Enfield Archives and Local Studies - council consultation on service provison

For anyone interested in the history of  Bowes Park, local history generally, archives, heritage and the like, you may be interested to learn, as i have recently, that Enfield Local Studies Centre and Museum has recently published a consultation document on the Enfield Council website that suggests significant changes and reductions are proposed for their service provision.

 

If anyone wishes to fill out the questionnaire, the website suggests they have until the 18th of October:

 

http://www.enfield.gov.uk/info/867/current_consultations/3896/enfie...

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I am certainly in favour of preserving local archive facilities but can you please briefly explain why the proposed changes constitute a reduction in service? Being able to access digitised versions of the archive will actually be an improvement, will it not?

There's not really that much detail in the consultation brief, and it may be my perception, but it does mention 'efficiencies ' and hints at reduced opening hours (to an appointment system) and a reconfiguring of physical space. I've also never heard of any similar organisation or authority attempting a wholesale digitisation of its archives. Call me cynical, but when consultations themselves are being implemented for local authority or non-profit heritage, arts, library and archive services, then the last few years have demonstrated that cuts do often unfortunately follow.

It would be a shame if the word "efficiency" is lost to normal usage i.e actually doing a specified job without wasting time or money. We are in danger of forever putting quotemarks around the word as a wink-wink code that what we have detected is some kind of secretive destruction of services that the Council re dressing up as an improvement.

Being able to access council-held archives remotely, and still having access by appointment to local experts sounds like an efficient service to me. As to other organisations, The British Library is committed to its digitisation programme and no doubt many others. Think of national Births, Marriages and Deaths records. Any organisation which does not make an effort to digitise its archive and make it available to the public is, IMHO, asking to have its funds removed permanently.

Just because a change is mooted following announcement of huge cuts to all council services does not necessarily mean that dedicated officers are not looking for a win/win - a way to preserve or even improve service while saving money. Of course it all depends on how it is done, but I would rather have a remote access service than the archives becoming completely inaccessible. I do hope I am not being naive, of course.

I do believe that Geoffrey Kemball-Cook is being at risk of being more than a little myopic. I have added some more information to improve the discussion.

The full version of the newsletter is attached as in .pdf format

'Enfield 229' or the "Unofficial Friends of Museum and Archive Services" have issued a four-page bulletin outlining their fears about the impact of the proposed changes. They accuse the Council of a lack of frankness about the proposals, in particular the failure to mention that four and a half experienced personnel would be replaced by two new and more junior staff.

They summarise their demands as follows:

"We would like the cabinet of the Council to review the proposals to close the open archives and the main museum exhibition area. In particular to reconsider the vast % cut on staff teams currently standing at four and a half posts.

"We would like the councillors in charge to invest in more open discussions with its stakeholders, public and supporters in order to consider new ways in which the museum and archives might draw in additional support through other means. We have some suggestions and will be happy to discuss them.

"If necessary we would like to see an increase in the council tax by 56p per citizen."

56p being what they claim is the total cost of the museum and archive services per person in the borough per year.

Why "Enfield 229"?

"Enfield 229" comes from the reference number of one of the oldest objects in the museum's collection Bd.229 - a 10,000 year old mammoth's tooth found in 1909 and displayed in Southgate Town Hall from 1914.  It was so popular that it inspired the creation of the borough's first museum.

Attachments:

Many thanks to Donald for uploading this newsletter, which I shall print off and read with interest. I am very happy to plead both myopia and naivete - I am not an intimate of the archive service and its users.

However what I am aware of is the huge cuts in spending required by councils such as Enfield and Haringey due to the withering central government cuts, largely resulting from catastrophic borrowing over decades to support all our lifestyles. Already we have seen grievous cuts to all sorts of council services previously regarded as sacrosanct, such as those provided to vulnerable and disabled borough residents. At some point reality has to seep in. It is, in my humble opinion, absurd to respond to council proposals to make an individual cut by working out the cost of those cuts per person in their Council Tax. None of these cuts are being made in isolation - they will be part of a huge programme of cuts all across the council's activities. Every cut will have its constituency of users for whom they are seen as a disaster which will save little. But the councils spend their money in hundreds or thousands of places. How can you justify the protection of one small area? I do not mean that this area is not important, but they all are - to their users.

Geoffery asks "

How can you justify the protection of one small area? I do not mean that this area is not important, but they all are - to their users.

I am of an age to remember that Libraries in "Southgate" were a Middlesex County Service hence the logo over the door of the Library in Broomfield Lane (circa 1940).

It may be a different pot of money, but at the risk of seriously annoying more than several enthusiasts, I would save £30 million by abandoning "Cycle Enfield Mini- holland" through our shopping centre

But more seriously any proposals must be open honest and transparent.....

In addition to the newsletter Donald has uploaded, above, there is attached here a briefing note  about the consultation from The Enfield Society which references LB Enfields own publication on the importance of archives (PDF download)

Attachments:

Geoffrey

I too welcome the availability of archives online and 24/7 access is desirable.

However as someone who has used the Local History studies centre (researching items for this site), I would far prefer the attention of a skilled and knowledgeable specialist than rely on a Google algorithm to make relevant and useful connections. Reducing staff numbers to almost zero - and relying on technology to replace them - is perhaps a solution, but is based on financial constraint alone and not an understanding of what a skilled archivist can add to local history exploration.   

Drawing on a live archive to present exhibitions and events - if done well - has a role in place-making and community cohesion. It does a disservice to professional archivists and museum curators to suggest that their skills can be replaced by a search engine - just as the removal of trained librarians has diminished our library service and replaced these skilled roles with well-meaning volunteers. 

Surely a significant duty of a local authority in any civilised world includes the preservation of communal history and to interpret and make available the collected knowledge to all members of that community.  

Believe me Richard there is nothing in what you have written which I disagree with, in any way. Rather, and perhaps provocatively and naively, I am trying to work out whether we can find our way to a "soft landing" and avoid the "hard landing" as council activities are ruthlessly cropped in search of yet more savings.

We have been living in a golden era during the twentieth century in which a perfect storm of positive elements conspired to make us believe that everything would continue to be wonderful: in particular the availability of cheap energy, low expectations of salaries even from experienced professional workers, low housing costs, very low infrastructure costs due to extremely low wages for working class workers, willing community volunteer labour at every level, falling food costs due to unsustainable factory farming, cheap goods due to exploitation of raw materials and labour overseas, and above all the lunatic borrowing by successive governments to prop up ever-improving standards of living, relying on the UK's "good name" that we will be able to pay of the bills "later".

Now the reverse storm is here, and who is willing - anywhere? - to pay 70% income tax and voluntarily drop their standard of living by 50% so that their local councils can continue to fund all their services? At least if we are creative in the use of diminishing resources, we can avoid the hard landing of service closure, in favour of the soft landing of techonology-assisted provision supported, hopefully, by the well-intentioned volunteers you refer to. Use of volunteers is no failure, no second-class solution. Volunteering - as you know very well, as a prime example of a community-minded volunteer running the facility that alows me to express my views - not only preserves valuable financial and labour reserves, it is both personally satisfying and empowering to those donating their time, and builds the skill base of the community, allowing councils  - at least in some cases - to hand on elements of their services to enable the soft landing.

I'm sorry if this sounds overly dramatic but in broad I see the hard landing coming all around and there is no cavalry riding to the rescue. Councils such as Haringey or Enfield will have no choice but to cut their costs. It must feel like the worst job in the world.

I may have strayed rather from the specific issue of the museum and archive service but the threat is a general one to all services and I do not believe that specific "pleas" will work - in fact they risk distracting those with the specific interest in a service into a time- and energy-consuming battle which will leave them demoralised and exhausted. What we have to think about is how to make the best of what can be done and look ahead. For example, If there is no way the reduced staff can digitise the archive on their own, who is willing to help?

Geoffrey writes:

I see the hard landing coming all around and there is no cavalry riding to the rescue. Councils such as Haringey or Enfield will have no choice but to cut their costs. It must feel like the worst job in the world.

There may be no cavalry coming to the rescue and Geoffrey has mention digitisation of the archive.... (a la The British Library) but that does not come free - the document handling and "tagging" needs skilled and expert handling. so the upfront cost is higher. 

Geoffrey writes:

What we have to think about is how to make the best of what can be done and look ahead. For example, If there is no way the reduced staff can digitise the archive on their own, who is willing to help?

Behind reduction from "skilled staff" to "junior staff" is losing skills to replace archivists currently on a final salary local authority pension with new junior others who are not on the local authority pension scheme.

 

Often the phrase comes up offering "all you have to do is?". OR that everyone is measuring "cost" but ignore "the value"

Prompted by one or more  contributions from elsewhere.....

 a large amount of the current success of the Museum aspect of the Enfield Archive and Museum Consultation has been the willingness of contributors to provide exhibits on extended loan -  but the absolute ownership of the individual exhibits may have been "reserved"

When discussing the future of Broomfield House, (which used to house its own Museum), the suggestion was being made that some of the Museum exhibits be displayed in the rebuilt building

There also remains the question of the small sum of voluntary monetary contributions made following the fire at Broomfield House that the Finance Department of LBEnfield hold on trust

A senior person in the museums world who lives locally has been in touch by e-mail to contribute to the debate - but has asked not to be identified personally as this is an individual comment - not the view of any organisation

"The proposal to reduce the Enfield Archive and Local Studies Centre to appointment only and reduce to just one member of staff is certainly not great and that has been attracting most of the local attention so far.

But what is not clear from the way the council have worded the consultation is that they plan to deal a near fatal blow to the museum also. The wording is misleading in that rather than just ‘moving ‘ the museum from the ground to the 1st floor of the Dugdale Centre in Enfield Town Centre, the proposal is actually to close the vibrant exhibition space on the ground floor, which has been attracting 25,000 people a year, leaving just the existing permanent local history displays on the 1st floor. What the consultation also doesn’t mention is that the council is planning to further reduce the museum staff team from 2.5 posts to just a solitary Museum Officer, with no budget to mount any programmes or activities. There are therefore serious concerns about the future viability of the museum service.

All this will cause disproportionate harm to the cultural life of the borough for such a tiny saving. I’ve seen the visitor book at Enfield museum and can vouch for just how popular recent exhibitions on Weddings and World War One have been. Enfield folk need to stand up for their heritage by complaining about both the museum and the local studies proposals !"

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