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Local history blogger questions planned closure of Lichfield Record Office

A leading local history blogger had questioned plans to close Lichfield Record Office.

Staffordshire County Council has begun a consultation over plans to centralise the region’s archives.

But the move would see the closure of Lichfield Record Office with local residents only able to access digital versions of documents.

But Kate Gomez, who runs the popular Lichfield Lore blog, has questioned the thinking behind the decision.

“It seems from the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service 2012/13 annual report that demand for access to original documents from those using the service remains high,” she said. “However, it seems there will be no facility to access any original documents at Lichfield if records are centralised.

“Anyone wishing to access these – either because they are not digitised or available on microfiche – or because the individual prefers to work from the originals – will need to travel to Stafford, a round trip of almost 40 miles by car, an hour away by train from Lichfield City, and an hour and a half away by bus.

“The proposal suggests that there will be no increase in opening hours at Stafford, with only one late evening and a Saturday morning.”

Residents are being asked for their views on the changes, but Kate believes more questions need to be answered before users of the Record Office can make a complete judgment on the proposals.

“While I support the digitisation of archives, I do wonder how long it will take make the key collections available at the proposed Local and Family History Centre at Lichfield?” she said.

“I would also be interested to hear more about the planned facilities at this new centre – how many computers and machines would be available for use and would professional staff be on hand to assist and advise?

“The current staff at the Record Office are one of its greatest assets and as well as losing the records, we shall also lose their local knowledge and expertise.

“Two of the objectives for the service’s current three year plan are ‘Engagement with Staffordshire’s communities to strengthen their sense of identity and place’ and ‘Improving and promoting user access to Staffordshire’s collections’, which seems at odds with this proposal which would result in the transfer of part of the city’s heritage to Stafford and a reduction in accessibility to the collections for the people of Lichfield.

“I really hope that anyone interested in Lichfield’s history and heritage takes the time to read through the proposal and makes their views known.”

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

14 Comments

  1. Doopster

    8th January, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Kate talks a great deal of sense.

  2. Kate Gomez

    9th January, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    Having done more reading around the proposal this evening, seems that original documents for the collections that are being digitised will not be available at Stafford either (unless the digitised image is found to be illegible). More information on digitisation project here http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/leisure/archives/collections/DigitisationProject/DigitisationProject.aspx Apologies for the
    inaccuracy.

  3. Steve Mills

    25th January, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    For most researchers using historical records there really is no reason beyond tradition to use the original documents. I have been using archives for forty years and I cannot think of a case where seeing digital copies would have inhibited what I was doing. In fact the ability to search (certain) digitalised records would have speeded up what I was doing considerably. And of course once records are digitalised they are generally available from anywhere with internet access, rather than just in the archive. Of course I will miss the old archives, but let us not kid ourselves. Existing facilities can be extremely off-putting with their musty atmosphere and walls of books. Many archives I used to use I never now visit – I access material on line, and if I do have to visit an archive I am able to make more effective use of my time by having better prepared myself to focus upon what isn’t available online. I shall miss Lichfield records office, but access to online sources may actually be an improvement for most people.

  4. Kate Gomez

    26th January, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    It’s a fair comment & I’m not against digitising records. I agree it’s a step forward in some ways. I think there are occasions when sight of the original would be preferable e.g. someone researching their family having might enjoy seeing the actual document signed by their ancestor perhaps? However, not all of the records are going to be digitised and so anything outside of what has been defined as a ‘key collection’ will not be accesible online & will require a visit to Stafford. Also, I’m not sure I agree that existing facilities are off putting. I’ve always enjoyed spending time at Lichfield record office, whether as a volunteer or doing research, and the staff have always been welcoming & extremely helpful, and as decisions over staffing have not yet been made, one of my big concerns is that we will be losing them & their expertise.

  5. Cynic

    26th January, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    “one of my big concerns is that we will be losing them & their expertise.”
    We are short of cash and saving someone a trip to another site is not top of most peoples priority list.

  6. Laurence Skermer

    26th January, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Typical Cynic; you know the price of everything and the value of nothing. You also assume that everyone (or most) shares your prejudices. Look at the valuable work Kate does on her blog and have the humility to concede that she might just know what she’s talking about.

  7. BrownhillsBob

    26th January, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Well said, Laurence. It’s Gradgrinds and philistines like Cynic that have rendered our historical record the mess it is. More power to Kate – simply the best local historian out there.

    Bob

  8. Anthony Poulton-Smith

    26th January, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, Kate. Lichfield’s Record Office is a pleasure to visit, finding somewhere with an atmosphere where it is a pleasure to work is increasingly rare. While the loss of the knowledge, assistance and personal touch of the staff is the real waste.

    Just why Steve sees “Existing facilities can be extremely off-putting with their musty atmosphere and walls of books.” is beyond me. Perhaps he’d like to explain just what is ‘off-putting’ and how offensive ‘walls of books’ can be? Surely the whole point of a library and/or a place of records is a large number of records? Producing these digitally from their original book form may allow more to view the same record at the same time. However to dispense with access to the original entirely is not the answer.

  9. Cynic

    26th January, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    “You also assume that everyone (or most) shares your prejudices. ”

    If I am one of a few that thinks they can visit another site – how about all those that want to keep all the sites open PAYING for them?
    You are suggesting others pay for these sites just for your convenience when those that think different to you are being forced to pay for them.

  10. Laurence Skermer

    26th January, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    So it’s the few now. Make up your mind who you purport to speak for. Personally, I only speak for myself.

  11. Cynic

    26th January, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    ” Make up your mind who you purport to speak for. Personally, I only speak for myself.”
    Same here – But I presume not many will chip in if you are asking for hand-outs – Why not ask for the publics financial support if you are so sure they have nothing better to spend their money on?

  12. FiveSpiresLive

    27th January, 2014 at 12:29 am

    First they came for the Librarians and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Librarian.

    Then they came for the Local Historians, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Local Historian.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me–Because no one remembered what had gone before.

    You’re doing a great job Kate…

  13. Raymond

    27th January, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I visited the RO last Saturday and other than 2 staff members it was empty. I was told this was common and most of the archivists work is query lead via emails and the internet. In turn most queries are not from members of the public but from solicitors,estate agents etc…

    I would assume a percentage of lichfield RO staff would migrate to a central archive so only a small amount of skill would be lost.

    It will be ashame if it goes but the age old ‘use it or lose it’ springs to mind.

    Finally please don’t place tit for tat points of self importance on here. It impacts on everyone’s credibility.

  14. Sue King

    27th January, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Whilst I agree that perhaps digitised records can be viewed at any location, it is well to remember that Lichfield Records Office is the depository for the Lichfield Diocesan Records, and as such houses the ORIGINAL wills pre-1858. What will happen to them? Are they to be digitised? And where will they be available?

    I live in Tamworth, and use Lichfield Records Office frequently, not for myself as I have no connections with Staffordshire (other than I live here) but I do carry out “free” research for others who are unable to access the records for themselves – it’s a long way from New Zealand, Australia or Canada!!

    A trip to Stafford would mean at least a 60 mile round-trip, plus parking and fuel expenses if I travel by car, but I can and do visit Lichfield for nothing. Whilst I might consider the expense for my own research (if I had any to do), I would have to seriously curtail my research on behalf of others.

    And apart from all that, the closure of Lichfield Records Office would mean that South Staffordshire is deprived of access, whilst North Staffordshire still has the option of Stafford or Stoke on Trent.