More threats to local archives

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Don't Bulldoze Central Library group has expressed its concerns to the Hebden Bridge Web about threats to the West Yorkshire Archive Service in the following statement

We would like to express our profound unease regarding information that has reached Calderdale regarding a recent West Yorkshire Archive Service Delivery Strategy plan which, if implemented, will involve draconian cuts in Calderdale District Archive Search Room opening hours.  It will also mean the loss of permanent Calderdale-based Archive staff who have developed specialist local historical knowledge and expertise over many years relating to this historic corner of West Yorkshire.  Without more detailed information, it is not possible to comment at length at this stage but, given the urgency of the situation, we feel compelled to make a number of general observations.

We are aware of the progress made in the development of online cataloguing in West Yorkshire in recent years, and we acknowledge the need to increase significantly the range of more heavily used resources online for both local and non-local enquirers.  We would argue, however, that there is still insufficient document content online to justify any reduction in public access to original documents at the present time.  Although it is becoming a vital aspect of any archive service, digitisation is a costly, labour-intensive and time-consuming process that can never cover more than a minute fraction of most repository holdings.  For this reason we regard as extremely premature any decision to reduce the search room opening hours of record offices that will need to remain front-line service points for many researchers for many years to come.

We are also totally opposed to any plan which would involve the loss of ‘resident’ staff who are intimately acquainted with the specific history and topography of a particular district and who can therefore offer expert guidance regarding Calderdale-related documentation.  There may be a case for an increasing element of centralised information provision, but this should run alongside, not replace, onsite face-to-face contact with staff with local expertise in District offices.  We find it deplorable, moreover, that staff in District offices were not consulted during the preparation of the new strategy.  The announcement of the proposed plan appears to have been as much of a shock to the staff as to the general public who make extensive use of the excellent Calderdale facilities.

If this plan is implemented, we feel that it will have disastrous consequences for District office service provision.  It will be profoundly disruptive for the service as a whole, will be extremely unpopular with professional staff who will be required to try to make it work against their better judgement, will be largely unhelpful for the many researchers who require regular access to original documents that will not be online for many years to come, and will have serious implications for the Central Reference Library Service with which the Archive Service is ecologically connected.  It will also result in a permanent deterioration in the quality of a well established and widely respected Archive Service that (after Wakefield HQ) administers the busiest District Archive Search Room in West Yorkshire in terms of visitor numbers.  For these reasons, we feel that the new strategy should be vigorously challenged by Calderdale MBC, and that every attempt should be made to halt the implementation of the plan in order to safeguard current staffing levels, document access arrangements and Search Room opening hours.

See also

Hebweb News: Don't Bulldoze our Library


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