It has been one year since we launched The National Archives’ blog. From the start, our writers and staff have taken a fresh look at a wide range of subjects. Our 223 posts have ranged from information management in the movies to personal stories of the First World War and Titanic, from maps to UFOs. With over 60 published authors from around the organisation, we seem to relish the chance to tell the stories of our work. And people seem to want to read them too – with around 10,000 visitors a month.
"Motor Manufacturing" by Clive Gardiner for the Empire Marketing Board (ref CO 956/258)
So apart from that, why do we do it? For three reasons. First, The National Archives is doing some of the most interesting work around on a whole lot of issues. Our aim is to bring some of this to the people who matter – the users, readers and researchers. We certainly haven’t always been perfect but it is all the more important that we get feedback from users to make our services as good as they can be. Second, because of the financial situation, the best way to get this feedback is not through expensive surveys or focus groups, but through the web and social media. And, third, our role is to bring the most interesting public records and information to light, objectively, and let others discuss them. Continue reading »
I was interested in some of the wider questions that were raised over the spring this year on the size and scale of the civil service. One of the straw-men that was set up was that the UK government, at the height of Empire, ran everything with 4,000 people, all of whom could be fitted neatly into Somerset House. With a little help from the team here (in particular Ed Hampshire), we thought it might be useful to assess this in some more detail.
Empire Marketing Board 1927 'Highways of Empire' (Catalogue ref. CO 956/537 A)
Starting with civil servants in Whitehall, 4,000 is about right for the interwar period, but too high for the 19th century. The central government departments were all very small until the First World War. For example, the Foreign Office had around 100-175 staff (including doorkeepers, porters etc.) up to 1914. The Admiralty had around 70-80 well into the mid-19th century.[1*] Four government departments (Colonial Office, Foreign Office, Home Office, India Office) were all housed in the building that now only houses about a 1/3rd of the staff of today’s FCO (Charles Street).[2*]
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Colossus electronic digital computer, 1943 (Catalogue ref: FO 850/234)
I hope by now that you’re starting to get the idea that The National Archives is a bit of a dark horse when it comes to innovating in technology. We have, as far as I can tell, won more technology awards for more separate projects than anyone in the public sector except for the NHS, and we’re a little smaller. This culminated in a Queen’s Award for Enterprise and Innovation last year for our digital preservation technologies across all sectors and a public sector digital award for legislation.gov.uk. It doesn’t stop there – we also innovate in education, and the physical preservation of our collection, saving a lot of energy in the process.
So I thought it might be interesting to describe my view on our approach. I’ll look at technology, cost, and culture.
I feel rather privileged to be the first person to use our new blog, where people from across The National Archives will post about their work. There’s a wide range of activity that we’re involved in, and I hope this blog will really convey this to everyone we work with. From the incredible variety of our collections, to the challenges of collecting digital records; from the rigour and attention to detail in the legislation we publish to the painstaking work of our collection care department, this is the place to get more of a flavour of what we do.