Coun­cil aban­dons cuts to ar­chive hours

Northamp­ton­shire Coun­cil has de­cided to re­v­erse con­tro­ver­sial plans to cut open­ing hours and charge vis­i­tors for ac­cess

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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

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