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24 November

The National Archives and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) welcome the new government policy on archives - Archives for the 21st Century - which has now been laid before Parliament.

Archives for the 21st Century is a strategic vision for the archives sector, and is the first such policy for ten years.  In challenging times, the policy re-asserts the vital importance of archives as the gateway to the nation's common heritage, while reflecting the extraordinary advances in technology that offer both challenges and unprecedented opportunities.

Archives for the 21st Century recognises the role archives have to play in linking people with their communities, their heritage and their responsibility to future generations, and places archives in a present-day political and professional context, ensuring they remain relevant in a digital age.

This publication follows an extensive consultation exercise that took place in summer 2009, generating over 600 responses from individuals, organisations and institutions across the country. The finished policy incorporates many of these contributors' valuable suggestions.

Action plan

The National Archives and MLA will discuss and agree a detailed action plan with stakeholders from all parts of the archives sector in the coming months. The plan will carry forward the recommendations of the policy that require government action and is scheduled for publication by the end of January 2010.

With such widespread support received for the policy, MLA and The National Archives now encourage professional bodies, individual institutions and other key stakeholders to get involved in this process - to help us shape and deliver the work streams proposed in the action plan.  We also hope they will review their own operations against the principles of Archives for the 21st Century and identify actions they can take to bring about the policy objectives it identifies, bringing major benefits to the whole sector. 

Recommendations

Archives for the 21st Century sets out five key recommendations to help the sector build the foundations for a more sustainable future and respond to the challenges of the digital information age:

  • Develop bigger and better services in partnership - working towards increased sustainability within the sector
  • Strengthened leadership and a responsive, skilled workforce
  • Co-ordinated response to the growing challenge of managing digital information so that it is accessible now and remains discoverable in the future
  • Comprehensive online access for archive discovery through catalogues and to digitised archive content by citizens at a time and place that suits them
  • Active participation in cultural and learning partnerships promoting a sense of identity and place within the community

This policy does not offer a single blueprint for the way forward, but suggests a range of options that can be applied to short and long term planning in archives, according to local need and priorities.