Monday, March 21, 2005

One step forward, two steps back

An everyday story of joined-up government.

SQA has previously had cause to express concern at ignorance of local government archives matters among civil servants (see Freedom to Destroy Information and Archives? What Archives?)

We regret the situation extends also to the Information Commissioner's Office. Freedom of Information Act Awareness Guidance No.12 (When is information caught by the Freedom of Information Act?) (section 7 part i) states an individual may loan his family archives to a library [a library indeed!, editor] in order for them to be viewed by the public click here.

In particular, there is a strong similarity between the Audit Commission's omission of archives in its Comprehensive Performance Assessment and the Information Commissioner's Office in their shared focusing on libraries and museums.

It seems the National Council on Archives and The National Archives have their work cut out in achieving the levels of advocacy and awareness they preach in their various reports (e.g. Listening to the Past, Speaking to the Future and Archive Development Report) as much in government circles as among the general population and media.

It is an ironic and curious thing that possibly this greater awareness of libraries and even a tendency to confuse their work and purpose with those of archives offices may be precisely the result of trying to raise the profile of archives. Quite simply, the confusion of the two services seems inescapable.

We asked Benedict Crumplethorne, SQA spokesman on Civil Service issues, to offer further clarification and comment.

The growing tendency for archives services to blur into libraries in the minds of civil servants and members of the public is accountable partly to the much greater public familiarity with libraries and partly also to what Michael Roper, a former Keeper of the Public Records, once described as Heritagisation. The result of heritagisation, as Mr. Roper correctly anticipated, is a blurring and blending of cultural heritage services. While this is wonderfully politically correct, it makes for the downfall of the smaller and less well funded archives domain as a recognised service with its distinctive needs and led by its own professional elite.

Come back Michael Roper!

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