Public statement in response to proposal to charge steep hourly access fee at Northamptonshire Archives
The Chair of the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), Sharon Grant, has today (31 July 2017) written to the Leader of Northamptonshire County Council expressing her dismay at the recent announcement made by Northamptonshire County Council to drastically reduce free access to the county archive to 12 hours a week (three mornings) and to charge a visitor’s fee of £31.50 an hour for the remainder of the week. The letter reads:
"AGRA is the largest professional organisation of accredited members in the UK and we promote high professional standards in the field of genealogy and historical research. AGRA also acts as a representative voice in matters relating to genealogy. Our members are users of county records offices and other local (and national) archives, and we have noted over recent times the increasing trend for public access to archive services to be cut without any regard to the practical impact on service users that are researchers, both professional and non professional. We acknowledge that these are challenging times for all local authorities but these changes have come as a complete surprise. They have not been subject to any form of public consultation and no alternatives have been presented for public comment. The plans may be a ‘bold step in difficult times’ (words taken from the Council’s recent statement); but AGRA’s view is that they are drastic cuts, not fully thought through, and the worry is that such a step will set a precedent to be followed by others.
Your archive service is a Place of Deposit in England and Wales, as regulated by The National Archives (TNA). This gives a national perspective to your archive service which requires consideration alongside the very important duty to provide local services to local people. Our members, including those based in your region, generally operate as small businesses; indeed many of them are sole practitioners and they will tend to mitigate the expenses of travel and subsistence by visiting an archive for a whole day. Their businesses cannot sustain such costs and charges by simply passing them on to the client; the costs will be prohibitive and it should be evident that only those undertaking high-revenue commercial works would be in a position to pay such charges. Academic researchers will face the same difficulties, as well as members of the public travelling any distance.
Our members have other interests beyond professional client work. They are local historians, run one-name and one-place studies, investigate their personal family histories and, indeed, are also volunteers for archive services where they give back far more than they take. They form part of a wide network of researchers, including academic researchers and highly proficient members of the public. It is through this network that local history is revealed to all, sometimes through chance discoveries. Sadly, the adverse impact of these changes on the heritage of the County of Northamptonshire for future generations is something that should not be underestimated.
I believe that your decision to introduce charges will reduce the number of individual visitors and, I urge you to consider alternatives."
Update 4/8/2017: Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Service have today released a statement which can be seen in full on their FaceBook page here stating that they have reconsidered their decision after listening to the views of their regular users and supporters. "The archives service will now be open for free access on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm and the first Saturday in each month, 9am to 1pm. In light of financial pressures and reducing visitor numbers, 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."