Working to develop diverse archive collections

Earlier in the year we welcomed representatives from the Greater Manchester Archives and Local Studies Partnership (GMALSP) group to Manchester Central Library. In a 2-hour session with staff from the public archives sector, we discussed ways to increase engagement and collecting with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities across the city region, to ensure that public records are more representative of current populations.

Some participants shared substantial information about their local communities and the projects they have developed. Others were new to this work, or expressed frustrations with limitations (mainly around staffing or inconsistent relationships with groups) that have thus prevented any meaningful development.

Together, we drew up a list of the strengths we can offer to community partners:

  • Extensive knowledge of existing collections and how they might relate to a project theme or group
  • Specialist archiving skills, to assess the significance of potential archive material and to advise on its conservation, and care, as well as how it might be organised, stored and shared
  • Expertise on aspects of data protection, copyright and safeguarding
  • Space for groups to meet, or to store their collections
  • Local knowledge – to help people find contacts, make connections, get a better understanding of the area and reach a wider audience
  • A network of other heritage, education, community and volunteer contacts that might be able to offer valuable support
  • A shared interest and enthusiasm for heritage
Thinking of ways to support project-based collecting

In groups, participants also spent time considering scenarios based on ‘live’ projects supported by the AIUET, identifying possible barriers and strategies for their removal. These included:

  • Making time to meet people and listen to their ideas. (Some ideas can take years to become a project and even longer to yield archive material).
  • Showing people what’s in an archive and explaining how it is maintained
  • Using existing archives to make connections, have conversations and increase understanding of what an archive can be
  • Establishing a steering group or partnership and agreeing roles, responsibilities and outputs
  • Meeting early to plan activities and budgets before submitting a funding application
  • Setting priorities and being realistic about the availability of time, staff and resources
  • Keeping things simple, so a project is manageable (you can always run subsequent projects to collect additional material, if you enjoy this one)
  • Building in time and costs, so the group can be involved in the archiving process

We then explored archives from the AIUET’s collections, helping people to think about the type of material they might begin to collect. Items included recent contributions from Cheetham Hill Advice Centre (CHAC), Voices of Kosovo in Manchester, the Zimbabwe Women’s Organisation (ZIWO), plus oral history and personal items from the individual donor, Yvonne Bakht.

We ended the session by agreeing to do more joined up work in our sector; attending BAME heritage events, sharing information and contacts and creating links to signpost people from one collection or group to another. The GMALSP group are also working on a joint strategy to prioritise contemporary collecting with BAME communities, going forward.

Thank you to everyone from the Greater Libraries teams who joined us, including Archives+, Tameside, Stockport, Trafford, Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, and Salford.