It is a fact that the UK and Ireland archives and records sector is not a diverse one. We can see this in archive collections that too often have centred a white, Eurocentric and elite version of history to the exclusion of many other voices. We can see this in the archives and records workforce in which a low ethnic diversity rate, a significant gender pay gap and an aging workforce were conditions identified by a 2016 ARA/CILLIP report.1 And we can see this in the archives user base where lack of high levels of qualification or social and financial resources are often barriers to ease of use in archives.
The ARA as an organisation has itself suffered from issues relating to diversity and inclusion. In particular, comments made in a public space in 2019 by a member of ARA staff sparked debate and highlighted wider issues we have across our organisation and our sector in terms of diversity and inclusion. As a direct response, the ‘ARA Diversity and Inclusion Allies’ group was formed in 2020.
The ARA Diversity and Inclusion Allies are a group of around 30 volunteers who organise around the principles of improving diversity and inclusion across the ARA and in the wider archives sector, broadly in the areas of collections, workforce and users. The group’s stated purpose is to “work with the ARA Board to promote best practice in relation to diversity and inclusion across the archive and record keeping sector, forging new paths for positive change”.2
The group also has a defined set of goals, these are:
- To help drive the highest professional and ethical standards in relation to diversity and inclusion, within the ARA and across the wider sector.
- To identify, develop and promote professional training and skills relating to diversity and inclusion.
- To provide a named point of contact for every ARA Nation and Region to ensure lines of communication remain open.
- Establish working groups to focus on a range of specific issues relating to Diversity and Inclusion
Some of these aims are broad and open around driving forward standards, others are quite specific such as the creation of working groups. These working groups are:
- Approaching Marginalised Communities
- Awareness Campaigns
- Collecting Policies and Collection Representation
- Decolonising Catalogues
- Course and Training Review
- External Resource Compilation
In addition, each ARA geographical Nation and Region (London, West Midlands, Scotland etc) has at least one Diversity Ally assigned to it as a point of contact. These points of contact are as much about listening to the sector and stakeholder communities’ concerns and needs as they are about disseminating advice and outputs. We encourage all those who care about fostering a diverse and inclusive sector to meet their rep, get in touch and to be involved in the Allies’ discussions.
Work completed by the Diversity Allies so far has included the ongoing review of unconscious bias and ‘cultural diversity competency’ for archivists online training courses, the collation of reference resources, including a workforce survey and gap analysis and outreach events introducing the allies by the national and regional reps at local meetings. We hope that the Diversity and Inclusion Allies in time will have online presence and that outputs will be freely distributed as progress is made. We will also be launching an information flyer about the group in the near future that sets out how to be involved and how to get in touch.
Finally, we’re really grateful to ‘Explore Your Archive’ for giving us this monthly blog platform that will enable us to communicate what we are doing. Each month we hope to elaborate further on our activities and provide more detail on this brief introduction. Please do continue to follow the blog, and if you would like more information about the Allies you can contact Karyn Williamson from the ARA board firstname.lastname@example.org .
1 A Study of the UK Information Workforce’, Edinburgh Napier University, 2016
2 ARA Diversity and Inclusion Allies Terms of Reference