Staffing a multi-site service: Cumbria Archive Service (CAS)

Cumbria Archive Service (CAS) is a large local authority service operating across four sites in Cumbria:

  • Barrow Archive Centre
  • Carlisle Archive Centre
  • Kendal Archive Centre
  • Whitehaven Archive Centre

What are the main environmental and strategic drivers that affect the staffing requirement for the archive?

The key driver is the geography of the county which covers a large area but with very small population - c 500,000 spread round the outer rim of the county with the Lake District in the middle. With staff operating over four different sites, the strategy has to take into account local management and service delivery whilst operating consistent standards and policies right across the archive service.  

How do you obtain senior management support and understanding for your staffing requirements?

The archive service's immediate manager is responsible for raising matters within the local authority. There is an Archives Advisory Group composed of County Councillors and co-opted members, for example, from user groups, universities, depositors that can act as a forum for discussing staffing needs and how the archive service is developing. The relevant council cabinet member is a member of the Archives Advisory Group which is a way of gaining political support.

The archive service has rarely requested more staff and in the last decade there were two successful requests:

  • Best Value Review in early 2000s when the archive service made the case to support  cataloguing using the Logjam study to demonstrate the massive backlog. It received an extra permanent post, which is now in effect part-time
  • With the new Carlisle Record Office there was also the agreement for three new posts to operate new services and enhance engagement - an Outreach Officer, an Activities Officer (a marketing function to draw in people who would never visit an archive otherwise), and a reception-style post as the building is large. These posts were offered up as part funding (the archive service argued that it could draw more grant from the HLF by offering to appoint more staff as part of its contribution to funding). The archive service also argued that a larger building would need more staff. Having committed to replace the Carlisle Record Office, the council accepted that more staff were needed to make the most of the investment and to create a service which would engage more people

How are staffing requirements managed across a multi-site service?

Each site requires management input and an appropriate mix of professional archivists and para-professionals while the service manager and the conservation department are based in the Carlisle office and work across all four sites. 

The archive service is led by a management team comprising Head of each site, Head of Conservation, and Service Manager, which meets once a month to discuss current operations and potential external opportunities. The monthly discussions are reported back to each site with the aim of maintaining consistency across the archive service.

Being a multi-site archive service partly dissipates effort and it is difficult to develop and implement changes so a more functional approach to staffing is being considered. For example managers could take a lead right across the archive service in a particular area - for example collection management or outreach - to help the service develop more quickly and more consistently. Para-professionals would have more responsibility for running the front line services.

As frontline staff tend to identify with the branch where they work rather than the archive service as a whole and the management team tend to identify with both, it is necessary to invest time and effort in reminding staff that they are part of a bigger service. The success of this is partly due to the managers on site and their effectiveness at communicating the 'Vision of the Service'. 

In-house training allows para-professionals to take on more skills, which gives them the opportunity to travel to another site and meet other colleagues, which is seen as vital. However it is difficult to secure the resources to support such training and facilitate the movement of staff across sites.

If you have faced funding cuts how have you accommodated these into the staffing needs of the service?

Cumbria County Council has faced reductions in funding but it has tried to protect frontline services. Therefore the main impact on the archive service has been some unfilled vacancies although any vacancies vital to delivering frontline services have been filled. Reducing staffing that is geographically dispersed has a disproportionate effect on front line services. The archive service is planning to develop more flexible roles to support sustainability should there be further cuts to funding.

What additional skills do you bring in or buy in and under what circumstances?

The archive service is fairly self-sufficient, as it has always operated in a culture with limited resources. However where additional skills are needed:  

  • some skills such as fundraising have been self-taught by the staff  
  • the archive service draws on administrative support from the council; for example the council's finance team advises on budget management while Human Resources helps with recruitment and personnel 
  • the archive service seeks to learn from other council services, for example, it works closely with the libraries on customer care and community engagement
  • very occasionally the archive service buys in consultancy, for example, for the Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a new building in Carlisle, it used consultants in areas such as community consultation and audience development planning

Do you rely on any non-permanent posts paid or unpaid?

The archive service has nearly 100 volunteers who are seen as supporting rather than replacing the staff. The volunteers are very dependent on staff leadership and training but they undertake work which could not otherwise take place, such as repackaging, preservation, simple conservation, cataloguing, indexing, transcription. The archive service has also has an apprentice, from a Cumbria County Council initiative, who works with researchers.

CAS has also discussed employing interns for conservation work although this proved difficult as the County Council was aiming to decrease staffing due to cuts in funding. 

Are there any underlying trends or changes in the archive service's staffing requirements?

  • The archive service is keen to undertake far more outreach activity. The recently appointed outreach officer in Carlisle has already had an impact engaging with new audiences, especially schools. The archive service would like to develop such capacity on all the sites as it makes a great difference in the number and profile of people participating in the archive service. This may well be achieved through project funding  
  • Increasing the number of conservation staff which has always been under-resourced area is seen as desirable although it is very cost effective having one studio servicing four sites
  • Developing the capacity to undertake mass digitisation of material as demand for services moves online, whether in-house or through a partnership, for example, with Ancestry

How is staff performance rewarded in non-financial terms?

Performance is rewarded through staff management - for example saying thank you and acknowledging what people have done. The archive service uses appraisals and one-to-one meetings to encourage people and thank them. There is also the 'Quarterly Report' where staff can log what they are working on and this has proved a useful way of sharing expertise, highlighting successful working, and introducing new ideas. CAS tries to operate in a 'family' manner, retaining personal contact across the archive service, which is dependent on good managers.

How are skills requirements assessed and fulfilled?

Skill requirements are mainly identified through the appraisal system. However, the archive service wants to offer para-professionals more responsibility and it has also drawn up competencies requirements to identify training for these staff by creating a map of skills and knowledge for particular posts. It is now trying to develop in-house training to take advantage of the huge amount of staff knowledge based on this. 

ARA Registration and PACR Accreditation are also encouraged to maintain skills with some of the more experienced staff acting as mentors for the ARA Registration Scheme.

What has the archive service learned about staffing?

  • Building good personal relationships. The service manager visits all the sites and gets to know all the staff personally. When implementing change, if staff know and trust the manager it is easier to persuade staff to accept change
  • Have very clear and high standards that you expect people to work to. CAS has a reputation for a friendly, helpful public service and new staff members adopt this culture

Find out more about Cumbria Archive Service