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Digitization prompts fears for local archive

Times are tough for cash strapped local authorities as they seek to provide a plethora of essential services. Unsurprising then, that Enfield Council has been looking for areas in which it can find economies. One such appears to be Enfield Local Studies Centre and Museum.

The Enfield Local Studies Centre identifies, acquires, and preserves archival materials that document the history of the London Borough of Enfield, and makes records available for the benefit of all. If you haven’t been there personally, you will have to take my word for it that it’s run by an amazing staff, who have a brilliant knowledge and a genuine enjoyment in revealing the uncovered history of the borough.

The archive probably doesn’t bring in much hard cash directly, but it performs wonders in developing a sense of place in Enfield, working across the generations and helping promote the borough, and helping others to do so. Palmers Green Jewel in the North wouldn’t have anything like its current content without help from the team, in particular in sourcing photos and references.

Until 18 October, Enfield Council is running a consultation on big changes to the archive. The aim is to digitize the entire collection so that it will be available online, but – to avoid a drop in service while that digitization is happening – if the plans go ahead you will only be able to visit by appointment. It will be exciting to be able to access the archive online but once the digitization is complete there is no indication of what might happen to the service and the team, and that is where my concerns for the service really set in in earnest.

A petition has been set up via 38 Degrees – I am not sure that it is quite accurate in that the petitioners seem to think that the intention is to make the digital archive available via, which is not the case from my reading of the consultation information. Enfield Council has also not explicitly said that the service will be cut, although obviously that is a reasonable fear. You can sign the petition here – more importantly, if you care about the archive, please respond to the consultation by clicking here.

One reply on “Digitization prompts fears for local archive”

Dear Sue – This may well be more than you expected as a “Comment” but it is a copy of my answer to one of the questions on the Council Questionnaire (and I deny any kind of improper relationship with Kate Godfrey).

“As regards the question earlier that, “Having access to an online family history resource, provided by the Local Studies Centre, will be of interest to me”. I understood that there was already at least one PC in the Centre that could be used for that purpose and, although I myself have not used it, I thought that the Ancestry site was available on it.

I have myself already digitised some of the records held at the Centre:

(a) The complete run of every issue of “The Recorder, etc.” newspaper, which has been published on Data DVD by the Southgate District Civic Trust.

(b) All of the records found at the Centre and the Museum relating to Southgate County (Grammar) School – from its first opening on 1 May 1907 to its amalgamation with other local schools, to form the Comprehensive school, at the end the September term 1967 – available publicly at the website:

(c) Various other documents and books by George Sturges: also, one of which, his autobiography, I purchased from a bookseller in the USA, and lent to the Library for Kate Godfrey to scan.

Although I have only visited the Centre infrequentIy over the years, I have made constant reference to the staff, from the time Graham Dalling was in charge, and I have received immeasurable assistance, especially from Kate Godfrey, who has the special talent of unearthing documents, photos and maps which have been filed, correctly, under a classification not relevant to my interest but which Kate’s skill and experience has revealed was in fact of interest to my subject.

I am wholly in favour of digitisation – the ability to “search” material is absolutely invaluable – but I would like it clearly understood that it can never be a substitute for skilled support staff.
I would also make the point that one of the immeasurably valuable contents of the Centre is its collection of large scale documents – in particular maps – which do not lend themselves to digitisation, unless the product of the digitisation is simply a same-scale map.

I would mention that one of my current projects is a study for the Edmonton Hundred Historical Society (the historical area of the Edmonton Hundred including Enfield) and the Edmonton Historical Society (of Alberta, Canada), on the connection that led to the naming of Edmonton in Canada, and I have been greatly impressed by the quality of both the digital resources and the quality of the staff in Alberta; also, I am indebted to Kate for providing, amongst other information, the historic maps of the relevant area in the present borough in England.

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