Learning Exchange


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Learning Exchange

During recent training in York and London, participants each shared one challenge or question. Other participants then offered advice or insight that could help them. These are written up below, and have been edited into a frequently asked questions section, grouped by the following themes:

  1. Schools

  1. Higher Education

  1. Social Media

  1. Volunteers

  1. Increasing engagement

  1. Planning and strategy


General points to consider:

  • Look at the National Curriculum and see what you might be able to offer schools in your area from within your collections;

  • Make contact with other archivists, librarians and curators in your area who might have done this and ask for example resources. Don’t reinvent the wheel!

  • Consult with your local schools:

  • develop a questionnaire and send out to schools with a letter promoting your service. Find out contacts and arrange meetings to discuss what you can offer;

  • talk to teachers about specific resources regarding certain topics which could be created from your collections. These could be supplied remotely through an online learning pack, or shown to pupils on visits..

  • Contact your local PGCE teacher training course provider; consider running joint sessions with them for their students on your collections, and their potential uses in the classroom.

How do I develop a comprehensive and relevant programme for primary schools?
How do I engage more with school children in Key Stage 2 and 3?


  • Set up a steering group of teachers with an interest in culture/heritage.

  • Find out what they are studying; suggest records relating to their school or area, census, maps, people and help where you can; talk to staff about specific resources regarding certain topics which could be created;

  • Ask if you can spend a day in school to see what they are doing to give you ideas.

  • Attend planning meetings in school in advance of curriculum delivery and support teachers with advice on delivery.

  • Go to school assemblies as a starting point to present some interesting materials such as photos of the local area, then offer follow up sessions.

  • Consider running CPD events for teachers, how to engage young people with creative materials.

  • We have looked at the draft history doc and I have been tasked to find links to our collection. “I have a folder that I add examples to as I come across them and am collating these to create an online resource.”

  • Could this be developed as an educational bundle for teachers?

  • Look at cross-curricular options or focus on skills development (rather than content).

  • Head Teachers conference/History Teachers, Twilight sessions for teachers.

  • Schools have many events, plays, festivals, assemblies and always want ideas. Could your resources inspire them beyond the curriculum?


  • Introducing Early Years children to archives: Berwick Upon Tweed Record Office

  • Creating an educational resource : Flintshire Record Office

  • Developing learning programmes for schools and community : Bishopsgate Institute
  • Learning Links : Teeside Archives

  • Blast Furnaces & Birds : British Steel Archive Project

  • City of Birmingham Archives : Paganel School Archive After School Club

How do I set up a consultation panel of teachers to help devise learning resources for primary and secondary schools?


  • Contact your local pan-school communications network: some counties use a schools extranet which can be used to reach out to schools

  • Ask your local authority for their lists/contact information for development officers working in the schools in your region.

  • Attend head teachers’ and school administrators’ meetings if they meet up locally and undertake consultation there.

  • Contacting Gifted and Talented Co-ordinators is another possibility.

  • Ask to visit schools and speak to curriculum planners.

  • Offer incentives to teachers to participate, such as behind the scenes opportunities for their classes to use your archive.


  • Creating an educational resource : Flintshire Record Office

  • Developing learning programmes for schools and community : Bishopsgate Institute

How do I reach secondary school pupils?

  • Explore the current A-level syllabus. Some exam boards permit special study. One service reports that with their support, the teachers wrote questions that needed use of Poor Law or Public Health Archives. This resulted in a real breakthrough.

  • Consider offering research skills workshops

  • Contacting the Gifted and Talented Co-ordinator can work well

  • Specific projects: oral history was successful for WWI and WWII topics. Secondary school pupils helped to develop workshops for KS2-3.

  • Think about doing things a little ‘differently’. If you can tap into some innovative teaching you may be able to get your sources in use – one service did family history as a source for history and English in a creative writing study day for the whole school.

  • Try to get an interview with the headmaster and other senior staff – it’s good if they are on board!

  • Target students considering higher education; invite them in and let them experience how an Archive works and how it can support their research and projects.


  • Commissioning a play for Black History Month : Sandwell Archives

  • Learning Links : Teeside Archives

  • Learning Links : Cornwall Record Office

How do we develop a Special Educational Needs Programme with schools in addition to our regular education programme?


  • Work with a Learning Officer experienced in this area: one service found one via the Museums Service and have held events in the Records Office and local Museum.

  • Find a small group of young people with SEN and work with them and their teacher to pilot a project.

  • Begin by concentrating on one particular learning disability at a time, e.g. dyslexia.


  • A number of museums already run SEN sessions as part of their schools programmes, including The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Museum of London, and The National Media Museum to name but a few.

Higher Education

How can we attract greater academic usage of our collection, from undergraduate to post-doctoral?


How do we attract university students to our local authority archive?


What can we do to widen the range of Higher Education students we work with?


  • We target course tutors directly for this; Engage with academic staff, e.g. ask to lecture at an event.

  • Talk to tutors at the University. Invite tutors to your Archive, show them what you have and invite them to hold (small!) classes using archive material relevant to their course.

  • Find out about the individual research interests of tutors as these often define the outline of taught modules. Contact teaching tutors to discuss incorporation of visits into course wherever the material is relevant. Encourage tutors to bring students in for a visit to see originals and get their reader’s tickets en masses.

  • Invite students on a tailored Archive tour, extend opportunities to work on Archive projects fitted around students study – get them involved! Include Archives tour as part of student inductions

  • Contact their own archivists and subject librarians, as well as liaising with academic staff
  • Offer introductory talks/demonstrations to students, how thing work and what you hold. This will help break down barriers.

  • Use social media to create connections with academic departments, student societies and representative groups; And then direct students to this through appropriate online forms.

  • Contact other local academic institutions: Increase awareness of what you hold have and how it can be useful to them.

  • Offer students the opportunity to create an article about the service for student newspaper/radio show etc.

  • Look at their reading lists/teaching programmes and make links; Create resource guides aimed at students based on popular study subjects.

  • Timing, think about dissertations.

  • Think laterally: there are plenty of students with relevant interests beyond history.


  • Challenging the student perception of researching archives : Essex Record Office

How do we encourage students (outside of History etc.) to use archives in their studies/dissertations?
How do we attract students from a variety of different university departments? (E.g. sciences, medicine etc.)


  • Create partnerships with local schools and colleges

  • Organise open evening with staff on hand to talk informally – offer wine/cake

  • Include archives as part of student induction

  • Pick out specific collections that may be of use to particular course and market to students/lecturers with a tour or visit to show relevance. Make sure your online resources also document the possibilities so students can follow up with more independent research.

  • Keep inviting people to events

  • Check for collection types/topics in common an devise a project together

  • Browse modules on university websites; also look where you might not necessarily expect links! Eg. At Queen Mary’s University London there are strong research links between Drama and Information Sciences and also with Geography. Academics are often interested in going ‘outside’ the discipline too.


  • The Borthwick Institute worked with The University of York’s Widening Participation Unit and the Theatre, Film & TV Department to run a series of workshops for students on the Aychbourn Archive

Social Media

How can we best use social media to get our messages out to a wider audience?
We’re looking for some examples of innovative online outreach…


  • We’re using social media including Facebook and Twitter. Should I be contacting other groups?

  • Consider different solutions for different audiences – do older audiences need/want the same communication as younger one? Is this something you can investigate?

  • Find relevant groups to join – ie. For Families, Family Friendly UK on Facebook.

  • List your activities on relevant sites, ie. For Families, MumsNet.

  • Take photos of original documents that are topical or interesting and tweet them.
  • Connect with more active or more popular social media users in your area and tailor your content to encourage them to promote you to their readership (there are often very active tweeters amongst family historians!)

  • If there are local/hyperlocal bloggers or tweeters invite them to come to the service to see behind the scenes and use social media to share their experience.

  • Make sure your social media channels support each other – crosspost to twitter and facebook to alert followers if you have a new blogpost or video or website update


  • Are you covering the basics already? Twitter , Facebook , Flickr, Tumblr Pinterest , History Pin

  • Glamorgan Archives have a video on YouTube, and you can meet the archivist at Falmouth University via Vimeo

  • There are loads of archives already on Twitter – you can search for them using #archives


How do we attract younger volunteers, and encourage their input to ensure we are offering relevant activities/events?


  • Local colleges/university offer and want placements and likely to have a department responsible for co-ordinating this.

  • Universities very keen on employability and skills, so consider developing partnerships with them.

  • Offer a variety of events, outside of your usual schemes, such as film, photography, fashion related events.

  • Promote the benefits to them in the future – CV skills and if possible offer some travel expenses.

  • Consider changing the placement length – if it doesn’t suit the people you want to do it, is it creating too much of a barrier?
  • Talk to Duke of Edinburgh award co-ordinators.

  • Talk to local youth charities and those supporting the unemployed or others in need of support in developing work skills – may be more challenging but broadens the pool of those involved in your service and the charities may also offer in depth support to individuals too


  • The People's Record - Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham

  • HM YOI Northallerton & North Yorkshire Record Office

  • A stitch in time - Devon Record Office

  • Treloar 100+ - Hampshire Record Office

How have other services formalised their offer to volunteers?


  • The National Trust have numerous descriptions of different volunteer roles listed on their website –great for ideas about broadening and describing volunteer roles

  • Create a volunteer agreement, including some written guidelines on common issues such as travel expenses.

  • Some services use task descriptions, volunteer registration forms and agreements to formalise volunteer work. Consider running events each year for volunteers to get to know each other; Compile a newsletter with project progress, new projects etc.
  • Create and maintain a plan of your projects, and stick to it. Only run a handful of projects at any one time so that adequate support and training can be given to volunteers. As above a formal agreement for what we will do as well as expectations of them. A volunteer handbook. I have cut back to 4-6 projects as it can be very time consuming.

  • PSQG sub-committee on volunteering has a google group to share more good practice : archive-volunteer-coordinators@googlegroups.com


  • Make a difference - volunteer cataloguing backlog : Suffolk Record Office

  • The Hive has trialled having a fixed number of projects and find it very effective.

Increasing engagement

How can we convince audiences that moving from multiple record office sites to one new space for the county is a good idea?

Suggestions & Examples

  • Sell the benefits – both in terms of what the space offers, and what combining resources will achieve. For example, it means everything available is in one space, your audiences have less need to travel

  • Have a vision for what the service is/could be – focus on delivering that for all audiences, not on inevitable discussions about where it is

  • Keep users informed during the move preparations so that they still feel involved (see Worcestershire's Archives on the move blog ). Anticipate the concerns and try to address them directly early on – whilst publicising benefits!

  • Develop more online resources for the community, including ones that they contribute to.

  • Don’t just think about your current users. Once you have your location it’s good to start building bridges with new geographical audiences.

  • Relaunch of your website in advance - giving audience a ‘virtual’ view of an improved service and future.

How do I run a ‘meet the Archivist’ session?


  • Offer new experiences – can you use a room that isn’t normally open? People like behind the scenes opportunities

  • Organise open evenings/staff drop in – with wine

  • Have an open house with archives on show and guest speakers

  • Team up academic researchers with related digital archives

  • Use social media to advertise a Q and A session at advertised times

  • Local businesses are always looking for interesting team building activities; market tours to them – they might even pay you for them!


  • You can meet the archivist at Falmouth University via Vimeo

As a specialist archive based in a cathedral, how can we increase our visibility and extend our services to new audiences?


  • Cornwall Record Office has worked in partnership on numerous occasions with Truro Cathedral (we hold their collection) to incorporate archival material into their (school) visit. Can you piggy back on to visitors in the Cathedral? Can you set up a display case and spend time there to talk to people? This has worked for us.
  • Use the diocese’s existing network of parishes and promote to them. Can you also enlist some of this group as ambassadors to further disseminate information about what you offer?

  • How about Local Architects Associations, RIBA, University Courses? In Suffolk the Cathedral has an outreach officer that we work with. We are also linked into a local Turkish group.

  • Find the university courses that have connections – Architecture, Civil Engineering etc.

How can we engage family groups with our collections?

How can we cultivate this using digital archives?


  • Try joint events with museums and libraries;

  • Fun days, activities such as dressing up, story making, creating newspapers or maps of their areas.

  • Themed craft activities

  • Living history performances

  • Horrible Histories style of exhibition

  • Contact local family groups/organisations and invite them along for a tour or visit.

  • Link to literacy campaigns.

  • Enable remote volunteering – tasks like transcribing and tagging.

  • Develop a model for remote volunteering using digital content via an HLF funded project

  • Create online audio stories for use by parents/carers or teachers

  • Engage with local FH/LH groups who are ‘digital friendly’ for partnerships.

  • Speak to Ancestry!

  • Contact Family History Partnership

  • Who might be interested? Need to link to established community of interest. Contact COCOREES (they did a WWI project).


  • Blast Furnaces & Birds - British Steel Archive Project

What steps can we take to develop an LGBT audience for our collections?


  • At the National Archives we have been developing work to unearth LGBT history often hidden deep within the records. We do this through our LGBT History Research Group and committed staff at TMA. This has resulted in talks, podcasts, a revised research guide, a paper and further work on exploring access, terminology, language and user tagging. We are developing a group to explore best practice in this area across the sector. Linking up government records with individuals and localised experience is a great way forward and can provide context to records held at a government archive. Let’s work together!

  • In Kent we’re doing a collaborative exhibition for LGBT history awareness month, with the University of Creative Arts for next Feb 14.

  • Design projects with University LGBT societies – they are often active groups eager to engage in social projects. Reach through student unions, find on university websites!

  • Work with local LGBT groups – Switchboard, Stonewall and others

  • Mobile exhibition boards to take out of the archive and into other spaces can be useful

What steps can we take to increase participation by BME communities with our service?
Reach out to non-COE faith groups locally: how to approach?

  • Find gatekeepers for the communities you wish to engage with, who people respect and who are good at relationships; work with community organisations and plan in sustainability. Consider creative outputs as a way of sharing findings with the wider community.

  • Explore religious institutions too.

  • This could be an interesting place to start – ask communities to talk about what they are passionate about and how they have created the communities they now live in.

  • Link with local churches and community associations.

  • Ask to go along to existing social activities, such as lunch clubs, so you can meet and talk to people in an environment they trust.

  • Offer to give talks at AGMs and society meetings for free.

  • Ask if they are doing any projects you can help them with.

  • Go to their space .e.g. One morning a week – there you could recruit volunteers, ask for material to collect and./or digitise.

  • Intergenerational work is good – share culture/customs and food to build relationships.

How can we reach out to the most rural communities in our area?
What steps can we take to develop a strategy of audience development and engagement for a dispersed, rural community


  • Suggest a group holds a local history evening; the archivist can bring along materials and locals can be encouraged to bring items along as well.

  • Contact the Women’s Institute, Young Farmers Clubs, local community associations.

  • Hold an archive road show in a community venue; show objects, listen to oral histories, sign up for oral history tours, meet staff etc...

  • Digitisation: create an online exhibition re their community,

  • Surrogate copies, create discovery packs/boxes.
  • Consider working with partnership organisations, for example, National Parks often have an established relationship with the community.

  • Talk to local interest groups, parish groups etc.

  • Work through the Local Government Association’s Outcomes Framework to give you some clearer questions to build a framework on.

  • Use The National Archive’s audience development resources on their website and at Culture Hive for ideas, examples and inspiration.


  • In Suffolk we are looking at a new website, making more available online by digitising popular collections plus local community access points/hubs in partnership with museums and libraries.

  • North Yorkshire has had lots of success with archive ambassadors based in more remote communities

Engage with other organisations (not traditional archives)


  • Utilise social media to raise your profile

  • Get in touch with organisations you want to work with: email them – offer/ask for help, visits, meetings etc.

  • Use local contacts and personal ones within own organisation

  • Create partnerships/contacts through local organisations such as voluntary groups

  • Offer archive space for events

Attracting users from a different (under-represented) geographical area or demographic


  • Go out to do some outreach activities to help promote – ideally do this multiple times to build trust

  • Think about volunteer-led projects or exhibitions (perhaps travelling?) which are relevant to their area e.g. we have had probate projects based on villages.

  • Find out what, if any, projects or groups are in that area and see if you can create partnerships

  • Check NRA lists etc. to see if there are similar collections/iconic items you could work together on.

  • Utilise pop-up shops/empty space in high streets for exhibition and consultation events.

  • Attend local events and take items/activities to appeal to the audience there.

  • Hold events outside the archive, such as a local Family History Day Events in venues with non-users, i.e. museum, library, community centres, colleges etc.


  • Our Stories : West Yorkshire Archives Service

How can I build links with local communities who have never engaged with our archive service to date?
How can I best engage with hard-to-reach low socio-economic groups?


  • Try a ‘muffins and memories’ event to get people talking and take it from there.

  • Talk to people living on the estate (community centre etc.) before trying to run anything. We found many people had moved to a different estate in town but would have been interested in coming back for events to share memories with current residents. Activities for younger kids may also help.
  • We had a similar problem/challenge at Carlisle Archives. Our strategy was to make the offer to the school – always up for benefits for their young ones of heritage/creative offer. And from there we built up a consistent offer to their families. We found, in the end, this is leading to the adults and parents coming in – it is breaking barriers, creating recognition between people and building trust.

  • We linked with a local community group. The Library Service gave them a small old stock book collection and we did a number of coffee morning type events and helped them with a local display for their estate (Bellingham) – Sally.

  • My long term goal is to form a history group in and for the area to continue the potential for history to help community identity and cohesion.

  • Visits to sport centres with sport archive examples and stories

  • Sense of place, local history, oral history.

  • Intergenerational work.

  • Use schools as a point of entry to find children, then link with their parents too.

  • Offer incentives, days out, food etc.

  • Take part in free outdoor events, particularly happening geographically close to where your groups live. Track postcodes of the people who engage with you to show who you have reached.


  • Blast Furnaces & Birds - British Steel Archive Project

  • Our Stories : West Yorkshire Archives Service

What are the most important points to bear in mind when engaging with the older generation researching family history online?


  • Not everyone has access to computers or is computer literate, but don’t presume older people are not IT literate. Several services point out that many of their users are very skilled in the use of IT and in some cases are more competent than younger people

  • Consider how easy is it to access primary sources? Are they local? People may prefer to visit them
  • Physical health may present barriers for some; i.e. Using a mouse

  • You might want to mix generations of people or volunteers to enable learning between different ages

  • Encourage people to take part by offering introductory sessions where people are on hand to explain.

  • Offer taster sessions with Local Library.


  • Offer free resources on a memory stick. Cornwall Record Office ran courses in local libraries using family history as the hook to increase IT skills. All courses were oversubscribed.

  • Some people may like to share their memories online – Herts Memories is an interactive website where people can submit content.

How do we redesign our online catalogue and webpage to meet the demands of experienced users and absolute beginners who stumble across it via Google?


  • Use images as much as possible on webpages

  • Do you have the scope to create different pathways for your users?

i.e. ‘I am new to using an archive and would like step by step instructions (click here for glossary, search tips, example user journeys)’ as one route versus ‘I have used archives before and just want to search for something (click here to go straight to online catalogue)’

Work with people from your target audience to help you write them.

  • Feedback and consultation. Research other services’ websites for best practice!

  • Arrange a ‘digital hack’ day to attract web developers and digital artists to see what they can put together in a short time as a ‘thought experiment’ based on material that you have.
  • Make sure you use interactive infographics that are visually exciting; represent data visually wherever possible. Consider commissioning infographics artists to work on unique data on your site.

  • Run user-testing sessions to develop and evaluate ideas.

Planning and Strategy

Our (non-archive) organisation wants to create an Archive Strategy. Any tips?


  • Look at the Archives Sector of The National Archives website (especially the bit on non-archivists running an archive)

  • Look at the Community Archives & Heritage Group resources online

  • The National Archives has a number of archives strategies in progress at present

  • CLOA have a useful framework which may provide a good starting point

  • Access related resources on the Culture Hive website

I want to set up a good method for evaluation on our Audience Development Plan; how do you collect users feedback?


Evaluation – where can I find some innovative ideas for evaluation or find an evaluator?


  • Integrate feedback via social media platforms, twitter etc.

  • Invite a focus group to give you feedback.

  • Set up a questionnaire and send to your existing contacts, asking them to forward colleagues, associates and friends.

  • Learn from other digital campaigns about what makes successful online communication. Look at Culture Hive for some examples.
  • There are good resources on the London Cultural Improvement Programme Website


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