Disaster planning has been covered in Section 5. Storage above, but a number of other factors can affect the long-term viability of an organisation and place at risk the collections in its care. Advance planning can help to mitigate at least some of these risks.
Many collections are housed in premises that do not belong to the organisation that cares for them, and there is little or no security of tenure. For instance a museum site could be rented or parts of the collection could be housed in individuals’ homes or garages. Think about what would happen if you have to move your collection unexpectedly at some point in the future, because the building will no longer available. This could also apply if your building has issues which cannot easily be remedied, such as structural problems or asbestos.
Particularly think about future planning if a collection is stored at someone’s home. It may be a private collection of papers relating to an individual and their work, or it could be a collection accumulated by an enthusiast. What will happen if they pass away suddenly or become incapacitated? Have arrangements been made for the safe transfer of the collection elsewhere? Has a will been made, bequeathing the collection? Do other members of the family know who to contact? Has the collection been clearly labelled to make clear its significance and what should ultimately happen to it? Don’t risk the collection being sold or thrown away because no-one knew what to do with it at a stressful time.
At a fundamental level, does your organisation actually know what records it owns and where they are stored? Even a basic audit or survey of uncatalogued material would help to address this issue.
Personnel and Knowledge Transfer
If your organisation is small and volunteer-led, what will happen if key trustees, staff, or volunteers leave, and replacements cannot be found? What arrangements are there for the transfer of information and knowledge between individuals? Significant amounts of important information about collections, their location and potential use can be stored in people’s heads if they have worked with the collections for many years. While they are with you it might never get written down because it is not a priority, but at some point they will inevitably leave you, and what will happen then?
Ideally, key information should be recorded in the form of catalogues, accession registers, procedures manuals, location lists, and policies. Organisations with, or working towards Museum or Archive Service Accreditation should have such documents, but what about your organisation?
If a long-standing member of staff or volunteer is about to leave, or if you are in contact with former staff and volunteers, think about creating an audio recording of their memories, knowledge and thoughts – walk them around the building and collections and let them talk freely, but also ask specific questions. A huge amount of information can be captured in this way that might never be written down, such as the background reasons why something has always been done in a certain way, peculiarities and highlights of specific collections they have worked with closely, or what files on the computer are most significant and where they can be found.
Think about the composition of your governing body if you are a formally constituted business, charity or trust. Do you need to look for younger members to ensure continuity? They may bring along specific skills and contacts, such as IT and fundraising. Some advice on managing and governing archives can be found at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/advice-and-guidance/running-your-organisation/managing-and-governing/ .
Income generation is crucial to the survival of small organisations, whether to pay for ongoing utilities, rent and supplies, to fund maintenance work on buildings or enable new-builds. A wide range of guidance on Fundraising for the Archives sector can be found at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/finding-funding/how-to-fundraise/ and https://nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/projects-and-programmes/fundraising-for-archives/ .
Assessing the environmental impact of your building and operations can not only help you meet organisational commitments to sustainability, but can also reduce running costs and increase efficiency. For some useful links on this topic, please see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/advice-and-guidance/running-your-organisation/assessing-environmental-impact/ .
Worst Case Scenarios
Has thought been given to the future of the collections if your organisation needs to be wound up, either through lack of premises, money problems, or lack of people to carry on day-to-day operations? If you are attached to a company, what if it is going out of business, or has been taken over by another company which has no commitment to heritage? Will the collections be regarded as a financial asset to be sold to the highest bidder, or a liability to be disposed of as quickly as possible to free up the premises? Ideally, a suitable alternative home for the collection should be identified as soon as possible. Your Sector Development Manager or Museums Development Officer should be able to help with identifying a suitable new home.
For pressing issues relating to the records of businesses under threat of liquidation, the Crisis Management Team should be alerted, see https://managingbusinessarchives.co.uk/getting-started/business-archives-risk/crisis-management-team/ for their remit and key contacts.
This guidance links to Sections 1.2 (Governance and Management Structures), 1.3 (Forward Planning), 1.4 (Resources: Spaces and storage), 1.5 (Resources: Finance), and 1.6 (Resources: Workforce) of the Archive Service Accreditation Standard.