Storm over Northants archive access plans
County council backs down over hourly charges – for now
Northamptonshire County Council has been forced to back down over controversial proposals to reduce the opening hours at Northamptonshire Archives and charge an hourly rate for research services outside them.
The original proposal was to reduce opening hours to 9am-1pm from Tuesday to Thursday and 9am- 4pm on one Saturday a month from April to October. However, researchers would be able to make appointments at other times for a fee of £31.50 an hour.
Your Family History broke the story on 25 July and readers were aghast – see page 7 for details of some of the discussion at Facebook – as were others in the genealogical community. Blogger and YFH writer Chris Paton described the plan as ‘outrageous’ and the Association of Genealogists and Record Agents (AGRA) stated these were ‘drastic cuts, not fully thought through’.
Dr Mary Ann Lund from the University of Leicester then set up an online petition to call for a reversal of the plan amid concerns of it setting a ‘dangerous precedent’ for other archives to follow. This attracted almost 4000 signatures.
Such was the furor that Northamptonshire County Council has now put some of the changes on hold. Since 21 August, it has proceeded with a reduction in opening hours as follows: Tues-Thurs, 9am1pm; first Saturday in each month, 9am-1pm.
In a statement on 4 August, the council said: ‘There will be a review of the service ahead of the next financial year as part of the budget setting process and this will include a full consultation around any proposed changes.’
The council commented that its archive service had seen a 50% drop in visits over the last 10 years. On its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ NorthamptonshireArchives, the archive service also clarified: ‘… the option to pay for search room time outside of these hours will not be offered. Researchers can continue to book 1-2-1 time with our Research Assistant during the times we are otherwise closed, as has always been the case. It is this service that is charged at £31.50 per hour. The only change to our current arrangements is that the search room will be closed between 1pm and 2pm.’