Council abandons cuts to archive hours
Northamptonshire Council has decided to reverse controversial plans to cut opening hours and charge visitors for access
Northamptonshire County Council has revised its plans to cut opening hours and introduce significant access charges to its archives.
On 24 July, Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Service posted on its Facebook page that from 21 August, it would cut free opening hours to 9am-1pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, instead of 9am-5pm as currently, and 9am-4pm on the first Saturday of the month in April to October. Visitors would have to pay £31.50 an hour to access the archives from 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm on Mondays and Fridays and 2pm-4pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The statement caused a stir among archivists and family historians and an online petition protesting against the changes attracted over 3,000 signatures.
Dr Mary Ann Lund, a lecturer in Renaissance English Literature at the University of Leicester who started the petition, said the decision would “set a dangerous precedent” for other public access archives.
Sharon Grant, chair of the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), wrote to Councillor Heather Smith, leader of Northamptonshire County Council, urging the council to reconsider the “drastic cuts” and warning that the charges would be “prohibitive” for genealogists, academics and members of the public.
John Chambers, chief executive of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) also issued a statement opposing the cuts, and The National Archives contacted Northamptonshire Archives about the situation.
In response, Northamptonshire Archives posted a second status update saying the cuts were due to “limited and reducing local government resources” and that more resources would be redirected to digitising the archives.
Commenting on the proposals, genealogist Chris Paton said that Northamptonshire Archives risked “pricing most users out of being able to use the records”.
However, on 4 August Northamptonshire council released a new statement announcing that the archive would also be open for free from 2pm-5pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and 9am-1pm on the first Saturday of the month throughout the year. This essentially maintains the archive’s current opening hours, apart from a closure from 1pm-2pm.
The council added that visitors could “book oneto-one time with our research assistant during the times we are otherwise closed” at a rate of £31.50 an hour.
Councillor André Gonzalez de Savage, county council cabinet member for public protection, strategic infrastructure and economic growth, said: “Having listened to the views of our service users here in Northamptonshire and across the UK, a decision has been made to reconsider the proposed changes to opening hours.”
Nevertheless, he warned that in light of “significant financial challenges, changes to customer behaviour and a growth in online enquiries”, the council would review the service in the coming months as part of its annual budget process. He promised “a full public consultation” ahead of any changes being implemented.
The council also noted that in 2016 the archives had 3,500 visitors, a 50 percent drop from 2006. Chris Paton told Who Do You Think You Are?
Magazine that the decision was a “welcome development”. He urged interested parties to hold the council to its promise of a consultation on future changes and “offer to work constructively” with the consultation.
In a statement, AGRA said it was “pleased” at the news.
An online petition protesting against the changes attracted over 3,000 signatures