Hi I’m Anna Sharrard and I work for Cardiff University, in its Special Collections and Archives team. I’ve been in my role as Senior Archives and Records Assistant for six years. Looking after the university’s corporate memory through its Institutional Archive is part of my responsibility, and I also help to embed good records management practice across the organisation.

A grant from Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) enabled me to attend the Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conference 2023 on 30 Aug – 1 Sept held in Belfast. The conference gave me the opportunity to connect with other professionals from across the UK, Ireland, and Europe, and to learn from innovation happening across the archives and records sector.

The dome of Belfast’s City Hall
Belfast City Hall
A large sculpture of a fish made from tiles called ‘Big Fish’ in Belfast’s harbour
‘Big Fish’ sculpture in Belfast’s harbour

Centenary celebrations

With the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) turning 100 years old, Belfast was a very fitting location for this year’s ARA conference. PRONI were exceptional hosts, welcoming us into their purpose-built headquarters in the Titanic Quarter for a curry night. We were given tours of the stacks and the conservation suite and got to peruse gems from the collection in their reading room (don’t worry, we washed our hands first!).

Delegates look at items from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland’s collection in the reading room.
Reading room of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

A community’s experience of Partition

I found Anne Gilliland’s[1] exploration of borders as sites of complexity very impactful as it developed my understanding of the role recordkeeping plays in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Anne explained that it’s taken 35 years of external investment in the peace process to make a resilient community at the Derry-Donegal border in the northwest of Ireland/Northern Ireland. She proposed that thinking of ‘community’ in terms of generational differences, the returning diaspora, and future communities may be the most beneficial approach for fostering reconciliation.

Towards a more inclusive sector

It was encouraging that inclusion was core to the conference; it featured prominently in each of the six streams of the programme.

Sarah Trim-West[2] shared her personal experience of using an assistance dog in a recordkeeping workspace. Sarah brought to our attention that making this practical adjustment may encourage those with specific disabilities to enter and remain in our sector, a discussion that is largely absent at present.

The importance of talking about and sharing lived experiences of disability was echoed in the session ‘Is it okay?’ which was an informal, open dialog to help us as professionals and as individuals be better allies.

Flower beds and Victorian Palm House greenhouse of Belfast Botanic Gardens
Belfast Botanic Gardens

As a new professional who hadn’t attended a conference before, I would definitely recommend giving it a go – pluck up the courage to speak with anyone and you’ll soon find everyone is friendly and welcoming!

Anna Sharrard
Senior Archives and Records Assistant
Cardiff University, Special Collections and Archives

[1] Anne Gilliland (UCLA, Los Angeles), ‘Recordkeeping, Borders and Community Resilience’.

[2] Sarah Trim-West (Brunel University Archives and Special Collections, London), ‘Assistance Dogs in Archives: Aiding Our Journey Towards a More Inclusive Sector’.

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