Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Paying the Price of History

The National Archives of Scotland:  http://scotsfamily.com/NatArchive.jpg 
The position of archivist/record-keeper is one of the oldest professions in the world. Every country, king, duchy, church, and institution had a record-keeper; someone who kept hold of their records and organized them in an orderly fashion. Today, the position is not as well known and is thus often not recognized by the public as an important profession. Society cannot always grasp the important work done by archivists or how necessary they are to protecting our heritage.

Due to the hidden nature of the professions, archivists are forced to promote their archives in different ways to the public and do their best to raise funds to preserve the documents. This has become even worse in the last few years, with the recession hitting libraries and archives very hard. However, some places have found a way to fund their projects through the collections they hold and the National Archives of Scotland is one of them. 

The records of Scotland have been around for several centuries, but the current building was not erected until the end of the 18th century when it was finally decided that Scotland needed a home for its records. Since then, the archives have been held in the General Register House in downtown Edinburgh. They have since expanded to several other buildings on the outskirts of the city, since the records of the nation have grown quite rapidly. 

More documents means more space means more manpower which ultimately means more money needed. Thus, the National Archives in Scotland does something very different, something not done at the National Archives of the United States - it charges you to do your genealogical research. For 15 pounds a day, you can do a day's worth of searching of the records at the ScotlandsPeople Center

Searching one's genealogical records at the National Archives in College Park or Washington D.C., is completely free. but in Scotland, you  must pay. And according to Dr. Tristan Clarke, no one complains about having to pay for this "value-added" service. The people who use the genealogical center seem to expect to pay for such services. This is great for the archives because it generates a lot of income for the institution that it can then put into other services, such as its digitization projects and other preservation needs. 

I'm still in a bit of shock regarding this program, for it seems as something that would never pass in the United States. Having the ability to look at the records of your nation is your right as a citizen. Thus, paying for it seems almost wrong. However, the users of the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh have absolutely no issue and I feel as if this would be a great addition to our National Archives. If it were to be instituted and accepted, the archives could generate quite a bit of money and use it to pay more employees, fund more projects, and propel the archives into the future.

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