Friday, 10 July 2009

TNA budget cut deja vu

Nick Barrett, genealogist with the UK television program Who Do You Think You Are, writes a letter to The Times deploring TNA budget cuts "At a time when personal heritage in the form of genealogy is enjoying a boom period, and history is being re-energized in schools through hands-on teaching based on primary sources, this move reflects the sad decline of an institution that was founded in the Victorian age as part of a conscious effort to preserve and improve access to our public heritage."

Maybe Victorian solutions to preservation and access don't fit the 21st century reality.

Some of Barrett's complaints are a bit hard to swallow. Through TV programs like WDYTYA people get the impression that documents magically appear when the celebrity featured walks through the archives door. They don't see the work that goes on to find that document -- it's not good televison. Expectations of organizations like TNA and LAC increase. If documents are to be preserved that can only be done by copying, online availability, and the ready access demanded and met by indexing. That costs. Why should the general public demand, online or on-site, be considered somehow less worthy of support from the public purse than those of academics and other specialists? If the demand goes up shouldn't the budget go up to provide the previous program level? If that's not politically viable how should cuts be made?

Barrett draws attention to plans to “displace” all TNA's specialist advice staff as part of a continuing efficiency drive to make 10 per cent savings.

Was it ever thus?

An article in The Times on Wednesday, Nov 12, 1980 is headlined "Lord Denning says 10% cuts would damage the National Archives."

Lord Denning, who was Master of the Rolls wrote that that far from condoning any cuts, we (an advisory committee he chaired) considered that the service provided was already inadequate.

"We were shocked to be told at the end of last year that a 10% cut was going to be imposed on the office ... " "We were disappointed that we were not consulted before such a proposal was made and we are strongly opposed to it."

During 1979 the staff of the Public Record Office was reduced from 466 to 436, 6.5%, and managers were under instructions to achieve a further cut. This was at a time that saw a 2% increase in visits and 8% increase in documents produced. Another comment in 1979 was "genealogy continued to enjoy a boom among general readers."

1 comment:

DWP said...

How about "user pay"?