Letter: Archives in danger of being broken up? We can help

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Sir: Professor Buchanan (Letters, 14 February) calls for a national agency to control the "degeneration of the national heritage" exemplified by the break-up of nationally important archives in the sale room.

The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts does already offer many of the services that Professor Buchanan supposes not to be available. It is, for example, one of our principal duties to "identify the owners of archival material with high heritage value" and subject to their consent to maintain a publicly available record of their holdings in the National Register of Archives, whose indexes are now widely available on the Internet (http:www.hmc.gov.uk) as well as in the public search room here.

We are always willing to advise owners about the disposal of their archives by gift, sale or loan to appropriate national or local repositories, if this is what they want. We also regularly offer free guidance to owners who wish to retain their archives. A vital advisory role is also played by organisations such as the British Records Association and the Business Archives Council, the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre at the Wellcome Institute and the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists at Professor Buchanan's own former department, not to mention the network of local authority record offices.

We can also put repositories in touch with potential grant-awarding bodies and alert the latter to any major sales known to be pending.

What neither the Commission nor any of its partners in the field can do is to compel an owner to consult us or prevent the sale of an archive in separate lots if that is the owner's chosen course.

CHRISTOPHER KITCHING

Secretary, The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts

London WC2

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