Interview with Jeff James of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

Jeff James CEO and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

Interview Conducted by Kate Eminhizer

My formal interview with Jeff James occurred on November 28th, 2017. He and I had already met throughout the course of the conference; therefore, we had already established a bit of a rapport by the time the interview took place.

When did you assume your duties? What prompted you to accept the challenge?

I became the Chief Executive Officer and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom in July 2014. I wanted to further expand my leadership and managerial skills.

What is the mission of your national archives? How do you explain/present this to your funding authorities?

The National Archives is the custodian of the public record and the government’s trusted expert in managing, preserving and using information. We also manage the Crown Copyright and provide publishing guidance for all government publications. All funding comes directly from the treasury as directed by Parliament.

If you could tell me one thing special about your archives, what would it be?

The most important thing about our archives is the connection people can have with the records. While we are the keepers of some of the country’s oldest documents, such as the Doomsday Book, it is the relevance our contents have with the public that makes us special.

What international partnerships or collaborations do you have or are you working for (aside from ICA)?

Part of the National Archives’ strategic ambition is to increase our collaborations worldwide so that we may drive the development of archives around the world. We continually look for ways to expand and enhance our reputation in research and collections management. The National Archives has contributed records access to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property, and we have encouraged increased international participation in our digital preservation program PRONOM.

How much has the work of the national archives changed in light of digital technology? How has this impacted the way records are accessed by the public?

There has been a ten-year decline in usage at the archive itself but our online access has increased by 400%. Digital technology will allow us to continue to increase the accessibility of our records to the public. There is also a large demand to digitize records. The increase in digital records will also force funding to be diverted to digital preservation.

What is your vision for the future of the national archives?

I see the future turning archives into a more digital environment. I also see the opportunity to increase educational programming at the archive.

What advice do you have for those beginning their careers in archives?

The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone is to ask questions. Do not simply accept the status quo; challenge it to make it better.