Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Are you ready for imminent attack?

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a consultation on the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999. The consultation follows the Government’s announcement last year (2004) of their intention to ratify the Convention.

Are you equipped to deal with attackers such as these?

Archives offices appear to qualify for such protection only if they are partly or wholly designated by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). Once in receipt of such protection, a protected collection is entitled to apply to display the Blue Shield of the the International Committee of the Blue Shield, supported by UNESCO. Other archive collections, deemed unworthy of the Blue Shield or MLA designation status, can be flattened at will by warring adversaries.

We asked Garth Bland, county archivist of Loamshire, to comment on the implications of Blue Shield status. Garth hasn't applied for designation status although his collections are hugely important. (Neighbouring Norrey county record office (Priscilla Dyke, county archivist) has applied for designation status despite their notoriously poor collections, lack of a collecting policy and leaking strongroom roof.)

To put it simply, whether an office achieves either Blue Shield status automatically under government policy or through the efforts of chief archivists in applying to MLA, is dependent on a rather hit or miss exercise. Some county record offices are likely to achieve designation status, previously reserved for museums, or Blue Shield status and others not, regardless of the importance of their collections. You see, many chief archivists won't even apply and in any case MLA might refuse applications.

The coveted Blue Shield

The consequence of this patchwork approach is that an invading army or aerial attack, always assuming nuclear weapons are not used, will be able in theory to disregard designated or Blue Shield collections containing lesser quality archives but flatten undesignated on non-Blue Shield collections of great historical value. It is a shambles showing all the usual signs of a disaggregated approach to the UK's archives.

In any case, we in local government record offices have had no guidance from the National Archives or Ministry of Defence as to which county record offices are in the likely path of an invading army.

On this last point we invited Ellison Millinocket, our spokesman for record offices in the South West Euro Region to offer further comment.

Good question. Here in the south west we perceive the greatest threat to be an attack launched from Cornwall across the River Tamar by the Cornish National Liberation Army.

We asked a spokesman for the Cornish National Liberation Army to follow up Ellison's remarks. He identified himself only by the codename Blob.

I can confirm we have no intention of attacking other parts of the south west. I can also confirm we have no intention of attacking Cornwall Record Office. Our only concern is that the collections at Cornwall Record Office should not be moved to the proposed Regional Super Repository in Taunton, Somerset. If such an eventuality were to happen, we would mobilise our active service units, close the roads and bridges leading out of Cornwall and engage with enemy forces. If this entails destruction of neighbouring county record offices or the killing of archivists defending their collections, designated or otherwise, so be it.

For a final overview of the situation, we asked Benedict Crumplethorne, our chief spokesman to comment.

Ellison and Blob's comments are timely and useful. It is unclear whether Blue Shield status will be respected by warring internal factions, invaders or marauding semi-nude women armed with shotguns. It is also unclear whether there is a logical pattern to designation status. It's all rather like applying for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, getting it, then coming under attack. Is the DCMS really expecting county archivists to negotiate with warring factions or invading armies? And in any case, will they take any notice of us?

Now please excuse me, I must go and find my grandfather's old tin hat.

Further reading.

Cornish self-government courtesy of Wikipedia

The Hague Convention click here

DCMS consultation document click here

Applying for MLA Designation Status click here

International Committee of the Blue Shield click here

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