On 19 May 2011, Dan Carrier reported in the Camden New Journal (link to online article) that Camden Local Studies and Archives (Camden LS Homepage) is under threat of closure following the publication of the results of the Council’s library consultation.
The article stated: “as the results of a library consultation are number-crunched and the Town Hall considers how to cut about 25 per cent of the services budget, the archives look likely to be merged with Islingtons or closed.”
John Richardson, Chairman of the Camden History Society (http://www.camdenhistorysociety.org/) argues the consultation suggested that respondents “were in favour of spending less on local studies, not closing it.”
It is not likely that Camden can merge its archives with that of Islington as Islington’s Local History Centre (Local History Centre) does not have the space to retain the vast resources that Camden LS currently holds (believed to be 180,000 items). Recent rumours suggest the archive could move to London Metropolitan Archives (http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm) However, critics of this move, such as the Camden History Society, point out that staff at LMA do not have the Camden-specific knowledge and experience that current researchers find so useful.
As Dan Carrier wrote, the collection includes muskets from “the Napoleonic wars to maps of every drain in the borough”. With the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth in a few months time, it is important to note that three Dickens unpublished letters are also held in Camden LS. Many of these items are uncatalogued. In London, the only archive larger than Camden’s is that of Westminster City Archives (http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/libraries/archives/).
It is ironic that councillors are looking to closing the Archives as part of a cost-cutting exercise. On numerous occasions, the Archives have, in fact, helped Camden Council to save money. Former chief archivist Malcolm Holmes told the New Journal of one example whereby using some of the old maps in the collection enabled the Council to save “around £150,000 in 1970s money.
It is also odd that Camden’s Council should choose to close the archive whilst in nearby Hackney a new state-of-the-art Archives is currently being built (http://www.hackney.gov.uk/ca-archives.htm) The borough of Hackney is just as badly affected by the cuts, and it is unclear why investments in local history can be made by its Council but not by Camden’s.
Camden Local Studies and Archives helps a wide variety of people – many of whom live outside the borough and were not party to the consultation. Those who currently use the Archives include: social, economic & house historians, genealogists, economists, journalists, teachers, schoolchildren, students, council employees, lawyers, builders, and authors. For family historians, its collections of parish rate books (dating from 1726), local newspapers, electoral registers, theatre programmes, the registers of Highgate Cemetery and the photographs of local interest are invaluable. It also holds the unique Heal Collection on St Pancras and the Kate Greenaway Collection.
Those who have voiced concern about the impending closure, include best-selling author of The Fields Beneath, Gillian Tindall, as well as Camden New Journal readers from London and beyond. In a letter to the newspaper, Camden resident, Lester May, wrote that, “Camden Council seems set on closing the local studies library and archives service in order to save around £135,000 . . . Thus one of the best resources of its kind in London, perhaps in the country, will be lost and this at a time when more people are interested in their family and local history than ever before. . . The loss of the local studies collection and archive would be permanent. There is sufficient in the councils reserve of £95.8million for consideration to be given to funding the local studies library and archive service such that it is retained as a local service within the borough, ideally where it is currently located in Holborn.”
John Richardson states that the Camden History Society “is particularly concerned . . . [about] its closure and its contents [being] shipped elsewhere . . . Camden are taking £135,000 out of the Local Studies budget, in effect making it impossible to function.” He argues further that this not what the consultation response indicated.
The collections cover the area of the present London Borough of Camden. This includes the history of Hampstead, Holborn, St Pancras, Camden Town, Somers Town, Kentish Town, parts of Highgate, and the parishes of Hampstead, St Andrew Holborn above Bars, including the Liberty of Saffron Hill, St George the Martyr Queen Square, St Giles in the Fields, St George Bloomsbury, and St Pancras. The earliest parish records date from 1618.
Update 7 June 2011
Yesterday, on Monday 6 June, I attended a Camden Council scrutiny meeting of the library report. The Town Hall was packed with library and archives supporters. Gillian Tindall, author of The Fields Beneath, spoke as part of the deputation on behalf of the Camden History Society. She said that if Camden Local Studies is closed, it will be “a great loss for future generations” and “would be a black stain” on Camden Council’s record. Holborn Library Users Group was also represented (the Archives are housed in Holborn Library’s building). The group’s deputation argued that the loss of the Archives to Camden would be irreplaceable, and condemned the report’s suggestion that Local Studies provision be outsourced. The speaker further said that no library buildings in whole or in part should be sold without full public consultation. This was greeted with cheers and clapping from the gallery.
Tudor Allen, Senior Archivist at Camden Local Studies & Archives, told the Councillors present that he would like to publicize the value of the material they hold. He reminded those present that the collection is invaluable.
One councillor announced that she had to contact the Archives that very day about the oldest Market in Camden for a press release. This only goes to show how essential Camden Local Studies is to the smooth running of the entire council.
Fiona Dean, the Council’s Assistant Director of Culture, said that they had spoken with the British Library, local university libraries, LMA & Islington about housing the records. However, they were agreed that keeping the archives within Camden is preferred option. Near the end of the meeting, Councillor Tulip Siddiq, the cabinet member for Culture, stated that the Archives will stay in Theobalds Road until suitable accommodation is found for them within the borough of Camden.
The decision on Camden’s libraries & archives will be announced at Town Hall on this Wednesday, 8 June. Supporters of the Archives are urged to telephone their councillors before next Wednesday to ask them to vote for Option D.
A full list of Camden’s councillors can be found on the Camden Council website.