The greatest threat is to those organisations that suddenly find themselves having to go into liquidation. The liquidator's interest is simply to shut the office room/building, order the staff to leave and take financial records. As the latter are usually are computerised the hard drives are taken away. Everything else is left lock-up on the premises. This leaves the landlord with the task of having to clear everything, which usually has no saleable value, so that s/he can try and find new occupants as quickly as possible.
Organisations which do not have staff and are run by volunteers, who keep records and pass them through haphazardly from one set of officers to another, pose archive/record deposit challenges akin to those which the Society for the Study of Labour History has tried to address over the years. The usual advice is to deposit locally with the local authority archive service.
The scale of the cuts now required by the ConDem Government mean that many of these will be under threat.
A third category will be libraries and archives held in historic educational institutions which suddenly face closure, some because of public funding cuts, and others for other reasons, as is the case with Ushaw College, the Roman Catholic Seminary in County Durham.
What can the British Record Association and other bodies do to encourage organisations to take seriously the future of their archives and records?
A presentation on record and archive management systems for charities given at the British Record Association Annual Conference on 7 December was applicable to very large national organisations but not relevant to the majority of small organisations which dominate the charity/community/voluntary sector.
A strategy is needed which addresses:
- alerting organisations of the importance of having an archival/record policy and a programme of deposit before they face a crisis
- how organisations suddenly faced by a crisis can be given emergency assistance to ensure their archives/records are not thrown away
- identifying facilities which could become emergency depositories for archives and records until permanent homes can be found for them
An action plan to implement such a strategy could include the following:
- providing guidance that could be circulated through organisations such as National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, regional equivalents such as London Voluntary Action Council (LVAC), and local authority based Councils of Social Service and Voluntary Action Councils.
- providing guidance to national organisations which have branches around the country.
- persuading the editors of History Today and BBC History to include an article on the subject.
- discussing with the archive repository world which organisations may have expansion facilities to be emergency repositories e.g. in London Bishopsgate Institute Archive; nationally Black Cultural Archives for Black organisations collections.
- a national web based network to enable people to alert each other to emergency situations, and to the start by local authorities of libraries and heritage service cuts consultations