An oral history of the Society of Archivists and its members”
Society of Archivists
compiled by Craig Fees
February 23. First meeting.
A group of local archivists, “members of the British Records Association” meet to consider the question of forming some kind of local archivists’s committee, the chief object of which would be to hold meetings at which archivists’ practical problems could be discussed.”
A letter is sent to the BRA asking that a Local Archivists Section of the Association be formed, “enabling practising archivists to discuss common problems and exchange views.”
June 29th. Second meeting.
For constitutional reasons the BRA “could not assent to it”, and it is proposed that a Society of Local Archivists be formed with the object of discussing common problems and exchanging views.” It is agreed that archivists at the first and second meetings will form the Provisional General Meeting and that it will be a regionally-based organisation with headquarters in London. A subcommittee is formed to draw up the proposed Society’s rules.
November 19. Third Meeting.
“Following a short discussion concerning the name of the Society, it was proposed by Mr. Grey, and seconded by Mr. Emmison that the word ‘local’ be retained.” England and Wales are divided into six Regions. [The first issue of the “Bulletin” was published].
January 11. Fourth Meeting.
The Rules of the new Society are accepted. It is agreed to apply for institutional membership of the BRA.
The two Objects of the new “Society of Local Archivists” are:
- To enable practising archivists to discuss common problems, and
- To promote the better administration of local repositories for archives.
April 26. Fifth Meeting.
The Society of Local Archivists considers their first professional question on archival procedure, in a discussion on the draft of “Rules for Dealing With Accumulations of Records.” This had been drawn up by the Records Preservation Section of the BRA. In the Society’s view, in the hands of amateurs it would be a dangerous document, and many modifications are suggested.
The first meeting of the Council of the Society of Local Archivists
Among the concerns expressed is the fear that the Society “might be ‘controlled by London’.”
Attention is drawn to the lack of trained repairers, and a motion is passed to urge the BRA “to use their influence with the Ministry of Labour to institute a course of training in the work.”
At the second meeting of the Council Mr. Emmison (speaking of “teething troubles”) proposes that the BRA be invited to reconsider its constitution to as to allow a section or branch for local archivists to be formed. This is voted down. Major Campbell Cooke and Mr. Gray, who were among those who “opposed the suggestion of fusion into the B.R.A.” nevertheless “were in favour of working in close contact with that association.”
At its third meeting, the Council agrees to send a letter to the BRA “asking that this Society may have a permanent member of seat on the Council of the Association.”
It is also agreed to send a letter to the University of Liverpool “asking if an external course in archives and archive administration can be inaugurated for archivists who have completed one year’s service in a repository.”
The Council elects a representative onto the Standing Conference for Local History (in association with the National Council of Social Science).
Adjourned AGM/February 5
The Constitution is passed, with effect from February 5, 1949, with the objects adopted in the fourth meeting of the Society in 1947 (though in inverse order).
It is reported at the Council meeting of July 16 that the Society is to be listed in the Municipal Year Book under section 20, “Associations, Societies and other bodies concerned with local government.”
It is reported that Col. le Hardy will give the first County Archivists lecture to the course at London University.
The scope of the new Society is defined more closely during a debate around the London University course. “Mr. Collis said it was not the function of the Society to go around expressing opinions.” The majority of those present disagree, and vote to continue discussion with the University.
The Council receives a letter from Mr. Emmison proposing that the Society produce a Manual for archivists, and offering £100 towards it.
The Society is represented for the first time at the International Congress on Archives (by Miss Gollancz).
December 11 AGM
It is reported that Miss A.C. Godber is to give three talks to the archive administration course at London next year.
It is also reported that there is to be an eight session repairers course from January to March 1951, a second course in April/May, and an advance course beginning in September.
The Society defines its boundaries and professional position even further when the Council, countering an initiative at the AGM, decide “no useful purpose can be served” by continuing discussions with the Antiquarian Booksellers Association any further.
The problematic role of specialist repositories within the Society’s concept of a regionally-based national archives service appears when, in response to protests from the Society over its collections policy, Mr. Richards of the John Rylands Library said that he “held the view that, as a member of a free country buying in a free market, he was free to buy what and where he chose.”
The Society elects Joan Wake as its first Honorary Member.
The BRA changes the date of its AGM, which means that, for the first time, the BRA AGM and the Society of Local Archivists’s AGM will not be held in the same week.
December 18 AGM
The Society decides that the “Bulletin” may be sold to non-members.
Members are to be circularised, warning them of a stamp dealer purporting to be a “postal historian”, who is trying to get collections to let him cut out postmarks.
The Society’s application for membership of the International Council on Archives is turned down. Only one member is allowed from each nation, and the British are already represented by the BRA.
The Society is elected a member of the Joint Consultative Committee.
The Society’s Handbook on archival practice ( “Local Records”) is published today.
It is reported that the BRA is considering winding up its Committee on Local Government Records “in view of the work being done by this Society on the same subject.”
The County Councils Association takes note of the Society’s views on the possible effects of any alterations to local government boundaries. The Society’s view is that it is desireable to retain in some form the historical County as the basic unit for archive preservation.
The Society agrees to the BRA’s suggestion that the two organisations collaborate on “The Year’s Work in Archives”, to cover the period 1948-1955.
December 15 AGM
At the Annual General Meeting it is reported that the NRA is to publish lists of accessions to local depositories.
A new Constitution is adopted, in which:
- The Society’s name is changed to “The Society of Archivists”.
- Membership is simultaneously opened up to all archivists in the British Isles and Commonwealth.
- There is a new set of Objects which broaden the scope of the Society significantly:
- To foster the care and preservation of archives.
- To promote the better administration of archive repositories.
- To enable archivists to discuss common problems and to interchange technical knowledge.
- To encourage research in archival problems.
- To co-operate with any other body for the above purposes.
- To take such action as shall further the above objects.
First meeting of the Council of the Society of Archivists
The “Bulletin” is renamed the “Journal”.
Having been invited to become the Society’s first President, Sir Hilary Jenkinson “had drawn attention to certain difficulties which might attend his doing so and had suggested that this Society might confer with the British Records Association in order that the respective spheres of activity of the two bodies might be more clearly defined.”
India had requested records currently held in the India Office Library. It is the Society’s view that this would set a “dangerous precedent.”
The South East Region is invited by the Council to undertake active work “on preparation of a glossary of terms met with in archive work and on a consideration of photographic reproduction processes as applied to archivists.”
Dr. W. Kaye Lamb, the Dominion Archivist of Canada, and Col. W. le Hardy are to be the first Vice Presidents of the Society.
December 14 AGM
The decision to broaden membership has led to a 30% rise in the number of members, from 171 to 222, thirty of them from the Commonwealth.
For the first time, due to increased subscriptions, income from sales of the Handbook ( “Local Records”) and revenue from job vacancy advertisements, the Society has a substantial money surplus in hand.
It is reported that the Council has decided to begin the formation of a Technical Library.
Following discussion with the BRA, the two organisations had agreed to form an ongoing Joint Liaison Committee, and had arrived at a closer definition of their respective roles:
” The Society will be primarily concerned with the technical problems connected with the custody, preservation and production of archives and with questions affecting professional status…”
“The Association will be concerned mainly with questions of general principles and national policy.”
Sir Hilary Jenkinson is elected President of the Society.
The Council agrees to accept an invitation from ASLIB “to attend a preparatory meeting and later a conference on the preservation of business records.”
November 26 AGM
The Ministry of Housing and Local Government invites the Society to give its views on certain
public records in the new Public Records Act.ed % z ”
The Society declines to accept an invitation from the BRA to hold a joint summer conference because “it would detract from the value of the Society’s provincial meeting”.
The Council agrees to let the Business Archives Council know of its concern “at the B.A.C.’s policies of directing business archives into various repositories and drawing its attention to the facilities already provided by local record offices.”
It is decided in the future to charge a fee to all members and non-members attending the annual conference.
It is accepted in principle to publish occasional papers.
In response to the idea of a book on modern archives which might be undertaken with the BRA, “the general feeling of the Council was that it would be best for this Society to undertake the production of this work alone, publishing it themselves if need be.”
November 27 AGM
The new Public Records Act 1958 had been signed, and would come into effect on January 1, 1959.
A Library Catalogue had been issued.
The Council authorises the Technical Committee to spend 2 guineas “on the purchase of colour charts for use in connection with experiments with Congo red acid indicator.”
The Society has been recognised by the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue for the purposes of Section 16, Finance Act 1958.
The BRA agrees to have an official representative from the Society on the Records Preservation Section Committee.
Joan Wake, the Society’s first Honorary Member, is awarded a C.B.E in the Birthday Honours List. This is regarded as “a signal mark of honour for all her work for local archives…over so many years.” (AGM, December 7).
Miss Mercer is to report at the 4th International Congress on Archives on the testing of sulphur dioxide pollution in the atmosphere and on the use of Congo red as an acid indicator, experiments which had been carried out by the Society’s Technical Committee.
The Society had been elected a member of the International Council on Archives, “thus formally linking the profession of archivists in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth to the international archival association.”
December 7 AGM
The Technical Committee has “designed and arranged for the manufacture (to meet specific orders) of Humidity Guide Cards.”
Obit.: Hilary Jenkinson and Richard Holsworthy.
Mr. Ellis is nominated to serve on a committee of the BSI to draw up a standard for record inks.
The Technical Committee’s atmospheric test findings are confirmed from repositories around the world.
The Society has joined the newly formed “Council for Microphotography and Document Reproduction.”
The Council welcomes the Local Government (Records) Act, which becomes operational on October 1st, and also the circular explanatory letter from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
Memorial book to Hilary Jenkinson published.
The Inland Revenue has accepted the revised article 2 of the Constitution, passed at the AGM, re registering as a charity. The Society is now exempt from Income Tax, back-dated to 1958.
The Society agrees to support the publication of “an informal newsheet for circulation amongst repairers for the discussion of repair problems”.
“The Council, for the first time, has acquired a permanent meeting place, through the good offices of its Vice-President, Mr. R.H. Ellis, at the Offices of the Historical Manuscripts Commission…” The new Conference Room of the Commission had been put at the disposal of the Council and of Committees.
The Third Network broadcasts a series of programmes on local archives and local history, and issue a booklet entitled “Introduction to Archives.”
The Society has received notification from the Charity Commission that it is now, officially, a registered charity.
The Council decides that the discussion meeting at the AGM “should deal with automation and its effects on record making, including the use of computers.”
November 19 AGM
The Society has submitted a statement “on recruiting and training of archivists and of the problems facing the local government archive service in recruiting and training staff” to the Housing and Local Government Ministry Commission on staffing of local government.
As of this AGM, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb retires as Vice President of the Society. Six weeks earlier he had been elected President of the Society of American Archivists. In the brief period between the two AGMs, Dr. Lamb, “in himself”, formed an archival Atlantic Alliance, an unprecedented event.”
The Society invited to arrange the 75th anniversary celebration of the County Councils Association at County Hall, in London (reported at AGM, 1965).
It is reported that the Round Table on Archives is to meet in London on April 20-23.
“as a result of representations by the Society, certain modifications in the syllabus for the Diploma in Archive Administration awarded by London University were to be made and new research degrees in Archive Administration would probably be available.”
Repairers make a request to the Society to allow them to form a separate Section. The Council declines on the grounds that the Constitution makes no provision for Sections of this kind. They do say that the repairers could arrange part of their next meeting themselves, although it was not to touch on matters pertaining to salary or status.
November 18 AGM
The Annual Repairers Instructional Meeting at Southampton City Record Office was the first to extend over two days.
It is reported that the London School of Librarianship and Archives is now offering higher degrees of MA, MPhil and PhD in archive administration.
A delegation is to be formed to make representations to the Ministry vis a vis problems in the working of the Local Government (Records) Act 1962. The Society takes a negative position towards the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, which is pursuing a policy of collecting farm records.
“[A] memorandum on possible organisation of local archive services in Scotland had been sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland’s Committee on the subject.”
Further discussions had been held with the Museum of Rural Life about their Farm Records Project.
The Society protests at the way the Public Record Office handled records of Registry of Shipping and Seamen.
December 7 AGM
“The Technical Subcommittee of the Society and Subcommittee on Documentary Reproduction and the Preservation of Library Materials of the S.C.O.N.U.L. have co-operated in the preparation of a set of Standards for Conditions of Preservation designed to cover the basic requirements for storage of both archive and library material.”
“Special” Repositories”. “This has been a particular problem in the past year and one which has been brought very forcibly home to the Council…the Society’s views have been forcibly conveyed to the Curator of the Museum [of Rural Life] and his colleagues, but there are indications that the Museum is still prepared to disregard this Society’s very proper objection to certain aspects of the Museum’s work in this field.”
“There has been close co-operation with the British Record Association over this difficult problem…each body has expressed similar views in each of these…cases.”
Another first: The Society has enough money to pay for a foreign archivist to attend the Society’s conference. They invite Dr. M.P. Buijtenen, archivist of the State Archives in Utrecht, and Chair of the Dutch Association of Archivists.
The Council submits a Memorandum for the Advisory Council on the Public Records (due to the Denning Report on legal records).
“The Chairman reported that there were reasons to believe that the Board of Trade was now operating an ‘early warning’ system for documents and archive accumulations, where an export licence had been applied for.”
November 19 AGM
Peter Walne is a member of the BSI’s Sub-Committee on Documentation Technology, and R.H. Ellis is on the BSI’s Sub-Committee on the Preservation of Documents.
Specialist repositories: “In the light of the considerable furore on this topic last year, the Council has kept an eye on the situation during the current year…”
A “Symposium on Modern Records Management” held at Churchill College, Cambridge.
The pilot survey on Local Archive Services is to be upgraded into a national survey.
The Council reiterates that the Technical Committee is responsible for planning Repairers’ Instructional Meetings, but concedes that “their social activities were a matter for the repairers themselves.”
In the Greater London (General Powers) Bill, vis a vis microfilming, “The Society was specified as one of the appropriate bodies to be consulted in drawing up a code of conduct…”
The Repairers are authorised to set up a Conservation Section, “to be treated similarly to the Regions, given the necessary financial support. The section and should be set up experimentally at first, and if it is thought desireable it could later be written into the Constitution.”
Dr. Frank Burke of the American National Archives is to be invited to address the AGM on Computer Applications to Archives with special reference to indexing…”
Meeting held to form the Conservation Section.
Members of the Society attend an anniverary dinner to celebrate the Society’s 21st anniversary.
The Society’s nomination of K. Darwin as the first Archivist Fellow Commoner at Churchill College, Cambridge, for the summer of 1970 has been accepted. He is to devote his attention to computer applications to archives.
The DES has informed the Society that it would be represented on the Advisory Council on the Export of Works of Art.
The Council resolves to set up a Training Committee.
Dr. F. Hull and Peter Walne have been appointed Technical Advisors on archive matters to the County Councils Association.
The Technical Committee have considered a draft of the BSI’s “Storage and Treatment of Documents”.
The re-organisation of local government “continued to be perhaps the most important issue…during the year.” The change of government in June “radically changed the situation” and matters were now in suspended animation.
The Council resolves to publish “Recommendations for Local Government Archive Services”. 5000 are printed and distributed.
The Society has been invited to nominate a representative to the BRA Editorial Committee.
A Welsh Labour History Group had been formed at University College Swansea with the “avowed aim of collecting records”. It is resolved by the Council to write “recommending that use be made of existing repositories for housing these records.”
A Scottish Region of the Society had been started, and their representative had been welcomed to meetings in 1971.
Precedent: On the question of the matter of the removal of railroad records from York to London, “the Society had no business to interfere. It was resolved that, as the Society had no mandate to represent the interests of the ‘users’, no action be taken. The Chairman referred to the importance of this decision as a precedent.”
The final version of the Memorandum on Local Government Records has been issued by the Department of the Environment.
It is reported “that the British Records Association was considering a paper on the role of universities in the preservation and use of records.”
The Society’s in-service training course, “Quantitative Research and the Archivist”, to be held in Leicester 17-19 September; this course would be confined to persons in membership of the Society.”
“Mr. Stitt raised the question of the lack of non-diploma members of Council”. His proposal to co-opt non-diploma members onto the Council was not agreed.
Mr. W.H. Langwell is given an O.B.E. for services to the conservation of archives.
A Conservation (Study) Group is to be formed under Article 19 of the Constitution.
It is resolved that a Records Management Group be established.
Concern is expressed in Council over P.H. Liddell, a lecturer at Sunderland Polytechnic, “who appeared to be collecting records relating to the First and Second World Wars in a private capacity…”
The Computer Appplications Committee and the Honorary Secretary have submitted evidence to the Data Protection Committee.
A grant of £1,000 had been received from the British Library for the PROSPEC [computer] Pilot Scheme.
The Records Management (Study) Group is established. The inaugural meeting will be in July, and ASLIB, the Institute of Information Scientists, and the Business Archives Council have been invited to attend.
The pilot issue of the Newsletter has been “well received”, and two more pilot issues are authorised.
The Council is told that there are moves afoot to establish a separate Scottish Records Association.
The Council expresses concern that the Record Management Group had planned and arranged activities without reference to the Council or the Training Committee.”
The Record Management Group Conference in Liverpool University makes a £408 profit.
The Society’s in-service training course is a success.
It is resolved to continue the Newsletter on a permanent basis.
The Council, with reservations, agrees to apply for trial membership in the newly formed “International Records Management Federation.”
The Society is a member of the International Records Management Federation.
The inaugural meeting of the Irish Region of the Society.
Concern is expressed at the decline of the Conservation Group.
“The Honorary Secretary reported that the administrative burden on the Officers was getting greater, and next year they would divide attendance at Committee between them.”
It is resolved by Council that new members should receive introductory literature.
The Council is hesitant over the proposed “Specialist Repository Group (National and Specialist Repositories Forum)”.
A part-time clerical assistant is employed for the first time, to work in Leicester, to a maximum £600 per annum.
M.G. Cook speaks for the formation of a Specialist Repository Group. The Council gives support, in principle.
The Society’s Wolsey Hall diploma course has begun.
A draft Code of Practice will be ready for the AGM.
October 30 AGM
Among the three speakers at a symposium on collecting policies is Mr. E.J.T. Collins of the Institute of Agricultural History and Museum of English Rural Life (Reading).