Friday, March 18, 2005

Oh No, Not Again

The annual Archives Awareness Campaign (AAC), jointly promoted by The National Archives and National Council on Archives, has just published its Impact Assessment and Evaluation Report.

The report, whose title sounds more relevant to the recent spate of TV disaster documentaries on meteorite strikes and volcanic explosions, endorses the work of the participating offices, gives a positive view of the outcome and lays down the basis for future campaigns.

Not all county archivists have reacted to AAC so enthusiastically. Garth Bland, County Archivist of Loamshire, always something of a wet blanket, has voiced criticism of the campaign.

We gladly participate in AAC, after all it's only like mounting a typical exhibition with the addition of AAC branding. However, at Loamshire we feel there are two attendant risks in AAC. One is the tendency for visitor numbers to increase to the point where we can't accommodate them and the second is for the press, irrespective of AAC and Loamshire briefings, to target the family history market. This is exacerbated by the AAC's formal link with the BBC's popular TV series Who Do You Think You Are.

AAC is turning into more of a family history awareness campaign. At Loamshire we do not perceive a shortfall in family history use of archives. We already face an exponential growth in visitors, mainly family historians, on top of which we now have the added growth rate engendered by Who Do You Think You Are.

To quote the report, section 5: a snapshot survey of 10 archive services revealed that physical visits increased by 24% and new user
[sic] by 36% in the last quarter of 2004, compared to the same period on [sic] 2003. These increases can be almost entirely attributed to family historians, said Garth.

This rate of increase cannot be sustained. We welcome family historians but we need to do more to encourage educational, academic and business users who have almost completely dropped off. The tendency over the last 10 years has not only been for overall visitor numbers to increase but for the constituent family historian percentage of the total to increase, here in Loamshire from about 70% 10 years ago to about 95% now. County record offices are being turned into family history reseach institutes, which we aren't and oughtn't to be.

On top of all this, the BBC is going to broadcast another series of Who Do You Think You Are, garth whined.

Garth went on to say how a recent AAC email circular had compared the popularity of Who Do You Think You Are with Channel 4's TV series Wife Swap, based on a ratings comparison contained in the AAC report.

Dr. Sarah Tyacke CB

I don't think such comparisons are apt. In any case, I offered to swap my wife for Sarah Tyacke * recently, an idea which didn't go down at all well with Mrs. Tyacke. I thought it would be a wonderful way of familiarising a person prominent in national archives activities with local archives activities over the breakfast table. I'm not sure whether it was the thought of my company each day or the very exacting domestic regime I impose which put her off.

I have no idea what Mr. Tyacke's reaction to the prospect of having Lucy with him for a week was but I reckon he'd have been thoroughly spoiled.

Further reading:

The official AAC web site

Details of the Bland family domestic regime click here

Channel 4's Wife Swap pages click here

[* Mrs. Tyacke is the Keeper of the Public Records and Chief Executive of the National Archives, editor]

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