Troubling news comes from the Ministry of Justice, which is threatening to destroy papers relating to the composer, Sir Malcolm Arnold, who was a ward of the Court of Protection from 1979 to 1986 due to mental health problems. The Ministry claims that it cannot retain the papers because of the personal information contained in them and has “exhausted all possible options” for preserving the files. This is nonsense, because data protection does not apply to someone who has died and there are several repositories that would be only too happy to accept the archive. An appeal for the preservation of the archive has been signed by many eminent writers and artists. The Ministry is believed to be in discussions with The National Archives, so watch this space for further developments.
The government has said that museums and galleries in England can open from 4 July provided that safety measures are implemented. Guidance developed by the National Museum Directors’ Council sets out nine considerations that need to be in place before re-opening to support the safety of staff and visitors. They have also created a suggested timeline to help museums plan their re-opening.
National museums in London have said that they are phasing their opening, but should all be open over the summer. But, how many smaller museums and galleries will be able to meet the requirements of social distancing...? As I’ve already reported, many well-known smaller venues have already announced that they are struggling. The Museums Association says that substantial financial aid is still needed to help the sector, but will the government see the necessity?
The National Archives has also produced guidelines to help archives plan for re-opening that include links to a checklist and risk management template:
But it is very odd that archives and libraries are still scheduled to be closed when shops, often far smaller spaces, are allowed to open and some archives already operate a booking system, so why not extend that? Most archive staff that I know have not been furloughed and there has to come a point where they simply have no more work that they can do from home. The benefits of access to libraries, museums and archives are well-documented so, for everyone’s well-being – staff, visitors and users – let’s see them re-opened sooner rather than later.
Interesting piece on BBC radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning that a “lost” story by Beatrix Potter – “The Tale of Kitty in Boots” – has been uncovered and will be published later this year. The presenter referred to the find as being in a dusty archive but the researcher, Jo Hanks, swiftly replied that the V&A [Victoria & Albert Museum] look after their archives!
Then, only about 30 minutes later, there was another piece referring to archives! One of the latest files to be released by The National Archives (TNA) is about an MP’s proposal to Churchill that the UK should introduce a McCarthy style search to root out communists in the BBC which, thankfully, did not happen.
I was interested to hear Jeff James, Chief Executive of The National Archives (TNA) on BBC radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this morning, responding to Vint Cerf’s comments. Cerf, President of Google, had been speaking at a conference in the USA about the dangers of ‘a hidden century’ in which he highlighted the ever-growing problem of digital preservation. He warned that old computer files could become ‘useless junk’ and even suggested that if we want to preserve our digital photographs we should print them out! The phrase ‘technical obsolescence’ has been around for years with little interest shown by the media except for occasional scare stories. Who remembers the ‘Millennium Bug’?
Now, because of who Cerf is, everyone is starting to take note, which is good. However, what most of the press coverage failed to report was the work that has been going on in this country for many years to try and address this issue, in many cases with limited resources. James was right to flag up the lead that TNA has been taking, producing tools such as PRONOM to map the compatibility of different versions of software. Sterling work is also being done at King’s College and by the Digital Preservation Coalition.
Let’s hear it for some home-grown innovation for once!
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture