LAST WORD NICK 74
THE LAST WORD
Archive of the Year Awards n my introductory letter, I drew attention to the fact that archives and libraries across the country are facing up to heavy budget cuts, often by as much as 30 per cent of their operating budget. Yet beleaguered archive staff continue to perform frontline public service, providing us with excellent advice and access to records despite their own worries and concerns. The need to keep the profile of the archival services in the public eye is one of the reasons that YFH created an Archive of the Year award when we launched the magazine back in April 2010, as well as to acknowledge the challenges faced and recognize the superb services provided. We have received many nominations from users of UK archives from around the world, many of whom took a strict definition of ‘archive’ to include online document collections; but for the purposes of the award, we’ve restricted entries to county or municipal record offices, local study centres, specialist and regional archives, and university or library manuscript collections. In analyzing the entries, the judging panel from our editorial team looked at a range of criteria when assessing the merits of each nomination, including the service provided by the staff; the facilities in the search rooms; the accessibility and quality of the catalogue and finding aids; the range of services provided online, including access to digitized records; and the range of documents available for consultation. One of our readers, Rob Burns, pointed out that this was a ‘great idea, but unfair. Archives such as Doncaster whose turnover of people is less than that of say Kew or Derbyshire stand no chance of winning this competition.’ Actually, nothing could be further from the truth – we ran the campaign in order to recognize the important community service that smaller archives provide. We were particularly heartened by the consistent way people nominated archives because of the friendly, helpful and enthusiastic nature of their staff – ‘the friendliest in any record office and the most helpful, the larger ones could do with taking a leaf out of their book’ (Hereford); ‘staff are more friendly than I remember from their old home’ (Glamorgan); ‘I have always found the staff helpful and very knowledgeable. They are always willing to help or to suggest other sources that might be of assistance, no matter what the topic’ (Carmarthenshire).
It has been very hard to choose a winner, given the passion and enthusiasm for local archives shown by everyone who’s submitted their suggestion. However, one organization stood out, not just because it received the most nominations but also because a wide range of services were praised. We also decided to award three ‘Highly Commended’ certificates, and in recognition of the fact that many institutions are struggling to keep their doors open in poor conditions, we’ve added an ‘Against All Odds’ category for places that nonetheless keep on striving to excel despite everything that’s stacked against them. So, to the winners … Our three ‘Highly Commended’ institutions are Darlington Library’s Centre for Local Studies, championed by Christine Jemmeson, who cites staff that are ‘helpful and well informed’ and praises the ‘frequently changing displays’; Birmingham Central Library Archives, nominated by David Fisher, because ‘the collection of local and county information is superb … the staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful’; and Wolverhampton Archives, suggested by Kate Hartland-Westwood on the basis that the archive has ‘excellent resources and staff who are knowledgeable, friendly and go the extra mile’. The two winners ‘Against All Odds’ were the Plymouth and West Devon Archive Service, whose staff are ‘so helpful even though their working conditions are disgusting’; and Doncaster Archives, whose limited resources prompted Rob Burns to send us his comment, referred to earlier. And our Archive of the Year? We’re announcing the winner at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at Olympia on Saturday 26 February at 1pm. You can either come along to our stand and see the presentation or log on to our website from Sunday 27 February to find out the name of the winner. You can also start nominating for the 2012 awards whilst online, telling us which institution deserves the award and why.
The campaign recognizes the important community service that smaller archives provide
Y O U R FA M I LY H I S TO RY
YOU CAN RESPOND to Nick’s Last Word on our website at www.your-familyhistory.com/features. There you will also find free downloads of this column from previous issues. Let us know your thoughts!