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First Local Authority archive survey reveals wide variations

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First Local Authority archive survey reveals wide variations

29 February 2008

The first comprehensive survey of local authority archive services reveals a 'postcode lottery' of service quality across England and Wales. The variations in service mean that some irreplaceable historical records run the risk of not surviving for future generations.

The Local Authority archive survey – a self-assessment programme co-ordinated by The National Archives – revealed some excellent local authority archive services. Norfolk and the London Metropolitan Archives came top in the survey, commended for their work in developing collections, and both achieving a three-star ranking.

Bucking the trend for smaller archives, Westminster (three-star) and Tameside (two-star) also scored well, and the East Riding of Yorkshire achieved three stars as a result of a new building, opened in 2006. Unfortunately, at the other end of the scale, nearly 13 per cent of the 117 services assessed failed to gain any stars at all.

Common challenges

The survey reveals common areas where many local archive services continue to face challenges:

Arrangements for the permanent preservation of digital records

Improving building facilities to ensure development and quality of service provision

Addressing cataloguing backlogs, to improve access to collections

Developing collections, which continues to be a challenge due to lack of staff and storage capacity, and financial constraints making it difficult to buy collections

Natalie Ceeney, chief executive at The National Archives, commented: "Local archives are key to preserving our nation's heritage, and the services they provide are invaluable both generally and in the communities they serve. The Local Authority archive survey is a great step forward, enabling archives to show local authorities where they are doing well, how they compare to other services and the areas in need of improvement. Indeed, the results show that, despite the quality of effort, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure our heritage is adequately cared for."

Nicholas Kingsley, head of the National Advisory Services at The National Archives, said: "Perhaps the clearest message is although local archives achieve a huge amount with the resources they are given, larger institutions are often better able to cope with all the responsibilities of an archive and offer higher quality services. We are working with local archives to help them address the difficulties the survey has brought to light. There may be a case here for some smaller archives to look at consolidating their services, or moving to joint provision."

Visit the Local Authority archive survey to find out more.

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