Working Collaboratively with Archaeological Archives

Recently Wessex sent a small team of archivists (Lorraine Mepham, Moira Taylor, and Jennifer Whitby) to a conference held in Birmingham focusing on collaboration within the work of archaeological archives. The conference was hosted by the Archaeological Archives Special Interest Group of the CIfA. The day was split into three sessions. 

The first session looked at collaboration between archivists and community projects, and between archaeological archives and researchers. The session highlighted the need to discuss archives from the start of a project in order to plan deposition, and the need to implement best practices to ensure that the deposited archives are accessible to future researchers.

The second session looked at the collaboration in the creation of digital archives. The first speaker talked of the lack of awareness in data management; the second of pottery specialists not speaking the same analytical descriptive language to enable comparison; and the third of trying to enable commercial units in Scotland to deposit their digital archive backlogs. In these case studies these problems were resolved through collaboration; by the archive teams working to inform, train and demonstrate best practices, and by specialists working together to create the Worcestershire Ceramic Online Database which is a requirement for the ceramic specialists working in the county. 

The final session dealt with retention and selection in response to the ever-growing crisis of storage space. The findings from the ‘Seeing the Light of Day’ Project carried out in the South West, highlighted a huge backlog of material due to be deposited (a large part of it from WA!), but explored some possible costing models for long-term storage. Another paper tested the received wisdom that the rationalisation of backlog archives in museums could create future storage space. In fact the project, funded by Historic England, found that the application of selection and retention policies would not be cost-effective for backlog archives, although undoubtedly some space could be created by repackaging. However, two rationalisation projects undertaken for Gloucester Museum successfully reduced their pre-PPG16 archives and, more specifically, their collection of Roman ceramic building material, resulting in a far more accessible collection which has already enabled further analysis.

Overall the day was fascinating and gratifying. It was good to know that the difficulties the WA archive team faces are universal and that steps are being taken to resolve these issues. It also showed the strength of WA’s archive team, who have every intention on following through the theme of collaboration to help see projects through to deposition.

By Jennifer Whitby, Archives Technician