Why the Imperial War Museums’ Archive Award Matters


The hard-fought defence of the Imperial War Museum’s library and related facilities from planned cuts will prove meaningless if public accessibility is not maintained and developed by IWM. The Museum’s mission statement of telling the story of the causes and consequences of conflict cannot be met unless archives are not only preserved but promoted through library and research services that enable public access to both archival material and supporting non-archival collections.

The recent accreditation of the IWM archive by the UK Archive Service Accreditation Committee not only vindicates the efforts of staff and other campaigners but can be used to protect the archives from new threats, such as any plans for re-location of collections to IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

The award of the Archive Service Accreditation makes IWM only the second national museum to be accredited, alongside the V&A, since the standard was introduced in 2013. It confirms IWM’s suitability as holder of certain public records. Not only does the archive award recognise good practice in archive services management but also serves to encourage and support improvement, including helping archive services “adapt and respond to user needs and interests, and develop their workforce.”

Recognition of IWM’s archive standards vindicates the efforts of staff and campaigners who fought tirelessly to save the reference library and related services from cuts during 2014/15. IWM’s library collection includes the War Memorials Archive, First World War Women’s Work Collection, War Office and Ministry of Information collections. These books and ephemera collections likely constitute archives under the Society of American Archivists definition. Moreover, the non-archival – or “non-core” library material shed light on the archival collections, thus their availability also plays an important role in public accessibility of the archival material.

Following major government cuts to the Museum’s grant, in 2014/15, IWM proposed to close its library, dispose of the majority of its 300,000 item collection, end important educational services, cut 60-80 jobs and close the educational/research Explore History facility at IWM London.

An astonishing figure of nearly 21,000 people signed an online petition to save the IWM library and other services, following a campaign lead by IWM library staff and the Prospect union. As a result of public pressure, the Government pledged £8 million over four years to safeguard the immediate future of educational facilities and IWM backed down from its most drastic moves, offering a reprieve to the library. Instead reduced services were imposed, including, a reduced Explore History service with closure on weekends, a reduced Research Room service, an end to the telephone collections enquiry and booking service and some job cuts to library staff. IWM finally backed down from its proposal to charge for access to the Research Room.

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Petition to save IWM Library and services (Prospect union)

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Prospect union members campaigning to save IWM Library (loveimperialwarmuseumlibrary.wordpress.com)

Following the IWM Library campaign victory, Prospect union negotiator, Andy Bye struck a note of caution: “The huge publicity as the election looms has contributed to this climb-down. However, the long-term future of the library’s collections is still not guaranteed – the status of 240,000 library items has been changed so they are no longer part of the core collection. The devil may be in the detail and our members will continue to be vigilant about protecting this national resource.”

Like all museums, IWM has auctioned off “un-accessioned” and “duplicate de-accessioned” items in its collections, including books and ephemera. In “exceptional cases” of “last resort” IWM is permitted to dispose items for principally financial reasons if criteria are met.

Reduced services, such as an end to the telephone collections enquiry service that received some 22,000 calls a year, has reduced the public’s access to IWM’s collections. The latest threat is possible re-location of parts of the collection to IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, 10 miles outside of Cambridge, where new a new £2.1 million archive storage complex is planned by IWM. These plans have been prompted by proposed new WW2 and Holocaust galleries as part of phase 2 of the IWM London regeneration project.

Even if only “non-core” items of the collection are re-located to IWM Duxford, the effect will be to reduce accessibility of core archival material, as non-core items play an important role in shedding light on archival material.

The latest project to develop new galleries could mask a major re-location of parts of IWM’s collections and staff, undermining public access – just as the fanfare, in 2014, of new £40 million WW1 galleries overshadowed drastic plans to end library and related services. If “non-core” library items are re-located, for example, the future of IWM London’s library staff must be questioned. This in turn raises questions about the future of the educational drop-in Explore History service and, even, the Research Room, which are both operated by senior library staff.

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Research Room, IWM London

To continue to meet the standards of its new accreditation, IWM must consider how re-location of any parts of its archive or complementary items from the collection will affect the public: “The archive service demonstrates a good understanding of the needs and interests of the community it is established to serve. It has plans in place which detail the actions that are being taken to meet stakeholders’ access requirements and to continuously improve service provision.” [Requirement 3.2, Access Plans and Planning Requirement].

Any drastic re-location of IWM’s archive or complementary items may undermine accreditation standards, notably the duty to document plans “to continuously improve access and engagement in response to the identified needs and interests of its community. The plans are actively implemented and reviewed.” [Requirement 3.2.3]

Job cuts or re-location threaten the requirement that the archive service has a workforce “appropriate in experience and numbers to carry out the service’s responsibilities and plans.” [Requirement 1.6, Resources: Workforce]

The acquisition, appraisal and deaccessioning of archive items must be “holistically connected and clearly linked to the organisation’s mission statement.” [Requirement 2.2, Collections Development].

The accreditation standards, particularly with regards continuous improvement of accessibility, are in direct conflict with archive service reduction prompted for any reason, be it requirements of new exhibition space or government funding cuts. How these conflicts are to be managed is not discussed in the accreditation guidelines, except that in three years’ time, IWM will have to show to the assessor “progress against required actions or improvement actions outlined in the feedback to their initial application.”

Campaigners and staff opposing changes to education and research services which disrupt public access and the Museum’s ability to fulfil its public mission can hold IWM decision-makers to its new archive accreditation.

Museum Contractor Goes Bust

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Shield Guarding, the private security firm that was given a £10-11 million contract by the Imperial War Museums  to provide Visitor Services and Security, has gone bust two years into the contract. The business and assets of the defunct company have been acquired by Noonan, a facilities management company owned by private equity firm, Alchemy.

The privatisation, in December 2013, was controversial for turning over Museum front-of-house employees to a security firm with no visitor services experience. IWM made the decision for “effectiveness, efficiencies and and also opportunities for staff development.” Aside from quality of service,  concerns were raised that Shield Group profited by placing their staff on zero-hour contracts.

The contract with Shield, owned by Indian firm Topsgrup, was beset by payroll and administrative errors and failure to pay staff pensions on time resulted in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) reporting the company to the Pensions Regulator.

In June 2016, security staff from Shield Group working at the University of Portsmouth threatened a walk out if delays over their pay continued.

A winding up order was published, in February 2016, only to be retracted a few days later. On 8th April, administrators were officially appointed.

The PCSU, which represents some of the staff whose contracts were privatised, has urged that the Museum consider bringing the service back in-house. Moreover, question marks have been raised, again, about the contracting out process.

Imperial War Museums’ Funding Cuts and Real Horrible Histories

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A suspected ‘Mau Mau’ fighter is taken away by a private of the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry for interrogation. © IWM (MAU 864)


Imperial War Museums’ Funding Cuts and Real Horrible Histories:

The brainchild behind the Imperial War Museum, Sir Alfred Mond, said on its launch in June 1920: “The Museum was not conceived as a monument of military glory, but rather as a record of toil and sacrifice.” He included in this dedication, “the people of the Empire, as a record of their toil and sacrifice through these fateful years” of the First World War. And, yet, the new Museum’s Board of Trustees was filled with government appointees and a handful of representatives from colonial or dominion governments. The ‘people’, whether of the Empire or Britain, had no direct say in how their toil and sacrifice was depicted. Ninety-three years on, IWM now spans five branches and a remit of covering all conflict involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War – but the challenge remains as to how the Museum accurately and openly records peoples’ experiences of conflict.

IWM’s ability to fulfil its role is coming under severe pressure from cuts to its annual public grant – its main source of income as a national museum. Whilst the government has done much to publicise its financial support for IWM London’s new First World War galleries, in preparation for next year’s WW1 national centenary events, what is barely mentioned, however, is the 21% cut to IWM’s real value total grant that is planned by 2014-15, compared to 2011-12.

Despite these cuts, David Cameron, wants IWM London to be, “a centrepiece of our commemorations for the Centenary of the First World War”, and to inspire new generations with the “incredible stories of courage, toil and sacrifice that have brought so many of us here over the past century.” Thus, IWM is clearly not only under increasing financial pressure but, also, real political pressure as to how to portray conflict.

The IWM has set its own independent agenda in its Annual Report 2011/12: “to be recognised as the world’s leading authority on conflict and its impact – focusing on Britain, its former Empire and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present… IWM should be a place where, regardless of knowledge or experience, our audiences can make sense of conflict, understand its causes, course and consequences and see how it affects human behaviour for good or for bad.”

To meet this vision IWM must have the editorial independence to examine the historical record critically. The Museum Associations’ , states that museums should “strive for editorial integrity and remain alert to the pressure that can be exerted by particular interest groups, including lenders and funders.” (Code 9.10). [Now, expressed more strongly in the updated Code of Ethics as: “Ensure editorial integrity in programming and interpretation. Resist attempts to influence interpretation or content by particular interest groups, including lenders, donors and funders.” (Code, 1.2)]

IWM insists it has this independence – decision-makers are ‘neutral’ and funders have no influence over how they exhibit their subject matter. Yet, whether the Museum has enough of an accountable democratic senior management structure to be able to preserve editorial integrity itself is highly doubtful. The IWM Board of Trustees is highly unrepresentative of British society, appointed by Cabinet ministers with wealthy figures from the military and corporate sectors. Of the 22 trustees, only two are women – former corporate director and current journalist, Bronwen Maddox, and the lawyer and academic, Dame Judith Mayhew. In terms of political, social and professional backgrounds, the Board of Trustees has more in common with IWM’s state and corporate sponsors than the visitor to the Museums.

IWM’s choices of subject matter casts doubt upon its editorial integrity and independence. There is a distinct lack of critical analysis of British military activity, demonstrated by the lack of inclusion of the perspectives of the victims and dissidents of militarism. IWM London will re-open this year (29th July) with a new photography and art programme called ‘IWM Contemporary‘. This will be kicked off by Omer Fast’s video piece, ‘5,000 Feet is the Best,’ based around the experiences of a former US drone operator. Following this will be an exhibition of reportage and photographs taken by US and UK soldiers in Iraq 1991 – 2012 (Mike Moore and Lee Craker) and an exhibition on the “personal and environmental legacy of military structures” by the British photographer and film maker, Donovan Wylie. IWM London’s new family exhibiton will be Horrible Histories: Spies.

There will continue to be few spaces for the voices of the victims and dissenters of British military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the new IWM London. IWM North has featured an exhibition of powerful photographs by the Guardian’s Sean Smith that does depict some of the devastation of Iraq – but this exhibition is certainly in the minority across IWM’s five national branches.

Coverage of past British military activity tends to be similarly edited. A revealing example comes from an online collection of personal stories about “conflict, belonging and identity” put together a few years ago by IWM called “Through My Eyes.” The collection included three stories from ‘Kenya in Conflict’ – Britain’s merciless repression of the rebelling Kikuyu tribe, known as the Mau Mau uprising. The British government only recently paid a limited amount of compensation to the surviving victims. None of the three stories told in the Kenyan part of IWM’s exhibition were from the Kikuyu. Thus, the primary Kenyan victims of incredible British imperial brutality, including tens of thousands killed and virtually the entire 1.5 million Kikuyu detained, were not given the chance to tell their story.

Corporate Vested Interests

The British government is IWM’s most powerful interest group as provider of public funds and selector of most of the positions on the Board of Trustees. This dual influence by one interest group hampers the possibility editorial integrity, making reform of the Board essential. However, the government is at least elected by voters and its decisions are open to influence by the general public. The same cannot be said for private corporations who are filling the void left by growing cuts to IWM’s public funding.

The Museums major source of income has been the annual ‘grant in aid’ from the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Last financial year, IWM received £21.96 million, down from £23.91 million in 2011. The cuts will continue; by 2014-15, the Museum expects its total grant to suffer a real reduction of 21.4%. The Museum will become predominantly privately funded, with 53% of its income planned to come from self-generated commercial activities.

These quiet cuts, behind the fanfare of the First World War Centenary, will ensure that IWM becomes ever more dependent on corporate sponsors, partners and donors, such as those from the arms trade, including BAE Systems and Boeing UK, who both feature in IWM’s 2011/12 Annual Report as donors of at least £10,000.

The arms industry, or ‘defence industry’, are, along with the Ministry of Defence (MOD), already deeply entwined with the Museum. The “Annual Defence Dinner”, a major networking event for arms manufacturers, MOD officials and foreign defence attachés has been held annually at IWM London for several years now. The most recent sponsor of the event, Chemring Group, is a supplier of explosive ingredients for US Hellfire drone rockets. And, the key speaker of their event is the government’s defence secretary – it was Philip Hammond MP in 2012 – demonstrating the interchangeable nature of the corporate defence industry and the Ministry of Defence. Recently, the MOD secured for IWM a Honda motorbike allegedly used by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The motorbike will go on show in the Museum’s ‘War Story’ exhibition, which tells the modern service stories of British forces.

Editorial Integrity

If IWM had editorial independence and a critical scholarly approach it would use the WW1 centenary to examine the warring nations’ motives. It would also look at the evidence and arguments produced by those who say that it was a bloodbath occasioned by government and business leaders’ competing for wealth and power – a claim supported by the sharing of the colonial ‘spoils’ by the victors afterwards. It would certainly not engage in any ‘celebration’ of Britain’s role in what Harry Patch, the British WW1 veteran who outlived his peers, described as “legalised mass murder”, and instead would critically reflect on the war and its consequences.

A critical record of the ‘war to end war’ that cost millions of lives would recognise in it the germs of bloodshed to come – the real ‘horrible histories’ from Britain’s recent past. Not just WW2 but the more immediate repression against reviving independence movements that followed in Ireland, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China, giving rise to horrors such as the ‘Amritsar massacre’ of hundreds of defenceless Indian protestors in 1919; or the 1920 ‘Bloody Sunday’ random shooting into the crowd at a Croke Park football game in Ireland; or the ‘Egyptian Revolt’ of 1919 in which 1,000 Egyptians were killed, more than 1,500 imprisoned and 50 Britons killed as Britain fought fiercely to maintain ownership of Egyptian resources and prevent independence.

We should know of the atrocities suffered by the British and their commonwealth mercenaries, as much as the atrocities committed and authorised by Britain. In this knowledge, we should see how imperial exploitation is a repression that is unsustainable and makes inevitable bouts of bloodshed and inhumanity – with the subjugated people enduring the bulk. Knowledge of the dynamics of imperialism will enable us to understand more clearly the arguments made today that British support for the US in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and drone attacks follow the pattern.

The absent voices

The most important voices for our understanding of British imperial history are those that are kept quietest – the voices and stories of the victims and the dissidents. IWM London will re-open this year with exhibitions that largely exclude these voices. Highly suggestive from this is that the Museum is not, as it claims, editorially independent from its funders and trustees, nor a true authority on the course and effects of conflict. If cuts to its public funding are permitted to be enforced, this situation will only get worse.The onus is on us, the public, to support the Museum to assert its independence. We can do this by challenging the government’s damaging cuts to its public funding, upon which any hope of editorial integrity rests. At the same time, we must demand that the Museum justify its public funding by opening up to the voices of victims and dissidents of British military action.

The Relevance of Lawrence of Arabia’s Bike

The Evening Standard report that the Imperial War Museum has removed from its collections the 998cc Brough Superior SS100 motorbike on which TE Lawrence had the accident that would eventually kill him on 19th May 1935. According to the Evening Standard report, IWM consider it no longer “relevant”.

“…(A) skittish motorcycle with a touch of blood in it,” is how Thomas Edward Lawrence, dubbed ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ once described his custom built motorbike – one of eight Brough Superiors he owned in his lifetime. Two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was involved in a fatal crash. He was driving in rural Dorset near his home in Wareham when he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. Having lost control, he was, it is reported, thrown over the handlebars and sustained head injures. He was not wearing a helmet. Six days after the crash, Lawrence passed away in hospital.

According to this Daily Telegraph story, after the accident the bike was sold back to manufacturer George Brough and then sold on to a Cambridge dealer. It is now valued by some in excess of £1.5 million.

The final period of TE Lawrence’s life was one of disillusionment that lead him to cease to work for the British government on Arabian political affairs and seek anonymity and isolation. Lawrence had been a strong advocate of Arab independence after WW1 but subsequently found that the British and French governments would renege on pledges made during the war and carve up the region to fulfil their own Imperialistic ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secretly deal divided up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into French and British spheres of influence. TE Lawrence left politics in frustration and would later seek positions in the RAF and the Royal Tank Corps under pseudonyms.

The Imperial War Museum report that the Brough Superior SS100 bike has been returned to its private lender, ending a loan period. It would seem that IWM could find no place for the item in its newly revamped London branch.

Update 1:

Whilst TE Lawrence’s last motorbike is out, coming into IWM is a Honda CG 125 (clone) motorbike allegedly belonging to the Taliban that British forces collected in Afghanistan during Operation Herrick. According to the MOD, it is the first piece of “‘enemy kit” that they have picked for IWM’s ‘War Stories: Serving in Afghanistan’ exhibition about British forces in that country. The bike was reportedly captured by members of C Company, 1st Battalion The Rifles in Nahr E Saraj on 4th May 2011. It was transported to Britain with the aid of the MOD who, along with weapons manufacturer, Boeing Defence Uk, support IWM’s War Stories exhibition.

 

The Imperial War Museum and Arms Dealers

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A poster made by a museum visitor during Peter Kennard’s workshop, 2016

The Imperial War Museum’s grant from the government is being cut. By 2014, it will be down by 21.4%, in real terms, according to IWM’s 2011-12 Annual Report. But does this mean that it should “sell out” to industries that would like access to the two million plus visitors that visit the various IWM branches annually?

Sadly, a certain amount of selling out by IWM has already occured. This year, the Museum accepted and publicly listed in their annual report (page 17), donations of £10,000 or more from BAE Systems and Boeing UK; both of these companies are profiting greatly by manufacturing and selling weapons and other military equipment across the world, with the active support of the British government. The government says that it will not licence arms exports where it might facilitate repression or regional conflicts. However, licences are approved to the most repressive regimes across the globe, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Algeria and many others.

Moreover, I recently discovered that the Imperial War Museum hires out its historic building to a major networking dinner event for arms dealers and military buyers. The Annual Defence Dinner has been held at the Lambeth Road building since 2008. In 2012, the event was protested against by activists from the Campaign Against Arms Trade – but, otherwise, the event went unnoticed.

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I only learnt about the Annual Defence Dinner at the end of 2012, when I chanced across the CAAT blog. My initial reaction was outrage; IWM is a public museum, funded in part by the tax-payer, and it claims to be dedicated to recording and educating about the effects of war. A conflict of interests is created when a war museum partners with arms dealers. The Museum cannot be frank about the effects of war when it regularly takes money from people who directly profit from war.

Indignant, I wrote a letter to IWM’s Director-General, Diane Lees, complaining that the commercial deal was a violation of the Museum’s public duty and completely immoral. Lees defended the decision on the following grounds:

– The Annual Defence Dinner is a private hire event and not “hosted” by IWM.
– Private events provide necessary income for the Museum.
– The decision was made by following a criteria similar to that used when accepting sponsors.
– The event hire was approved because it involved the “broad defence sector”.

The only plausible argument is the one about income. Other museums, including the Natural History Museum, have defended their right to host arms dealers for money. Like the IWM, they say that they can’t really turn down good money – even though, as public insitutions, they owe a public duty.

This lack of institutional ethics is all the more inexcusable for IWM. Putting aside the extreme immorality, simply for a war museum to accept any money from arms dealers creates a conflict of interests situation. IWM exists to record and educate the public on British involvement in war since WW1 and the impact war and conflict has on people’s lives. Part of this remit must necessarily involve informing the public about the role of arms traders in war. Yet, IWM will find it nigh on impossible to do this without upsetting its sponsors from that industry. Therefore, the Museum is silenced on this most important aspects of warfare.

It is true that dependency on government grants also creates an inherent conflict of interests because the government deploys the military to war and, therefore, has an interest in minimising analysis of their decisions. Yet, taking money from arms traders is avoidable (currently, the Museum cannot function without government grant) and it exacerbates the lack of intellectual independence of the Museum from those carrying out war. The IWM grant from the government, at least, comes from the Department of Culture, rather than direct from the MOD.

There may be some justification if the dealings with arms dealers were limited and, perhaps, one off. However, the Annual Defence Dinner has been held at the Museum for five years, since 2008. Moreover, IWM has been accepting £10,000 or more donations from BAE Systems for a number of years. It may be taking money from other immoral/compromising sources – donations are not listed in the Annual Report if the donor requests anonymity or the donation is below £10,000.

Despite the budget cuts, this cannot be justified in IWM’s case. The Museum is not so financially desperate that they need sacrifice their public duty, reputation and ethics for arms trader money.

Though incomes were clearly down this financial year, IWM still received £21.96 million in grant from the government (£23.91 million last year). They considered it suitable to use their income to make “external grants” amounting to £3.36 million. They were able to pay their Director-General, Diane Lees, a salary of £125-130,000 per annum or £135-140,000 (there seems to be a discrepancy in the annual report). They were still also able to provide the unpaid Trustees with an annual total of £9,375 (£10,697 in 2010-11) for “travel and subsistence”. This amount was claimed by eight Trustees. It is not clear from the Annual Report which of the twenty-two Trustees they were – nor is it clear how the Board of Trustees, which meets only four times a year, with some Trustees in other committees, could reasonably charge the Museum this sum.

What is clear is that IWM, despite definite income cuts, is not desperate – and, is even demonstrating largesse, it seems, when it comes to Trustees and the Director-General. Moreover, it has the safety net of a fund balance of £184 million.

Clearly, generating commercial income is a necessary aspect of IWM but there is no justification for selling out to the arms trade. IWM should not be accepting donations or commercial deals from such harmful corporations. The first step that is required of the Museum is a rigorous Code of Ethics to apply to all significant decision-making processes. At the moment, there is no specific criteria for all the Museum’s commercial dealings. The criteria for accepting donations is vague, weak and in the hands of a Board of Trustees that is made up of a very narrow range of individuals with a predominance of military and corporate backgrounds.

Edit 1:

I have been assured in writing by Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM, that the Museum abides by the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics. Unfortunately, this Code barely mentions the ethics of funding. On contacting the Museum Association, they said… “(t)he MA is clear that the key thing is for museums to have a clear decision making mechanism for accepting money from any source. I have no doubt the museums you mentioned have considered all the issues involved and then resolved to accept the support. Ultimately, it is for them to decide what is right and appriopriate for their institution…”

Effectively, the Museum Association which aims to enhance the value of museums to society by, amongst other things, providing leadership, has nothing to say about the ethics of museum funding and commerce, except that there should be some transparency.

Further info:

Activists from CAAT report their attempts to disrupt and shame IWM and the attendees of the Annual Defence Dinner 2012: http://blog.caat.org.uk/2012/05/24/making-arms-dealers-tread-over-dead-bodies-at-the-imperial-war-museum/