Towards the end of last year, I made my way north to beautiful Manchester for the national ‘Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities’ (DCDC) conference. The event brings together people from the archive, library, museum, and academic sectors. I attended two years ago and came back buzzing with new ideas for outreach, inclusion, and our presence on social media. This year I had an equally full, but different, experience.
Projects, and what happens to them
First up, it was really astounding to see some of the projects which other institutions have achieved, celebrating heritage and culture and having a real impact on their communities. In particular, the story behind Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’ had us on the edge of our seats – non-disclosure agreements, secret meetings, elaborate cover stories! And despite not charging a penny for the use of the site, the local economy saw a £20 million boost and a renewed interest in art and culture. But then, Banksy is already a huge media sensation, a unique combination of fame and mystery. When the local council ‘could not have achieved this without Banksy’, how can we replicate that?
Researchers from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre gave a particularly challenging (but much-needed) talk, discussing what happens to the outputs of community-led heritage projects. They found that an alarming proportion of such projects were ‘temporal’; that is, they would be completed and then forgotten or discarded, rather than preserved long-term. These days, the heritage sector is often project-focussed (as that’s where a lot of the funding is), but how do we think long term and make sure the outputs are preserved and continue to be useful?
I came away with a sense of the wonderful things that might be achieved, but also the overwhelming amount of staff time and energy which they involve (something in ever short supply). It was an unusual feeling; a bittersweet mix of being totally inspired and discouragingly pessimistic.
What really stood out, however, was the importance of partnership – a theme which ran throughout the conference. All of the most amazing projects seemed to happen as a result of partnership between archives, or heritage services, or artists, or local government. Some of these partnerships even spanned the globe. They involved sharing a building, sharing ideas, sharing a digital system (e.g. Archive West Midlands’ plans for a regional Digital Preservation Project) or sharing collections.
And partnerships don’t just include professionals. In an excellent talk about disability history, Beth Astridge from the ‘History of Place’ project reminded us of the importance of involving and working alongside our users, who are the experts in their own experiences.
Aside from being a great chance to gather in person, the conference caused a buzz on social media, with lots of good discussions springing up. We’ve only recently launched the Twitter account for the Warwickshire County Record Office [Editor’s note: It would be remiss of me not to point you towards @OurWarwickshire while you’re there, nor our other accounts1] so this was a really good opportunity to build up our presence and get connected with other archives and industry professionals. You may have spotted some of our live tweets throughout the two days.
It was exciting to see that the top trending tweet for Day three of the conference was discussing a question I raised to the panel about LGBT+ history. It’s good to be getting ‘out there’ online, and sharing these discussions with other archivists who we might never meet in person.
Overall, DCDC was definitely worthwhile. A lot to think about as we head into a new year!