Important archives 'lost because of cash shortage'

(First Edition)

LONDON is losing important historical records, often to the US, because its archives do not have the money to trace them or the space to store them, a conference was told yesterday.

American universities are buying records of businesses such as solicitors' firms to export them for use in their own archives. There they may languish without being indexed, virtually useless. But historians in Britain would find them invaluable, Dr David Avery told the Greater London Archives Network's conference.

Meanwhile small businesses, destroyed by recession, were dumping records dating back centuries in skips to be lost forever. Archivists rarely rescued such documents because they were too short-staffed, he said.

Records from larger companies which went under were often kept by the liquidators, albeit in a basement. But those from public institutions were often rejected by archives because of lack of space.

Only nine London health authorities employ archivists to care for their older archives and manage their modern records. Twenty-one of the London health authorities do not.

Speaking at the launch of Towards 2000, a report examining the future of London's local authority archives, David Mander, the network's chairman, warned of the risk to archives from lack of co-ordination, gaps in collection and high storage costs.

Towards 2000 quotes a 1989 survey which found 53 per cent of the boroughs had no professional archivist and 63 per cent of boroughs' main stores were at risk from water penetration. Only 37 per cent provided a permanently supervised search room. 'The level of archive services offered by the London boroughs is very uneven. Some offer a service as part of a general reference or local history library, but do not employ an archivist. Other boroughs have well-established archive departments.' the report says.