“An archive without a catalogue is like a room without a door”: inaccessible, unusable, and the cause of much frustration. Still we and our users struggle with uncatalogued archives, our hidden collections.
Why don’t archive services catalogue these collections? Cataloguing archives takes time, expertise, and space. The scale of hidden collections in the UK is vast, running into millions of objects, gathered over hundreds of years. Now services are under huge pressure to do more with less – to digitise collections, to increase public engagement, to contribute to teaching and learning, to generate income from collections etc. etc. All worthwhile, all impossible without decent reliable catalogues …
Ah – that’s a bit of a bind isn’t it?
However, a new source of funding will help to get some of those collections out of hiding. The National Archives and the Pilgrim Trust announced the Archives Revealed scheme this week. The above quotation is taken from the project website.
Replacing the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme, Archives Revealed offers up to £40,000 to catalogue important archival collections. Scoping grants (up to £3000) will help services plan their cataloguing strategically.
It is good to see that Archives Revealed can fund enrichment of existing but poor quality catalogues. Inadequate catalogues are part of the hidden collections problem, their lack of description, indexing and reliable information preventing collections from fulfilling their potential, even if they are in theory open to the public.
The scheme has obviously been created with a deep understanding of the challenges facing archives and the desperate need for more funding to get hidden collections catalogued so that they can be used. I expect it will be highly competitive (the previous scheme received 6 to 8 times more applications than could be funded in each round), though this does at least mean only high quality applications will receive funding.
So best of luck to all applicants and let’s look forward to more great archives opening up for people to enjoy, study and share …
Talking of which, see what a difference the previous scheme made to Special Collections at the University of Bradford via the PaxCat Project. Our users continue to benefit from this work which transformed access to the unique historical resources on peace campaigning and nuclear issues collected by the Commonweal Library. Thank you National Archives and funders!
Of course, even a scheme such as this can only help a few of the most significant hidden archives. In the Handbook, I examine the causes of hidden collections and some ways to tackle them even without funding.