Reopening Suspended Services

A searchroom certified as Good To Go
Courtesy of Warwickshire County Record Office

Archive services across the West Midlands have started to reopen after suspending services at the end of March.  On Tuesday 30th June 2020 AWM held a virtual workshop to support member services with their planning and to share best practice.

Safe and Sound

Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion focussed on ensuring we welcome public back in a way that is safe for them and our staff.   Some of the solutions, such as asking people to wash their hands and maintain social distancing, are common beyond archives whilst others are far more specific.  Finding alternative ways to allow access to information usually accessed through public access PCs or microfilms is not something the supermarkets or train companies have addressed.

We also have to find solutions beyond washing, or disposing after use, as neither is an option for archive materials.  Whilst the obvious, and correct, answer is quarantining material after use there was a really supportive discussion about the best way of doing this to ensure minimum disruption for the public.

To aid social distancing and minimise contact between staff and visitors we’re providing alternative means of sharing information which is usually given by our expert teams.  New methods include laminated guidance which can easily be sanitised between users and sharing information through online booking systems.

Visitors and Volunteers

As well as looking at how we can safely welcome those who wish to return to visiting archives we considered how we can support those who are not able to come to see us.  Across the region we have come up with a wide range of inventive and accessible methods for  people to access heritage.  This has included making online videos about some of the fascinating records we hold in our collections and online tutorials to help people access information from home, or to prepare them for when they are ready to visit us again.

It’s not only the public who we have been working hard to interact with whilst they are not able to come to see us, we’ve been looking at how we can stay in contact with and support our volunteers.  Virtual coffee mornings, online indexing and even dedicated websites for learning have ensured our volunteers know just how much they are valued.

Recover, Regroup and Rejuvenate

The workshop was primarily aimed at providing members the opportunity to support each other as we reopen but also allowed us to look at how we could recover, regroup and rejuvenate as a sector.  It is vital that we not only reopen the doors but also continue to improve our offer.  These improvements are not only as we reopen but also longer term improvements to sector wide challenges such as digital preservation.

Things will be very different to how they were before the start of lockdown and some things will not recover in the same way. We discussed the importance of maintaining a digital offer whilst welcoming visitors back for face to face interactions.  What remains the same is the importance of the original archive and the desire for access by our users.  New ways of working with our volunteers will enable services to widen access and engagement with our collections.

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