Friday, 14 November 2014

More on National Records of Scotland buildings review

Further to my post earlier today announcing news of a meeting to discuss the possible future of the National Records of Scotland buildings (see, the Chief Executive of the NRS, Tim Ellis, has kindly emailed me with the following statement to help clarify the situation:

NRS Estates Review

National Records of Scotland (NRS) has recently embarked on an Estates Review, in line with the requirement of all Government bodies and departments to ensure their estate portfolio remains fit for purpose and cost-effective. Given the significance and heritage of a number of NRS’s buildings, it might be helpful to provide some further background and an update on where we are.

Earlier this year NRS engaged the consultants DTZ to undertake a review of our estate and provide us with a set of options that could inform the future estates strategy for the organisation; one that will help us to work effectively together as a joined up organisation at the same time as supporting us in delivering high quality services to customers and meeting anticipated future archival and records storage requirements.

Importantly, this is not about quick-fixes or short term arrangements, but about putting us in the right place for the coming years and decades. We recognise the important role we have as the guardians of some of Scotland’s most treasured possessions and information and are committed to making sure that we do that job well at the same time as improving our services to customers.

Based on the initial report and information provided by DTZ, we have now arrived at a short-list of options that are now being taken forward through the formal Treasury Green Book Appraisal. The results of this should be available later this year, from which we will derive the future NRS estates strategy in the New Year. However, we recognise that it’s not simply a mathematical exercise and that there are a number of sensitivities which may make reaching a final decision on the direction of travel more challenging, as some options could involve releasing one or more of our historic buildings in the centre of Edinburgh.

Once we have identified a preferred strategy there will still be many issues to consider and address relating to timescales, funding and affordability, and the logistical aspects of any re-location. These will all need to be worked through over the next few months.

The NRS has also tweeted an update via @NatRecordsScot:

NRS like all Govt bods need to review estate periodically. No decision yet on GRH/NRH or any buildings (1 of 2)

Work over next months to understand options, implications potential, for records, staff, users (2 of 2)

COMMENT: As mentioned in my previous post on this, I personally don't have a problem should the NRS decide to sell off its buildings. Wonderful as they are architecturally and historically, to me they are just bricks and mortar (and in the Historical Search Room, wood!), and fall far short of their equivalents in the rest of the UK in providing a modern day service, in particular the service provision failings that I have previously listed on this blog and discussed with them in person. If new premises are decided upon - and at the moment this is simply a review - and those premises can provide a better service for users of the archive, whether genealogists, historians or legal practitioners, I'll be the first to cheer them on. A possible move would inevitably cause disruption, but the same was true of PRONI in Belfast just a few years ago, and the difference with that service now compared to what it previously was is the difference between night and day. That was worth the pain, the same would undoubtedly be true if the NRS does decide to go down the same route.

However, there are clearly several things I would wish to see if this is to be the case. For one thing, the archive is nothing without its archivists and registrars, as much as it is without its holdings, and no amount of cost saving should impinge on this - the retention of their expertise is above all other things crucial. I would also hope that a new facility, if that is the route pursued, would remain as central and as easily accessible to those of us on the other side of the country who are not within an easy commuting distance. And any money that comes from a potential sale I would hope would be fully input back into the new service. What many users of the NRS want is a better service, not a cheaper run service simply for the sake of making savings. On that final point, if the NRS does decided to go down this route, a public consultation would certainly be welcome to allow users to feed into the development process.

I'll bring an update on any developments when I hear it.

(With grateful thanks to both Tim Ellis and the NRS for their updates). 


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  1. Sorry but I would be unhappy if access to the buildings in Princes street were no longer available ,it adds to my pleasure to feel connected to the past when I am in them. To compare the the old Proni building in Belfast seems wrong as it was a a mis matched collection of buildings without any presence

  2. The comparison with PRONI (and to TNA in London) is in the ability to access the very documents I want to see to connect to the past. It's got to the ludicrous stage now where you go to Edinburgh to consult a series of indexes (e.g. Services of Heirs) or the catalogue, and half the stuff you want to see cannot be consulted on the same day because it is stored off site - when making a five hour round trip from the west coast of Scotland to access the material at almost £35 return on a train, this is useless. You can also only order 13 items in advance - once you have gone through them, you can do nothing more. I have no problems if they want to keep the buildings or if they want to sell them - as I say, they are just walls and a ceiling to me - but I do have problems in not being able to consult the very holdings I wish to go there to consult in the first place. I don't go to the building to admire the architecture - but each to their own!

  3. Agree with Haz, I enjoy being connected to the past. To destroy these lovely buildings and replace them with the modern structures, like the Scottish Parliament building and PRONI, would be a disaster.
    I visited Edinburgh this past August, and the old National LIbrary of Scotland, was a wonderful example of an old building renovated inside.
    I think they can moderize these structure without pulling them down.
    As far as putting them up for sale....another rich foreign country would be the likely owner, and that would be a real shame. Selling out our heritage.
    From an old Scot.

  4. But being devil's advocate, are you more connected to the past by being in an old building for which the purpose is to provide access to historical documents, or by being able to actually access those documents themselves - the very documents that will inform you about your ancestors, who provide a blood connection to that past?

    The NRS has many increasing pressures on it, but if a change of venue means a better service, I'm all for it. That approach worked in London, and it works in Belfast. I can always visit New Register House or General Register House on Doors Open Day.