It’s 3.00 in the morning – I sit bolt upright in bed, roused from the most dreadful nightmare, shaking and in a cold sweat. Could it be true? Yes, the grim hard-hitting awful truth: every document, every map, every artefact, in fact every item in all of the collections at The National Archives has been catalogued, transcribed and digitised. There are no more secrets – everything has been done!
Every individual piece is now known and fully accessible. Documents that were once physically produced for the reader (oh so twentieth century) are now readily available online at anytime and from anywhere in the world. In fact, I ordered the last ever document to be physically produced a couple of days ago – RAIL 414/1, the minute book for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (of course). The National Archives is now closed to the public; everything is done automatically with only a handful of staff keeping an eye on the digital systems. Once a fortnight someone pops by to cut the grass and tidy-up in Pocket Park. It had been reported that small groups of volunteers were seen wandering around aimlessly with nothing to do. By now, you will have concluded that I have lost the plot. Let me explain …..
I forgot to mention that it is late November in 2114. How I got here is a long and rather complicated story. I just remember passing a blue police box and heard the phone ringing and, as no one appeared to be around, I thought I would be helpful and answer it. You are probably thinking too much black coffee and cheese late at night. You could well be right, but there is a simple truth – at some point in the future everything will have been done. There will be no more cataloguing, no more volunteering – there will be absolutely nothing left to do. What a dreadful thought!
And the reasons why everything would all have been done? It is with huge thanks to all those who have dedicated their time and effort in supporting the many cataloguing and other volunteering projects and activities at The National Archives. The Friends have been helping out since 1988, providing practical support and vital funds to enable projects of all kinds to be accomplished. The volunteers, some of whom are also members of the Friends, have achieved an enormous amount of work – all supporting the staff in one big, seemingly endless, endeavour. Over the years the number of volunteers’ hours devoted to the cause must now run into millions. But, nothing lasts forever, and new technology, new and more effective working practices will help to accelerate the pace of making the records more accessible until eventually that ‘nothing left to do’ day will arrive.