A grim picture is beginning to emerge of the impact of local authority cuts on local studies and archives. From March, Hammersmith and Fulham Council are to suspend public access to the materials held in their Archives and Local History Centre.
The earliest reports I saw suggested that a chargeable remote service would be put in place instead. This will hurt access for anyone who can’t afford the charge, or who can’t pinpoint exactly what they want to know. But it’s worse than that. They are dispensing with archivists, and the chargeable searches will be done by volunteers. Report in the Fulham Chronicle – (note that the archives issue dominates the comments – people care).
How on earth can volunteers be expected to have the skills to offer such a service: the history of the area, the subjects covered, the wide range of sources and materials held including objects and rare books, issues around records management, customer care … And where will these volunteers come from? What’s in it for them? How will they be managed and the service be monitored and organised to make sure the complex laws that relate to archives and records are not broken?
It’s such a pity. For a saving of £70K, which won’t make much of a dent in other budgets, an area’s heritage will be taken away from its people and damaged forever. I’m personally sad because they have collections relating to William Morris and his circle! Depositors may remove their collections, the remaining materials may suffer neglect, and, if professional staff are ever employed again, they will face the difficult task of rebuilding care and services.
There’s more, alas:
Major staff cuts are proposed for Devon Record Office and in Oxfordshire, where services are merging. These will mean serious reductions in services. It’s encouraging to see that people in all these areas value free access to their heritage, and campaigns are springing up.