Friday, November 03, 2006

Archival Farm

SQA is aware of quiet mutterings of discontent among county archivists, led by a prominent East Anglian county archivist. Low salaries, poor differentials in relation to librarians, failed lottery bids? you ask.

No. It’s all about community archives. The concept of community archives has grown out of European Union directives on regionalisation, although this is not widely known, and the formation of such archives sits alongside such issues as the granting of more power to parish councils to make them into community or neighbourhood councils. The imperative for the transition of the hitherto obscure community into such a being that it has archives or a more powerful local government presence, forms part of the plan for the break up of the country into regions (groups of counties), sub regions and sub sub regions (unitary authorities), with community councils at the bottom. This it is thought by the European Commission, is closer to the mainland European model.

Interested readers can discover more in Lindsay Jenkins’ book Disappearing Britain, The EU and the Death of Local Government

Furthermore, the National Council on Archives defines community archives as:

A broad spectrum of activity that ranges from the outreach and partnership work of mainstream archive services with a wide range of different communities to the grass-roots activity of documenting and recording community heritage, irrespective of the media used. Community archives encompass communities that are defined by geography, culture, or common interest. The uniting factor is that community archives represent a direct participation in the saving of our collective memory.

The question is, whose collective memory? The term collective means different things to different people. For Christopher Story in his book The European Union Collective, Enemy of its Member States: A study in Russian and German Strategy to complete Lenin’s world revolution, collectivism means Communist totalitarianism as being gradually implemented by the EU.

We asked Benedict Crumplethorne, principal spokesman for SQA to offer comment.

The situation is this. Most archivists work in local government record offices and as such, supported by council tax payers and tax payers generally, we are surely already the true community archives. Frustratingly, the scheme has the backing of the National Archives, which unveiled the idea in the first place, and the Community Archives Development Group of the National Council on Archives.

Jonathan Pepler, County Archivist of Cheshire and Chairman of NCA states in his draft annual report:

One of the objects of the Council from its inception has been to ensure that the archives sector speaks with a united voice. In pursuit of this, the officers have begun a dialogue with other bodies in the sector.

So much for speaking with one voice.

So what then are the issues at the chalk face? We asked Garth Bland, county archivist of Loamshire to explain why he is so much in agreement with his East Anglian counterpart.

For a long time this initiative looked like just another of those irksome schemes hatched by national or regional bodies to curry favour with the general public, New Labour and the European Commission. However, what is developing is a move away from depositing and preserving archives in full-spec BS5454 local government record offices towards enabling voluntary bodies, often supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to retain or collect material normally within our collecting policies (those very same collecting policies the TNA advocates in its Standard for Record Repositories). The tax payer is thus paying twice for an archives service and archives are ending up in local schools, privately run museums and Portacabins when they could benefit from professional custodianship, BS5454 storage conditions and conservation and repair facilities. Apart from that, we are seeing the real meaning and therefore the real usefulness of archives as evidence, blurred.

In support of Garth’s point, we quote Jack Latimer, website editor for CommunityArchives.org.uk, who compounds the problem by promoting a completely erroneous idea of archives, by stating:
The only caveat is that to satisfy the requirement of being an archive, the organisation should have a collection of some sort. This collection should include primary source material such as photos, documents, oral histories etc. (rather than just articles or essays about those source materials). The collection could be either physical or digital - or both.

So that’s what Archives Awareness has come to! Archives are not administrative records but merely sort of archives or collections of anything. At the same time the new blurred definition of archives assists the EU in its dismantling of our concept of our heritage and the dumbing down of archives as evidence.

Further reading:

CommunityArchives.Org.UK

National Archives Community Access to Archives Project

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