Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Queer up North

Rogue Employers Update

Our members continue to cast their eyes over job advertisements in the archives sector in order to help maintain professional standards.

The latest to come to our attention is that of County Archivist of County Durham, based at County Hall, Durham. The post is advertised at £28,919-£31,606 and is currently subject to a job evaluation exercise which means it could go down or up.

SQA believes the advertised level of remuneration is unsatisfactory. However, of even greater concern to us is the failure of Durham County Council to stipulate the postgraduate diploma in archive administration is an essential qualification.

Instead, they require a degree and a further degree or post-graduate qualification in archive administration. Thus, while Durham County Council is aware of the existence of the professional qualification, they recognise it as merely an option and will accept another postgraduate qualification instead. This is a disgraceful.

The unsatisfactoriness of the Durham County Council position is compounded by their requirement for the successful candidate to undertake to obtain the NVQ Level 4 in Management within 3 years of appointment. No similar stipulation is made as regards obtaining the University of Wales archives diploma or the University of Dundee MLitt in Archives and Records Management by distance learning.

We asked Benedict Crumplethorne, principal spokesman for SQA, for his observations on the Durham situation.

This is rather similar to developments we have observed elsewhere, e.g. Cambridgeshire. Increasingly, we are witnessing the downgrading of the senior professional role in repositories, with the highest professionally qualified staff operating at assistant archivist level. This cannot be conducive to promotion of or advocacy for an archives service beyond an archive service or within the community. It relegates the most experienced staff to a more junior level and prevents the correct level of influence from being exerted on policy makers.

We are certainly seeing the politically correct trend towards dumbing-down the management of highly specialised professions, with the emphasis instead being placed on management skills. This is a mistake of course as the management issues around archives are rather too specialist for pure manager types to grasp and develop. Employers are now beholden to the cult of managerialism, by which it is deemed all services and professions can be competently managed by any Tom, Dick or Harry.

We should also take into account the possibility that more senior departmental managers overseeing archive services such as County Durham’s are genuinely unaware of the range of skills involved in managing such a specialised operation.

A local government chief archivist is responsible for prioritising the listing and conservation of collections, ensuring their correct arrangement and documentation, observance of the relevant standards and compliance with professional ethics, guiding colleagues and researchers in the specialised use of archives and above all, perhaps, he is expected to be sufficiently professionally expert in palaeography and administrative history to be able to give the right quality of lead to his service especially when representing it to the wider community.

These skills are all the more important for an authority shortly to become unitary*, with added responsibilities for the archives of the former district councils, stemming from their separate functions. A record office serving an authority inheriting district level as well as county functions must become intimately acquainted with such functions. The skills of a chief archivist in such an environment will be tested. County record offices working in the two-tier system tend not to have a very close involvement in district council records and therefore have little or no knowledge of such records or district council functions. Hence our concern with administrative historical expertise and knowledge on the part of such a postholder.

In short, a local government chief archivist post is not suitable for a cardboard cut-out who merely boasts abstract management skills.

What really irks me however is that the job title is County Archivist. This gives rise to the expectation on the part of depositors, researchers, council colleagues, elected members of the council and the media that the postholder is a qualified archivist but in the event a non-qualified person is appointed, this amounts to a gross deception. This is a tremendous insult to the wider archives profession. We will continue to expose employers who take this line.

We thanked Benedict for his insights.

*Editor's note. Unitary authorities are being introduced as part of the process of dividing the UK into Euro Regions, by which groups of counties form a Euro Region, a group of unitary authorities a Sub-Region and a single unitary authority a Sub-Sub-Region, eventually to be controlled direct from Brussels. Traditional counties play no part in this system as they represent age old traditional local loyalties which present the EU with a diametrically opposed cultural threat.

Further reading

Durham Record Office

Nuts to us all

The Balkanisation of Britain

Norman and Saxon by Rudyard Kipling

“MY SON,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for my share
When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings , and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:—

“The Saxon is not like us Normans, His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealings,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears,
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes you all day.

“They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark,
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em a lie!”


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