The National Archives User Advisory Group
On Tuesday, 6 September I attended the second meeting of TNA UAG. Before the main meeting the user reps met for an hour to discuss how best to represent our various constituencies. The general feeling was that although the different user groups will have different needs, there is much to be said for presenting a united front where possible. The aim will be to concentrate on strategic issues and not to get involved in minutiae which can be raised elsewhere. The idea of having a pre-meeting was thought to be worth adopting as a regular feature prior to each full meeting of the UAG. We agreed to ask TNA if they could assist us in communicating with our various constituents, either by email or an internet forum.
Before the main meeting there followed a brief meeting on communication at which Mel Hyde, Head of Press, offered to assist with communication and we asked if generic email addresses and a forum could be established for us. This will be investigated.
The main meeting covered the following topics:
The Discovery service
This is due to replace the existing catalogue and DocumentsOnline service from March 2012. The development of this new service is iterative and feedback from users is greatly appreciated. Many of the updates and improvements stem from input by users but it is important to remember that not all suggestions can be incorporated. Indeed, on occasions there will be conflicting suggestions.
Pilot Home Guard digitisation project
Many of us had previously taken up the offer to look at a sample of the records to be digitised and had provided feedback on the data we would like to see transcribed and made searchable. As a result of this, TNA had decided on the following:
- Fields in the Basic search option would be name; DOB; address; place of birth; and Home Guard place
- Fields in the Advanced search option would be National Registration number; former service (Y/N); next of kin; relation to next of kin; date of record
Therefore two fields suggested by the UAG were taken forward by TNA.
It remains to be seen what can be agreed with the partner eventually chosen to carry out the full digitisation project. It is likely that only the basic search will be free, with payment required for the advanced options and for the images. For the pilot exercise, payment will be required only for the images. All searches and images will be free at Kew.
Digitisation of indexes to Foreign Office correspondence
In the previous financial year the following were scanned:
- The Foreign Office card index to correspondence 1906-20 (FO 1111, over 500 drawers of cards)
- The printed books of Foreign Office indexes to correspondence 1920-1953, 1959 (FO 409, over 140 volumes)
- The Dominions Office card index to correspondence 1925-1947 (un-accessioned, c. 80 drawers of cards)
It is planned that by March / April 2012 the scanned images will be made available free on the TNA website, including a working ‘reference convertor’ programme to convert old references in the indexes to TNA references. The project will have cost £20,000.
Business planning cycle
The group was invited to feed in suggestions for inclusion in TNA’s business plan for 2012-13. The following were put forward at the meeting:
- Examine linked records to Home Guard series for digitisation
- Prioritise non-heavy use records for digitisation to open up the collections, based on onsite use
- Ring fence funds for cataloguing Map Room content
- Promote the link between improved indexing online and greater use onsite
- TNA looking to find ways to plug the current funding gap, so suggestions welcome with the caveat that they cannot contravene terms of operation and reputation
- Voluntary sector to be encouraged to help with cataloguing and transcribing when appropriate
- TNA and the cultural Olympiad – Mel Hyde, Head of Press, to lead on this project, and she would welcome suggestions for other anniversaries
- Paper lists to be retained in the reading rooms, though they will not be updated
This is an opportunity that should be grasped by all users and I especially invite family historians to feed suggestions to me within the next two weeks so that I may forward them to TNA before October.
Public service, cataloguing and digitisation updates
- New updates will go onto the website by the end of September
- Reserve list of suggested series to be enhanced will be circulated – feedback welcome
- Current list includes 52 ongoing projects
- Public service
- WO95 will be digitised to commemorate the centenary of the 1st WW, with 3-5 extra search fields to be included in the catalogue
- Full details to be announced around Remembrance Day
- 2 year project, biggest every funded by TNA; 4m images
- Press release about definition of terms used in Licensed Internet Associates (LIA) contracts to be circulated for comment
The slot for the user reps to raise topics of their choice was again almost non-existent due to time constraints. This is something which must be resolved if the user reps are to feel that they are being taken seriously.
FFHS Archives Liaison
16 September 2011