London Metropolitan Archives (LMA)
On Wednesday I attended a Family History Users’ Forum at LMA. Representatives were invited from the family history societies with an interest in the boroughs covered by LMA. I represented FFHS on behalf of other family history societies. The Society of Genealogists was also represented.
The main item on the agenda was an update on the budget savings which have to be introduced. David Pearson (Director: Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery Department) explained that cuts in funding mean that savings in operating costs of nearly 16% must be achieved over the next 12 months. Given that 80% of costs are staff related it is inevitable that there will be redundancies – some voluntary, but some compulsory. Clearly this is an unsettling time for staff.
The approach has been to avoid removing any service completely; rather, to make reductions across the board with the obvious reduction in opening hours. It had been announced previously that Saturday opening would be cut completely, but in response to considerable comment from family historians who are still at work it has been decided that LMA will open on one Saturday a month instead of the current two. This will be reviewed after a year. Attendance on Saturdays has dropped by 50% over the last two years, no doubt in part as a result of putting more data online.
In addition, LMA will be closed to the public on Fridays. There was pressure to avoid closing on a Monday (like The National Archives) in order to allow academics to have somewhere available on a Monday. Guildhall Library will remain open on a Friday. Some good news is that late opening will be extended to Wednesdays, as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The new opening hours will come into effect after the annual closure for stocktaking during the first two weeks of November.
Despite the cut in staff, it is hoped that service during opening times will be relatively unaffected. It currently takes nine members of staff to cover the public areas, and this will still be achieved. Service may be a bit slower, and reproduction fees will be increased slightly. The number of documents pre-ordered online has increased dramatically and it will be a good idea to make use of this service as much as possible.
Details of the proposals will appear on the LMA website (http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Leisure_and_culture/Records_and_archives/) shortly.
The next topic was an update on the digitisation programme from Charlotte Shaw (Head of Collections and Systems). The partnership with Ancestry has been in operation for 2½ years, concentrating on parish registers, together with poor law records. They will shortly be moving on to Wills and Electoral Registers which should go online this year. These will be followed by the City of London Freedoms. Looking further ahead, they are in discussion with the Livery Companies which have deposited their archives with LMA. Some thought is also being given to the City and Tower Hamlets cemetery records.
Miriam Silverman (Ancestry UK Content Manager) gave a presentation. They have eight cameras carrying out digitisation in the basement at LMA and will begin work on the London Wills in the course of the next two months. Miriam explained the process Ancestry goes through to update and correct data. This is a relatively lengthy process involving thorough testing. For this reason, the much quicker facility to add alternative names was introduced. These are included in any search results. While not ideal, this is seen as a practical approach which updates the data as soon as possible. The point was made by a society representative that there are known errors of omission due to two pages having been turned over together when photographing. Miriam said that she would welcome being given details of any such instances, or other problems such as images that could not be read due to being too faint. Finally, Miriam said that they expect to add the 1911 census to their portfolio this year, and it will be accessible by all subscribers, including those with the basic subscription.
Talking about new accessions, Nicola Avery (Principal Archivist, Archive Systems) was delighted to announce that they have received parish records for 6 parishes that have not previously deposited records with LMA. They have also received additional records from 10 other parishes.
Tim Harris (Head of Access and Buildings) reported that there had been 29,448 visits in the year to March 2011, slightly down on the previous year. The number of distance enquiries was almost as many at around 28,000. The number of online orders for documents was up by 30%. Microfilms that are duplicated on Ancestry will be removed from the public area to create more space but will still be available on request. The number of microfilm readers will be reduced as there tend to be more than necessary whereas the number of computer terminals is sometimes inadequate to meet demand. The space released by these changes will permit the introduction of another “boomerang” of computer terminals.
The wifi facility is proving popular and is to be extended to cover more of the public area.
The lift used by staff to transport documents from storage is due for comprehensive refurbishment. This will commence while LMA is closed for stocktaking but will continue through November and into December. This will slow down the production of documents and so pre-ordering online at this time is especially recommended.
FFHS Archives Liaison
23 April 2011