Thursday, May 27, 2010

Closing Date for Business Archives Scotland's Draft Strategy Consultation

Just a reminder that tomorrow, 28th May 2010, is the closing Date for Business Archives Scotland's draft strategy consultation.

The draft strategy can be downloaded from Business Archives Scotland, and you can comment by email, online, or by downloading a Word document.

Our response, already sent to Business Archives Scotland, is that the strategy is generally very sound.
However, I wanted to make the following points:

When businesses are taken over by non-Scottish companies or owners, there should be protection to stop their records disappearing from Scotland. The strategy needs to embrace means of providing that protection.

Data protection legislation requires businesses to destroy personal data when it is no longer required operationally. While this protects privacy, it also destroys the historical context. If such legislation had been in place for paper records 150 years, almost everything we know about social and economic history of the Victorian age would be lost to us or very obscure.

6.2 Goal 1 says that misinterpretation of the Data Protection Act leads to many records of historical value being destroyed. I've no doubt this is true, so I'm surprised that the strategy makes no provision for a remedy. Additionally, when I rang the Information Commissioner's office for guidance on this, the person to whom I spoke was certain that personal data could not be retained beyond statutory periods unless a business could demonstrate a particular purpose for keeping historical information. I think the strategy needs to commit to working with the Information Commissioner's office, Government bodies dealing with business matters, the CBI, LECs, Chambers of Trade, to provide guidance notes, case studies and provide training to correct this (mis-)understanding of the Data Protection Act.

8.1.7 As well as developing partnerships with user groups, including academics and amateur researchers, to understand and support research interests and exploit researcher knowledge, the strategy needs to understand and refer explicitly to the role played by family history societies, history societies, community and heritage associations in exploiting archives for community benefit and education.

8.2.6 As well as promoting the use of business archives across the spectrum of users (schools, academics, private researchers, businesses), I'd like the strategy to refer explicitly to family history societies, history societies, community and heritage associations because they are usually not businesses but charities, social enterprises, or voluntary associations and people implementing the strategy need to understand their motivations, needs and constraints.

If the strategy were really successful, there would never be enough archivists to record and catalogue all the business collections, therefore the strategy needs to affirm the value of volunteers in implementing the strategy, and to gain acceptance by archives in using volunteers to catalogue collections, and get archives to understand and support volunteers' motivations. That support might include providing training free of charge, providing toilets, parking, refreshments, travel expenses, or allowing record digitisation or digital photography.

The strategy needs to recognise the role that family history societies, history societies, community and heritage associations play in identifying collections available for archival and in exploiting the archives for research, and work in partnership with them to provide additional resources for archival.

I don't doubt that Business Archives Scotland is aware of all this but I do think they have underestimated the importance of family history societies, history societies, community and heritage associations and that's why they're not mentioned in the strategy.

It's not clear whether Business Archives Scotland understand the huge impact of computerised document management systems within business and the associated destruction of "non-essential" paper documents; or the associated risks with related business and information technology strategies though they do recognise the risks pertaining to electronic storage.

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