Saturday, 7 June 2008

The truth is in there!

It is often hard to step back when working and see the support and assistance of others. That's why it is great to be reminded of the work of world renowned institutions and organisations.

The National Archives is a gem for the general public, teachers, researchers, information professionals.

At heart, it is home to basic stories of humankind - a repository of our collective heritage where we can identify our place in the world and the journey we are making.

I recently attended a free seminar on "Introduction to the Public Record System" which put the National Archives in context, explaining its rationale and remit.

The National Archives is at the heart of information policy. It sets standards and supports innovation in information and records management. The National Archives is also the UK government's official archive, containing 900 years of history with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites. It aims to make records open and available to all and make history tangible.

As part of our visit we had the opportunity to see behind the scenes, in particular the stacks. We saw a range of records which revealed the range of the National Archives deposits including:

  • a document about declaring war on Germany which was lost and then re-found (and helpful stored in a folder which is titled - "Political - Western Europe - Miscellaneous") Lessons for us all to record information carefully!)

  • a letter written by Lt Gonville Bromhead which detailed the valour of the soldiers who served courageously to protect the supply station at Rorke's Drift on Wednesday 22 to Thursday 23 January 1879 in the face of a force of 4000 Zulus (an event made famous by the film 'Zulu' with Michael Caine)

  • an army record of an average soldier with the detail of his health record including a noticeable distinguishing mark which remains unrepeatable!

  • A handwritten note revealing the procedure for informing the Queen in case Britain went to nuclear war - which also reveals how to be very carefully if records are destroyed.

For information professionals, and civil servants, the National Archives is a treasure trove and puts our work in context. It makes you realise why we do what we do and ultimately the value for all.

The same day I was at The National Archives, on the 14th May, the Archives released MOD files on UFO's, Britain's so called "X-Files". This was widely reported in the press. The Guardian headline about the story reads "The truth is out there: National Archives lifts lid on UFO files". I would suggest that the truth is not out there - it is rather inside the National Archives itself.

We do not need to travel to distant universes to find out more about who we are as people and a country but to look inside its walls.

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