Is an archive merely a museum of old documents? Absolutely not! Paper may be patient, to quote Cicero, but the modern demands placed on a contemporary archive and information centre certainly aren’t. “If we had not changed our policies and procedures, we would have started to lose our social relevance within three to five years,” says Ella Kok-Majewska, an inspired regional archivist and director of Regionaal Archief Rivierenland (RAR). RAR is an information and documentation centre for eight municipalities located in and around the Dutch city of Tiel.
Doing the right things in the right proportion
RAR stores and manages a total of nearly 13 linear kilometres of documents, photographs, books, historical maps, plans, films and audio material. The centre also serves as a consultant to local authorities and guides the regional flow of paper and digital information.
It’s a case of ‘bits’ and ‘bytes’ with a story, as Ella explains: “When you have a century-old notarial deed in your hands, you feel connected to the people who originally held it and whose signatures are still on it after all these years. You imagine the issues they were struggling with and think of the decisions which resulted in that document.”
Is an archive a people business? “Yes, definitely. RAR is a medium-sized archive and in recent years has grown considerably through the merger of three archive services. The last few years have been hectic. We have had to adapt to each other’s way of working, an inherent aspect of any merger, and we have also moved to a modern building, which is now home to the information centre. It has involved a lot of focus and energy, especially as we went through a digitisation process too.”
In 2015, Ella had drawn up an innovative vision document. She says, “When municipalities are struggling, they might support a vision, but they don’t necessarily have the means to invest in its implementation.” So, to execute some of the plans in the document, Ella decided, with support from the board, to bring in Accezz to make some necessary quality improvements. Ella explains, “I knew we were already doing the right things, but not in the right proportion and perhaps not in the best possible way. It was not a case of making budget cuts, more a matter of having better attention and focus and working more efficiently. Our resources and man hours had to be distributed differently.”
From supervisor to advisor and initiator
Ella continues, “Nowadays, partly as a result of our advisory role, the digital document applies as the official document. The process demands a lot from the eight municipalities who rely on our expertise, especially as their systems and processes must comply with new requirements. In the past, we primarily acted as a monitoring service by checking the status of municipalities’ archives. However, we now have a leading role in the process. We not only monitor and test, but we are also called on to advise and assist in the preparation of, for example, a replacement manual.”
“We have changed from being a supervisory service and are now an adviser and initiator. This new role has asked a lot of our staff. Job profiles have thus been revised and the division of tasks has changed. These developments have not only affected employees; the management team has been reduced from four to two people. Ella, who is part of that two-person team, adds, “Thanks to Accezz, the entire change process has been accelerated.”
The secret of change
Employees receive news briefs to keep them abreast of any changes. Ella says, “For the last edition, I found a fitting quote from Socrates, which in my opinion encapsulates what we have been through with Accezz: ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.’ Perhaps not everyone in our organisation is completely open to change yet, but there are enough employees who see new opportunities opening up and are grasping them together.”
Ella is convinced that everyone will eventually climb on board, not least because of the passion and dedication that Accezz has noted while working with RAR. Accezz does not only work with industry and government agencies, but it also has many clients in the healthcare sector. Ella explains, “We received a very nice compliment from Accezz. They noted that our employees display an immense commitment to their profession: in some instances, even more than healthcare professionals, who have a reputation for being dedicated and involved employees.”
As a very satisfied director, Ella concludes, “If you manage to tap into your staff’s passion for information, culture and the preservation of heritage and steer it in the right direction, you have a gold mine on your hands!”