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Making the most of your budget to aid sustainability
Gloucestershire Archives, delivering an archive service for Gloucestershire County Council and South Gloucestershire Council
2007/8 onwards - Five year plan.
In 2007/8 the management team at Gloucestershire Archives looked at how future global, national and local trends were likely to impact on the service.
As a result they concluded that some activities would need adjusting, dropping or funding differently, and that partners and volunteers should help deliver some of the services. There was also a new requirement to build capability and capacity to deal with born digital records - both with the councils and from wider Gloucestershire communities to avoid a less relevant future as a 'museum of paper'. All of this would be set against a much more challenging financial climate. Since the majority of funds came from the council tax, the archive service needed to demonstrate that it was using the money wisely, in accordance with the priorities of Gloucestershire County Council and South Gloucestershire Council.
Checklist of areas examined:
"Share the burden - empower staff" The need to free up time and money to address new areas and demonstrate relevance was shared at a staff meeting. One benefit was that the receptionist seized an unexpected opportunity resulting in significant income from renting a training room.
"LEAN" Improved customer services by involving staff in streamlining processes, minimising waste, and tracking progress through 'information centres', using the Japanese technique 'Lean'.
- Avoiding traps such as skewing priorities to meet funder's priorities, not factoring in the costs of applying for and administering the grant, or building up unfunded redundancy liabilities from fixed term appointments. Friends' funding has been primarily used as seed-corn funding for bids and substantially increased the impact of their donations.
- A focus on building sustainability into bids so that the benefits outlive the duration of the project.
"Is it really income generation?" By concentrating on core activities and analysing the true costs, it was decided to no longer run the bookshop, to set relatively high prices for some reprographics and outreach services, and to introduce a charge for day passes to photograph documents. We had a specific objective in mind when running occasional activities as loss leaders.
"Making best use of assets" Hiring the car park to the nearby Gloucester Rugby Club for evening and weekend games proved an effective source of income since it involved minimal staff input.
"One to one" or "one to many"? Paid research is a one-to-one service generally offered to those outside the rate-paying area and there are other providers. It was decided to discontinue the paid research service and use staff expertise providing a service to benefit many instead (e.g. "Channel shift" activities - see below).
"We've always done it that way" Challenging traditional ways of doing things has helped avoid costs and can result in better solutions. Challenges included: Can the service be enhanced by working in partnership or with volunteers? Is air conditioning required 24 hours per day to maintain appropriate conditions? Are Saturday openings catering for those who cannot attend during the week?
"Knowing the cost of everything" Knowing the cost of storing archives in the strong rooms allowed the archive service to compare its costs with alternative storage providers or other storage solutions (e.g. 'scan the lot' proposals), to ask depositors for contributions, and to carry out an active appraisal programme, all on a more informed basis.
"Channel shift" Developing the website, accessible guidance and training events to enable many customers to help themselves rather than having to rely on the knowledge of the staff. Volunteer buddies give additional support in the search room and the Gloucestershire Family History Society, now located on site, gives in-depth family history guidance.
What were the outcomes?
- The priority outcome has been to continue running a customer focused archives service.
- The service is now able to process born-digital records and has procedures in place to make them accessible to users, both now and in the future.
- The contribution of volunteers has been immense over a wide range of areas. Over 17,000 hours were donated in 2012/13. The Victoria County History (VCH) project (formerly partly funded from the archives budget) is thriving due to volunteer input. Volunteers set up a charity, raised funds and now hire and employ a team of VCH researchers. The VCH experience and other volunteer projects have provided an opportunity to build capacity and develop knowledge and skills for both staff and volunteers.
- The access and learning 'offer' has changed substantially, is proactive rather than reactive, usually delivered in partnership, and actively supports the Public Sector Equalities Duty
- The service signed up, in conjunction with the Gloucestershire Family History Society, with a commercial partner to digitise key genealogical sources.
What did you learn? What went well? What went less well?
- A fund-raising policy and associated workplan (covering many of the elements listed above) were developed, which gave a focus to the work.
- Flexible and imaginative staff open to personal development were instrumental to success. Several staff undertake substantially different tasks from five years ago.
- Recruitment restrictions resulted in the loss of two fixed term staff with electronic records skills. However, the collections team now deal with a range of electronic records with greater knowledge and confidence.
- Involving customers and user groups in decisions affecting the delivery of services has been essential.
- The main strong rooms maintain PD5454 without expensive air conditioning. Insulating the roof of the old school building saved heating costs but unexpectedly increased summer cooling costs for the older, air conditioned strong rooms. Similarly, early experiments to switch off air conditioning for a few hours each night initially led unexpectedly to increased power consumption. Further adjustment of the equipment has ironed out these problems and savings are now anticipated.
- Some price increases (e.g. daily camera passes) led to more staff activity so needed to be adjusted. How will this work be developed in future?
- The archives service is currently re-working strategies and revising policies to form the basis for the next four years' planning.
- Continuing to be alert to opportunities for new partnerships to enhance our services.
- Being proactive in recruiting to a range of volunteer roles.
- Further developing tools for onsite and offsite customers to help themselves.
- By keeping all activities under review, the aim is to retain flexibility to meet new agendas and financial uncertainty whilst ensuring the sustainability of the service