Thursday 26 April 2012

Documents unfit to produce at TNA

The National Archives' blog has an interesting piece about documents that are classified by the institution as "unfit for production". Most researchers will at some stage ask to see a document at an archive only to be told that it is too fragile to consult, leaving you fuming as to why they bother to hold onto the document in the first place! In fact there can often be extremely good reasons for such denial of access, and whilst new technologies continue to develop, there is always the possibility of such items being rescued or made available in due course.

I recently posted about an item on this blog about the efforts of the National Archives of Ireland's conservation team to rescue badly damaged teachers salary books in its care (see For a global overview of how the National Archives at Kew manages similar items, visit the archive's blog post by Sarah VanSnick from the Collection Care Department at

Fascinating stuff!


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  1. Haven't had this problem...yet! However the last two times I have been to Kew to view original documents, at least one of the sets has been 'already in use'. When I have asked about this, it turns out that they were being held by staff who were sorting and preparing them for digitization for their 'Documents Online' facility. On both occasions, they very kindly allowed me to look at the documents and even to get copies, under supervision. They have so far been very helpful when this has occured.

  2. 99% of the time I get nothing but the greatest of assistance from archivists, who usually bend over backwards to be as helpful as possible. I've only once had a problem and that was a few years back when I wished to view a particular kirk session record for the parish of West Kilbride at the National Archives of Scotland. I was told I could not get access to the register as it needed some serious conservation work, although the archivist in attendance was merely going by what the catalogue stated.

    Several months later, still convinced that the register would solve my particular research query, I thought I would try again - and lo and behold I was able to gain access, albeit under supervision. On this visit I was able to persuade the archivist to have a look at the register to see how bad the damage was - and in fact, it turned out that there was very little wrong with it. As such the archivist in question thankfully had the good courtesy to grant me access - and it answered a serious number of questions for my client!

    Which also goes to show that in some cases the interpretation of the categorisation may be worth querying or at least seeking an explanation for - you may be lucky and find things not quite as bad as at first thought!