Worrying news from Camden, where the Camden New Journal highlights threats to close the Local Studies Archive.
I was particularly struck by the suggestion that this was in response to a questionnaire about the future of library services – 38% suggested that the archives could be sacrificed to make savings. Not living in Camden, I haven’t seen this particular questionnaire. I would however make two points about this sort of questionnaire – I’ve seen a few. They tend to be worded in a way that does not make the implications of cuts clear (I bet if you said that the priceless heritage of maps, photographs etc was to be in effect destroyed people would be less keen to sacrifice the archives), and often it isn’t even possible in the question structure to oppose cuts.
In general, I would argue that questionnaires are not the way to determine policy for a service like archives which has a value beyond the day to day needs and wishes of individuals and which requires continuity of care and expertise. Many of the important things the public sector does are not visible to everyone and might not appeal to individuals compared to services they personally use (I’m thinking of many of the services offered to disabled people, refugees, people with drug problems, and, in the library sector, mobile and other specialist services). Such services improve society as a whole. Public services should not be a beauty contest; they should be about need.
Mind you, I’m not defending everything local councils do (I work in Bradford – those who also work or live there will know what I am talking about). Nor do I think that every single branch library must always remain open. But I do think the closure of any archives service is a very serious matter for society as a whole. And, as I keep saying, in the context of council budgets, such services are pretty good value for money.