Did you know that The National Archives has a Business Archives Advice Manager? Alex Ritchie is the man in question, and I thought today’s blog should introduce you to some elements of his work. It’s all part of a national strategy for business archives, in which The National Archives is a partner.
The home of the archives at F Hoffmann-La Roche
What’s so special about business archives?
The written heritage of Britain is not only in public hands, and represents more than individuals, families and organisations. Any commercial entity, from massive international corporations to small family businesses and sole traders, needs to maintain records to succeed. They keep accounts, staff records and production records. Designs, publicity, staff records and product images are also kept. Their value can be anything from heritage branding to patent information crucial to company income or Victorian engineering diagrams for structures still in active use today. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many businesses retain an archive and that they are among the richest collections for historical research.
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The packed Forum programme included plenary panel discussions
The National Archives was pleased to host the third annual Archives Discovery Forum on 7 March. The Forum brings together information and archives professionals from across the UK to talk about how to open up access to collections and information about collections. You can see the full programme on the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) website. The Forum is a key part of the work of the UKAD network, to get people together and discussing progress in this area. That can be about major changes to standards affecting the sector internationally or about improving awareness of individual archives’ collections, and anything in between. We know not everyone in the sector is progressing at the same rate, but so long as everyone is going in the same direction, towards ever-broadening access, there is value in sharing our progress.
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Just a selection of the campaign badges held by the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (with thanks to Bishopsgate Institute for the image)
We’re now well into LGBT history month, celebrated by The National Archives and many other heritage organisations and communities across the country. It seems like a good moment to reflect on how LGBT archives appear in the historical record, without which LGBT history month couldn’t exist.
Older records can be really problematic for studying LGBT history, and seem almost to conspire to hide histories rather than to reveal. Where a community was of necessity trying to avoid the eye of the authorities, there’s relatively little in the official records, and when it does exist, it’s often a negative portrayal. Jenni’s blog earlier in the month outlined what The National Archives is trying to do about that, revealing hidden histories and bringing together information on LGBT records so that it is easier to find. Continue reading »
It is six months since I last blogged about my own major project, the new Accreditation Programme for Archive Services. Then, I was introducing the pilot we were about to launch and describing what we hoped would come out of that process. Today, I can reflect on what we have learned from the pilot.
I listed three main aims for the pilot:
- Working out the kinks
- Getting the guidance as good as it can be
- Making sure that one size fits all
We recruited 20 different archive services from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to achieve this. They represent a huge range of service types, from national institutions – The National Archives itself led the way as a pilot – to very small, privately-run archives who nonetheless can provide a public service to interested parties.
The strongroom at Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, one of our pilot services
We worked with business archives, who often have serving internal users as a priority; archives in museums, where we needed to review how this new programme works with the existing scheme for museum accreditation; and we were very pleased to have a volunteer from the audio-visual archives sector who tested how the principles of archive service accreditation would work with their different media. So we gave ‘one size fits all’ a good workout.
What we heard back
Of the 20 services who began the pilot, all 20 were able to make a return, despite having to work to a tight timescale of just three months to help us launch the programme on schedule. That gives us real assurance that the process is not too burdensome. We recommend that once the scheme is live, archive services make it part of their long term planning and development, rather than setting an artificially short deadline like this.
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Some responses are not too hard to interpret: Do you keep an accessions register?
I posted back in November about our annual survey, Accessions to Repositories, which maps new material taken in by archive services across the UK. I also mentioned that we were asking the services who participate in Accessions to Repositories to tell us how they find the experience, and what we can do to help them. We now have the results, and they make interesting reading.
I’m glad to say that over 100 archive services took the time to respond – that’s over a third of the total who participate in the Accessions to Repositories exercise – and that there was a good mix of types of archive: local and specialist, national and higher education archives were all represented. We’d like to thank all who responded.
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A boy who has found a horse. Document reference: CN 8/1/37 (detail)
My inspiration for today’s blog post comes from two things that stuck in my head when I read them. The first is a pearl of wisdom from the fictional detective Miss Marple, which I will quote later. The second is a recent comment made in response to a colleague’s post on this blog: ‘how can you research a record or collection if you do not know it exists?’
The trivial answer to this question is, of course, that you can’t. It does, however, prompt another, more complicated question: how can you find archival sources that are relevant for your research?
In previous blog posts, I’ve given some hints on how to get started and noted some attributes of really successful researchers. For this post, I’ve decided to offer a brief outline of three different ways of locating and identifying interesting records: serendipity, ‘brute force’ and archival logic. In practice, most people’s experience of using archives tends to involve some combination of these three. Continue reading »
All the best things go in cycles - thanks to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for the inspirational diagram
One of my very first posts on this blog was about our annual survey of collecting, known as ‘accessions to repositories’. It’s a crucial way we keep in touch with hundreds of archive services across the UK, finding out what they are collecting and how the archival map is evolving. Archive services’ collections grow constantly: they add items to document more recent history, and also when new collections become available, whether because new relationships have been built, or because of a major event, as when a company has closed or an owner has died and the records need a safe new home.
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During October 2012, the 60th anniversary of the train disaster at Harrow and Wealdstone in October 1952 has been commemorated. This was a truly horrific accident; a total of 112 people lost their lives, and 88 required hospital treatment.
At 08.19 on 8 October 1952 three trains collided with one another at Harrow and Wealdstone Train Station, some 11 miles to the north of Euston Station in London. One of the trains was a local passenger service taking early morning commuters from Tring to Euston, and the other was a passenger service from Perth to Euston. A third train, the 08.00 express travelling from Euston to Liverpool and Manchester ploughed into the wreckage created by the initial collision of the trains travelling from Perth and Tring.
Photograph of the crash site in MEPO 11/95
A combination of poor weather (patchy fog), misread signals and inadequate equipment led to a disaster that was only exceeded in scale by the disaster at Gretna Green in 1915, when 227 persons, mostly soldiers heading to the Front, were killed. The carnage of Harrow and Wealdstone can be comprehended if one considers the effects of a crowded passenger train (the Liverpool express) steaming into the shattered remnants of trains already wrecked and with their passengers and their effects strewn across lines. One disaster fed into another disaster. The casualty figures, high enough, would have been higher still were it not for the swift attention of passing detachments of the United States Air Force, who rushed to the scene of the disaster and applied life-saving field techniques learnt in wartime.
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These people are 'archivally intelligent'. Are you?
My inspiration for today’s blog post comes from three things that I’ve been involved with over the past few weeks.
The first was helping to teach on a training course run by the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management about using archives. The second was taking part in our new ‘live chat’ service. Both of these set me thinking about the kinds of advice that I give people daily as part of my job. The third was that, alongside other members of the Cardigan Continuum reading group, I read an article by two American archivists, Elizabeth Yakel and Deborah Torres . I found that this provided a useful structure for my thoughts.
Yakel and Torres explore what it means to be an expert user of archives and identify three distinct kinds of user-expertise, which they call subject knowledge, artifactual literacy and archival intelligence. In this post, I’ve interpreted these three in my own way. Continue reading »
- A great place to visit, if you do some preparation first
It’s obvious from the comments, tweets and other feedback that we’ve had about our blog that its readers are a diverse group. Some of you have a lot of experience of doing research and others have none.
This post is mainly aimed at readers with little or no experience of visiting archives to use original, paper records, but who think that they would like to do so. If you’re thinking of visiting The National Archives or another archives at some stage, you might find it useful to bear in mind the following hints. Continue reading »