Tuesday, July 27, 2010

National Archives of Scotland Tour

Image: frieze in National Archives Reading Room

On our second day in Scotland, our final tour was the National Archives of Scotland. By this time, we had toured several legal repositories, special collections, and another archive, so we had seen not only a variety of collections, but also a variety of approaches to making their collections accessible to users. I don't know if I could pick a favorite collection, but I can say the National Archives was my favorite archive/special collection in terms of their approach to making their collections accessible to users.

As with all repositories we had seen so far, the National Archives holds a vast amount of material: legal, commercial, and court records being some of the most numerous in their collections. These collections are housed in three locations in and near Edinburgh, and are used by academics, lawyers, realtors, and individuals conducting family history research.

The Archives' mission statement is to preserve, protect, and provide the best possible inclusive and accessible archive that educates, informs, and engages. In my opinion, they fully lived up to this mission. In order to preserve their most-used materials--wills and church records--which are additionally endangered by use by individuals unaccustomed to handling fragile old materials, the Archives digitized these materials, making them available to all researchers working in the General Register building or remotely.

While the Archives does not have the resources to put all its materials online, they are strongly committed to making the contents of their collections known. To this end, they have put out a grand total of eight websites that make the collections visible to users, and in some cases, as mentioned above, access access digitized copies of materials.

Many professionals who are accustomed to working in archives and with legal documents use to Archives, but as we had seen elsewhere, amateurs researching family history also make up a large portion of patrons using the Archives. To cater to these researchers, the Archives has formed a partnership with other organizations to create ScotlandsPeople, an online service that aggregates various records of use to family researchers. Better still, the National Archives hosts free two-hour training sessions to get researchers started--and hopefully get them hooked on family history research!

Finally, this tour was a lot of fun: our guides Margaret and Tristam were extremely enthusiastic, describing records and opening up closets and cupboards for us, and generally infecting us with their own enthusiasm for the materials they are lucky enough to work with every day.

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