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ARCHIVES-NRA  June 2007

ARCHIVES-NRA June 2007

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Subject:

MLA's vision for archives

From:

Maria Sienkiewicz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 5 Jun 2007 14:57:51 +0100

Content-Type:

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text/plain (91 lines)

Here in the north west, we have been sent some information on MLA's Action
for Archives Programme.  It includes a question and answer sheet, which
contains the following:
  
Where does MLA see archives be in 20 years time?
*	there will have been mergers and amalgamations - maybe even regional
archives rather than city or county ones, or mergers with libraries and
museums. Some of the big tourist cities may retain local archives but as
part of wider heritage or cultural service offers.
*	all LA archives united as a single service with 130 access points
with single entry to all archives with one ticket or better still ticketless
access. Single brand with clear identity
*	Much more material will be on-line, not just catalogues but
digitised images downloadable to personal devices etc
*	Professional boundaries between archivist, libraries etc will have
broken down and merged; people will train as heritage professionals or
cultural advisers/managers
*	community engagement will ensure archive services are meeting the
needs of all of their users and users will be directly involved in deciding
what is kept
*	Total privatisation of family history, as a leisure interest with a
clear market and brand leaders - Ancestry.uk etc 

I would be really interested to know what people think about this.  As
someone who hopes to still be working in archives in 20 years' time, I find
it rather worrying for a number of reasons:

I have nothing against the theory of mergers, and can see that it will bring
economies of scale.  Indeed, if more records are to be digitised, then
people are more likely to be accessing archives in a variety of ways at a
range of locations.  However, I cannot see how this fits in with Community
Engagement.  I also do not see why a big tourist city should be treated any
differently.  Surely, if anything, such locations would be more suited to a
digital/exhibition approach than somewhere which may not have many tourists,
but which has a large academic audience.  If we are to consider social
inclusion, then socially excluded areas are the least likely to have a
tourist audience, yet would be most in need of the opportunities and
benefits archives can bring to a community.

This solely audience-based perspective also worries me because I feel that
it completely ignores the very core of archives - the importance of
provenance.  While I know that it can be confusing for many ordinary people,
the simple fact is that most archives are located where they are because of
their history - their location is an integral part of the knowledge they
contain.  The re-organisation of county boundaries in 1974, for example, now
means that records for parts of some counties are in a neighbouring county
record office.  We all know how confusing this can be, but it is also part
of the learning and research process for archive users - a process that
surely can only be to their benefit in widening their knowledge and
broadening their skills.  I have always thought that this is one area where
the internet can be of real benefit - as users can now easily search for
many records without any knowledge of their possible location. 

While we have previously discussed on this list the need for changes to our
training, I do not see how we can be merged with librarians - there are too
many areas of specialism, and to ignore that is to devalue both professions.
I would also point out that not all archivists are working in 'heritage'.

Finally, I am completely at a loss as to what the 'total privatisation of
family history' would involve....

Maria Sienkiewicz
Barclays Group Archivist (although all opinions expressed are my own, and
not the Bank's)




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