Diversity Allies

Collection Development Policies and Representation

Zoe van Well, Archivist at Worcestershire County Council, introduce the work by ARA’s Diversity Allies on Collection Development Policies and Representation.

Diversity and inclusion can mean different things to individuals so it’s worth remembering a breadth of diversity and inclusion is represented in the protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010 and we can have these in mind as a matter of course when working to towards change.

• age
• gender reassignment
• being married or in a civil partnership
• being pregnant or on maternity leave
• disability
• race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
• religion or belief
• sex
• sexual orientation

If I was pressed on what personally motivated me to work with Diversity and Inclusion Allies it would simply be because it is the right thing to do. Relationships with others including trusted friends who are a different race to me and my experience of people with disabilities/learning styles/characteristics including dyslexia and Asperger’s have been of influence too. I also feel that positive representation of women today and in history is still crucial.

Another type of inclusion I feel is important is the purpose of using archives, as much for academic or historical research as for creative purposes. In addition to using archives to increase wellbeing and mental health, perhaps they are undersold in terms of the inspiration they provide for artists and craftsmen. Artists take information (about an event, experience or a process and compare it to another piece of information) to create something new. Comparing historical experiences and processes, evidenced in records, to what is happening currently will trigger massive inspiration. Just last week a researcher in Worcestershire Archives found evidence of lime trees in a local wood being used to make bast or bastern rope which would no doubt inspire local textile artists and craftsmen. It would also inspire children and young people to consider how they could re-ignite this local process thus regenerating skills. Pie in the sky? Possibly, but wellbeing, creating jobs skills & sourcing locally are incredibly important issues today.

Broadly speaking, by representing and including everyone in archive service provision across collections and user services, and the workforce we can help individuals to feel empowered to use archives and reinforce people’s feeling of value within society. Even individuals who have not used original archives directly can benefit. For instance, if a piece of work about an underrepresented group such as Gypsy Travellers is created (e.g. a blog, finding aid, guide, exhibition, oral history project) the individuals who have experienced it may go on to value the underrepresented group differently. It can also create better cohesion between communities.

From experience within my own team, staff support diversity and inclusion in archives and their work to encourage this has spanned decades. Efforts are evident, such as our presence at Worcestershire Pride Festival in 2018, our Cultural Diversity resources available in our open access area, creative projects lead by our Outreach Team featuring newcomers to the city and the creation of women’s oral history focusing on WWII. I am incredibly glad to be part of my team.

Colour image of a large artwork. Two half faces are depicted, these have been put together to create a single face. Each face is comprised of lots of smaller tiled images.
Artwork from Moving to the City Exhibition by commissioned artist Anand Chhabra, with funding from Arts Council England.

In addition to new projects, re-packaging and promoting work already done might reach new audiences and generations. Whether that be making resources available online, in other languages/formats and finding a way to give them more presence within the service e.g. on the website or on more prominent display in the search room, re-advertising them in the community, to new contacts or on social media. Doing this may feel more manageable where there is a lack of resources in the service and may make an impact in terms of people’s perceptions of the service, encouraging more diverse users and deposits.

Finding resources including time is not easy, so at Worcestershire Archives Service we have conducted a survey to find out where we should direct our resources. We have sought to identify Worcestershire communities who want better representation and find out what changes they want us to make. Where possible we hope to work with these communities to ensure they are better presented in our archives.

We have had feedback covering various types of diversity and inclusion and we’ve had requests for more information and to work with us as ‘champions’. In the survey we called for deposits but also asked whether information was required on keeping community archives or creating oral histories since we can at least point to fantastic resources that exist already online. We acknowledged that whilst we would like items to be deposited at Worcestershire Archives, sufficient trust in us may not exist and communities/families may prefer to keep their own records, at least for the foreseeable future. In the survey question around oral history we acknowledged some communities don’t traditionally keep written records.

Black and white capture of newspaper containing birth, death and marriage notices.
Featured in Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service Cultural Diversity pack: An obituary paying tribute to Thomas Otempora, a much-valued Black servant, dated 1781. The article featured in Berrows newspaper. Document ref: x989.9:695.

One thing that has been incredibly helpful and I believe will be useful in the long term is new inclusion network which was instigated by Black History Month celebrations. The group now has representatives covering the Housing Association, Museum Services, Eastern European society, NHS, student union, Theatre, City Council and members of the public. It allows us to share ideas and tie events/projects together where they are aimed at the same underrepresented groups.

In terms of Collections Development Policies (CDP). The National Archives has good guidance for writing these, but it would be interesting to learn from other practices within the heritage sector or other sectors too. From my point of view the CDP is heavily dependent on the plan that accompanies it which sets out what will be done and when and therefore requires commitment. In turn it is heavily linked to skills including outreach, engagement & creating oral history. It is also reliant on other policies/plans including digital preservation, since there needs to a system in place to look after digital records deposited. The CD Plan can ensure commitment to increasing diversity inclusion and make it easier to justify dedication of resources. Broader than this there is the overall business plan for a service and the business plan of the parent organisation if there is one. If this does not support diversity and inclusion it may unfortunately be much tougher for an archive service to justify dedicated resources, I feel.

As part of my Diversity and Inclusion Allies work, I would love to see great examples of Collection Development Policies/Strategies or similar. Please forward them to zvanwell @ worcestershire.gov.uk with your thoughts for me to add to the resources the Allies are putting together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *