secure and light levels are managed.  Retrieval should not be attempted until both institutions are fully operational and appropriate transport is available; however, arrangements for the return of records can be planned and loan agreements amended.

Treatment of paper records

The National Archives is not advising transferring bodies to undertake special treatment of records, such as deep-cleaning prior to transfer.  Records held on deposit can continue to be managed in the usual way. However, we will consider any specific treatment concerns raised by places of deposit.

Coronavirus updates for government departments

The National Archives has produced advice and guidance for government departments, arms-length bodies other organisations covered by the Public Records Act. Taking the form of Frequently Asked Questions, this advice and guidance will be kept up to date and may be of interest to places of deposit and other archives.