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History buffs' dismay at plans to close Lichfield Record Office

By Lichfield Mercury  |  Posted: January 08, 2014

By Alex Keller

Lichfield Record Office in the library has a public reading room and three strongrooms, with archives over three floors.

Lichfield Record Office in the library has a public reading room and three strongrooms, with archives over three floors.

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PLANS to close Lichfield Record Office and re-home all the county’s archives into a single centre in Stafford are being “explored”.

Staffordshire County Council said the move would save £75,000 on costs such as property maintenance and has launched an online consultation.

The authority maintains that it does not yet know what the implications would be for staff.

Lichfield Record Office is situated in the city’s library on The Friary.

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It has a public reading room and three strongrooms, with archives over three floors.

The plan envisages centralising Staffordshire’s Records Service and the William Salt Library Collections, in addition to improving online access to the records.

The proposals, by Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, would see the creation of a “state-of-the-art” extension at the existing archives building on Eastgate Street in Stafford.

The new facility would mean visitors can access all the collections under one roof.

It also promises extra storage space and improved storage conditions, a “break-out” area for users, a new searchroom with modern equipment and an exhibition space.

As part of the proposals, a new service would be put in place at Lichfield Library as Lichfield Local and Family History Centre, offering access to digitised collections and microfiche sources alongside the local studies collection.

People will also be able to access the county archive records on the Findmypast website later in 2014.

But Lichfield history buffs have registered their dismay at the proposals.

Kate Gomez, of history group Lichfield Discovered, said: “I am concerned that if the proposal goes ahead there will be no facility to access any original documents at Lichfield and anyone wishing to consult these – either because they are not digitised/available on microfiche, or because the individual prefers to work from the originals – will need to make a 40-mile round trip to Stafford.

“Whilst supportive of the digitisation of archives, I do wonder how long it will take to make the key collections available at the proposed Local and Family History Centre and what the facilities at this new centre will be.

“How many computers and machines will be available for use and will anyone be on hand to assist and advise?

“Lichfield won’t just be losing the archives, but also the local knowledge and expertise of the staff at the record office.”

She added: “Whilst these are my own views, I have been in contact with several members of the group who share my concerns regarding the proposals.

“At a time when many people are interested in local history and groups like ours are working to encourage people to explore and discover the incredible heritage that we have here in Lichfield, it’s very disappointing to hear that the city is at risk of losing one of its greatest local history assets.

“I really hope that people take the time to read through the consultation and make their views known.”

The county archives service currently has three sites – Lichfield Diocesan Record Office, Staffordshire Record Office in Eastgate Street and the William Salt Library, the latter of which is also in Stafford.

Staffordshire County Councillor Mike Lawrence said the Arts Council has designated the county’s archives collections as being of “outstanding quality and significance”.

“Bringing together the county’s collections from our three records offices onto one modern site will allow us to improve the services we provide to visitors,” he said.

“Our preferred option is to extend the record office site at the rear of the Eastgate Street office to provide a brand new public searchroom and two floors of storage above.

“We are keen to hear what people think about the plans and I would urge people to have their say.

“We also plan to make an application for a National Lottery Heritage fund grant to do the work.”

Consultation on the proposals will run until January 31 and include a survey available at www.staffordshire.gov.uk and drop-in sessions for people to have their say.

Drop-in sessions are scheduled on:

January 13, 10am-7pm at Staffordshire Record Office

January 14, 2-7pm at Lichfield Library, and

January 17, 10am-1pm at Lichfield Library.

The online survey can be found at: www.staffordshire.gov.uk/yourcouncil/consultationandfeedback/consultationdetails.aspx?consultationid=proposal-to-centralise-staffordshires-archive-serv&consultationdeptid=strategic-property

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