Comments by Lichfield Civic Society on the second draft report "Staffordshire History Centre Conservation Plan (Collections)" of Kevin J Bolton
Overall the Plan is a comprehensive and well detailed document although there are points mentioned below that should be addressed.
Appendix 7 - Collections Management and Local Studies Transformation Workstreams
It is encouraging to see the scope of includes "Working with libraries to develop a more joined up approach to local studies collections in libraries." However, it is qualified in the next section which states "Out of Scope: Local Studies - a separate worksteam (sic) / steering group should be established." Presumably this indicates the Local Studies Transformation Workstream draft 23 March 2017 activity will not be part of the work the conservation consultancy will be involved in. Surely with the expertise Kevin Bolton has and the insights on this project it would be beneficial if he facilitated the Local Studies Transformation Workstream. Without a commitment to deal with the issues with external support it is of concern that improvements in policies or delivery will be delayed or not happen.
Below are some issues from a Lichfield perspective on this topic.
Given the commitments to establish a Lichfield Local History Centre and revitalise the Burton Family and Local History Centre it is disappointing that the local studies collections workstream is being treated as "Out of scope". There are issues regarding Lichfield's local studies collection that ought to be resolved concurrently with the current consultancy work. The majority of the Lichfield collection has always been integrated into the Lichfield Record Office search room and managed by archives service staff on a day to day basis. The stock currently located in the search room occupies at least 11 shelving cabinets comprising over 55 metres of stock readily accessible to the public. A wooden cabinet houses a large card index that is an invaluable resource to find information in the reference books and the archive records. When the Record Office introduced closure on Friday's some of the collection was moved to the library so that it remained available during library opening hours. In the library, the Lichfield local studies collection has another 14 metres of books and we are told that there is some 40 metres in store. Altogether there is currently over 70 metres of local studies material on readily accessible shelves as well as Ordnance Survey maps, Lichfield Mercury newspapers and four filing cabinets of local history material. This extensive and important collection started to be accumulated when pre-1974 the former City Council operated the library and Joint Record Office as evidenced by many reference and lending books still having the Lichfield City Library book plates. It should be noted that the original Lichfield Library was built in 1859 following the Public Libraries Act 1850 Act that first permitted boroughs to provide free public libraries.
There will apparently be 20 metres of shelf space available in the first floor Local History Centre in St Mary's and some space in the ground floor library. Based on what happened in Stafford library when it relocated to Staffordshire Place it appears about 10 metres is likely to be the available in the library for local studies. This suggests that half the books currently readily available in the City will no longer be available in the public library.
It is evident that under current proposals the space in St Mary's cannot accommodate all the local studies collection. The County is approaching local bodies including Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, Darwin Museum, and the Staffordshire Regiment to see if they can take some of the stock. These organisations have limited space and do not offer a lending service. Apart from the risk that most of Lichfield's local studies books collection will be moved to Stafford it also of concern that book sales may be used to reduce the relocation problem. A former Cabinet portfolio holder indicated they will only retain the most regularly loaned books. Such a criterion for important, rare and historic books in the collection particularly those which are for reference use only is seeking to avoid designing the library and local history centre to house most of the local collection.
From the outside, although it is evident the heads of service of archives and library service work well together the local studies aspect at the customer service level is not properly co-ordinated and planned to deliver the best service. We have on several occasions in writing suggested that a service level agreement between these services together with St Mary's needs to be agreed following consultation with stakeholders. The comment from a volunteer at the Lichfield stakeholder workshop concerning library staff saying they will not speak to members of the public about local studies matters is just one illustration of the need for clear boundaries of responsibilities being known to front line staff so they know how best to assist customers. Another aspect is whether front line staff know about the "Policy for Local Studies in Staffordshire" mentioned in the workstream document. It is not insignificant that historically there has been territorial contention about whether the books in the search room are library stock or record office responsibilities.
What is intended for dispersal of much of the Lichfield's Local Studies collection is an unfortunate reflection on a lack of concern for maintaining the integrity of the collection and the loss for the District's residents. Worryingly Lichfield's provision as a replacement for the Record Office is likely to follow the decline that has happened in Burton-on-Trent with the Family and Local History Centre. The more so because unlike Burton at St Mary's neither archives or library service will have any management role in the local history centre other than its initial setting up.
Appendix 9, states "the Staffordshire History Centre project presents an opportunity to develop a more proactive and strategic approach to collecting in partnership with stakeholders".
It is pleasing to see in Appendix 6 - Notes from the Conservation Plan presentation at stakeholders meeting - 22 March 2017 reference to:
1. the Bridgeman archive collection and
We fully endorse the need for a more proactive approach. The situation relating to the Bridgeman archive collection is a relevant example. F & EV Linford Limited in 2004 commissioned an assessment of the Bridgeman archive collection for an Archives Working Party. Dr Julian Litten FSA with Dr James Cheshire undertook this task. The collection fills the contents of a small cottage known as 4 Quonians, off Dam Street, Lichfield. After the trading company of Linford's went into liquidation I approached company director Mr David Linford with a view to trying to get the collection, which I was familiar with, deposited in the Lichfield Record Office. At that time, the archives centralisation project had not been conceived. Andrew George and I obtained a copy of the report through the series of meetings held with Mr Linford.
The extensive collection includes the complete run of business papers, company ledgers, workshop drawing and sketch models of the workings of a commercial firm of ecclesiastical carvers of the period 1878 to 1967. There are drawings of many leading architects of works on buildings nationally and internationally. There are 5170 glass plates c 1880 - 1960 and over 5,000 negatives as well many albums of prints of the company's work.
Dr Julian Litten has told me that he considers it to be the most complete collection of a company that specialised in ecclesiastical work and as such is of national importance. He feels it is very important it should be kept "in toto" and not broken up.
Although I involved Andrew George from the outset it was never clear whether this important collection was seen by the service as a great opportunity or a potential problem in relation to its size and the conservation work required if it were deposited. He advised me a letter of interest in the company's archive had been sent to Linford's when it closed but no response had been received.
Based on this situation the concern is whether there will there be a clear policy commitment to the approach in Appendix 9, which states "The Staffordshire History Centre project presents an opportunity to develop a more proactive and strategic approach to collecting in partnership with stakeholders." That opportunity already exists. What is needed is an express policy commitment and, if possible, specific support from Council members for the resource implications. It is noticeable and significant that in Appendix 7 (on transformational workstreams) that there is nothing in the section headed 'Members'.
Paragraph 3.2 - Overview of the collections; 3rd paragraph:
"Lichfield Record Office collects the official archives of the Diocese of Lichfield and archive collections relating to the City of Lichfield and East Staffordshire."
For consistency with the description East Staffordshire the reference to City of Lichfield should be Lichfield District. Lichfield District Council is the successor authority to the City of Lichfield and Lichfield Rural District Council. The LRO records include those two former Councils and the Lichfield District Council. The City is now a parish council.