Sunday, 13 July 2014

National Archives at Kew - annual report

The National Archives based at Kew (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) has released its annual report for 2013-2014. Within the 104 page document are some interesting developments and facts for those of us interested in genealogy.
  • 670,000 documents were produced for visitors in 2013-2014
  • 202 million documents were downloaded
  • 1.2 million catalogue descriptions were added to Discovery
  • 10 million new descriptions are being added to Discovery from materials catalogued on other platforms such as the National Register of Archives, Access to Archives and ARCHON (the final migration will be completed by July 31st).
  • 20 per cent of visits to the archive's main website were made from a smartphone or tablet
  • There have been 2 million podcast downloads
  • 1100 enquiries were answered by TNA staff at Who Do You Think You Are? Live
  • The digitisation of 1.5 million pages of First World War diaries continues, the archive's largest ever in-house digitisation project
  • A contract for digitisation of the English and Welsh 1939 National Identity register was awarded to FindmyPast on 14 FEB 2014

Some interesting data issues have also been reported - for example, on p.51 there's a report on how TNA discovered that around 10% of the records of BT 377/7 (Royal Naval Ratings’ Records of Service (1908-1958), available through Documents Online, concerned people less than 100 years old. This potentially affects some 3000 people who may well still be alive, and as such has been reported to the Information Commissioner - a response is still awaited. The inference here is that these records being online may be a breach of the Data Protection Act. As a precaution, however, TNA has now closed off access to the microform version of the records until 2039, and the affected online records falling into this category have been removed from Documents Online. 288 other records from other collections on Documents Online have also been removed (no further details on these have been given in the report).

There are also details on the archive's environmental performance, remuneration, and a few references to sustainability issues - that phrase now makes me laugh every time I read it, as I keep imagining that there must be a Head of Sustainability constantly arguing with a Head of Legacy, as in the comedy series Twenty Twelve (sorry, I'm easily amused!).

It's been a busy year, with many great developments, particularly with the First World War and cataloguing projects currently under way, for which the archive is to be commended. I would counter that there are also some developments that I would suggest have not been so great - sorry, but I am NOT a fan of what the archive has done with the Gazettes on the new website at www.thegazette.co.uk (you can read how to use this, as well as my criticisms of the new site, in my book British and Irish Newspapers, released earlier this year). Also, if 20% of visits to the TNA website are made by tablet and smartphone, that presumably leaves 80% accessing it by PC, which is not so much fun with the recent redesign that has been heavily weighted towards tablet use. Obviously that will change as we are forced via technological advancements to continue to go down the tablet route, whether we want to or not!

One observation I will make though in praise of TNA. I regularly attend PRONI's user forum in Belfast, and know what is happening through its lively social media interactions with its user base; similarly I have a fair idea of what is going on at TNA through this report and other regular announcements and platforms, as well as its Friends group, which regularly raises money for archive projects. But the National Records of Scotland continues to remain opaque, and could do with engaging more with its users, and in being equally transparent. The UK's other national archives provide great role models in this regard, in shiny new wifi enabled buildings with 21st century mentalities, whilst here in Scotland NRS still needs to catch up, with its wooden walled reading rooms and wooden walled 20th century practices.

Census conference at TNA

Chris

Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

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