All Party Group hosts unique session with UK archive leaders

All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History 'hugely supportive'of the archive sector

‘Archival blood’, claimed George MacKenzie,  proves itself time and time again to be thicker than any ‘national water’.

The leaders of the UK’s national archives met with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History on 5 December to brief them on the successes and challenges of the UK archive sector and to take their questions. The MPs and Lords who attended were joined by a small audience of archivists and historians.

Aileen McClintock (Director and Deputy Keeper of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland), George MacKenzie (Keeper of Records at the National Records of Scotland) and Oliver Morley (Chief Executive and Keeper of the National Archives at Kew) confirmed that the archive sector worked in a collegiate way across all national and many international boundaries, sharing many challenges in a difficult financial environment and an ever-developing digital present and future.  While the clear brief of each national repository was the safety, preservation and access to government records, significant work was also undertaken to advise the profession and the public about all aspects of archive work – specifically the ‘right home for the right archive’, be it religious, scientific, business or private.

The National Archives at Kew is one of the nation’s biggest digital players. A great deal, though a small percentage of the overall total of 11 million records, is available online. As the records of government will increasingly be in digital format, it is vital, said Oliver Morley, that the right balance be struck.  ‘We have to continue to bring people in to see the original’ he emphasised.

Aileen McClintock shared with the meeting the transformational effect of the new PRONI building in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. Open less than a year, the £30 million building has delivered the space and the facilities for the record office to take its proper place in the cultural landscape. Visits are up, events are well-supported and there is growing pride and ownership in the wider Northern Ireland community.

Each of the archive leaders has statutory powers within their areas. A significant new Act in 2011 has given the National Records of Scotland the responsibility to ensure that Scottish public bodies have a records management plan. The National Archives at Kew has an absolute responsibility for collections of public records in local government archives and can intervene if they are perceived to be at risk.
The three leaders were clear that, while users of archives are very satisfied and support the sector well, there is much work to do to create a wide understanding of archives and to create a culture in which archival and records  work is valued.  In buildings hundreds of miles apart, the leaders were all facing tough financial times; all agreed that ‘scaling up’ in the right facilities, was the preferred future for many very small archive collections.

All Party Group and UK archive leaders The 90 minute meeting with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History was a first. Chairman Dr Hywel Francis thanked the speakers warmly for their time and for the work they do. He assured them that the APPG was hugely supportive and could be called upon as friends.

Dr Francis announced that he was keen to use this format of meeting again; his Group was likely to extend an invitation to the national librarians of the UK, Scotland and Wales for a similar meeting in 2012.

Photo shows, left to right, Oliver Morley, Aileen McClintock, Dr Hywel Francis and George MacKenzie.