The focus of the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign and much media attention up to now has largely been on the branch library closures proposed by Doncaster council. However, the Archives section of the library service is also set to suffer as a result of these measures.
Doncaster Library and Information Services currently employs four members of staff at Doncaster Archives: a full-time Community History Manager (Senior Archivist), a full-time Archivist, a full-time Senior Archives Assistant, and a full-time Archives Assistant. Alarmingly, the one professional post is to be lost (it has effectively been abolished — this is contrary to the library managers’ recent acknowledgment that too many professional posts were lost in the last restructure), which means that the Archives will be forced to operate with only one professional member of staff. In essence, the remaining archivist will be expected to do the work of two professionals; this includes archival cataloguing, outreach work, frontline service, the development of online access. Inevitably, it will be impossible to maintain the same level of service at the Archives if this proposal comes to pass. What is more, the situation could be worsened even further if, as expected, Archives’ staff are required to cover at other library branches to make up for staff shortages.
Archives are an incredibly important part of a library service. They contain valuable information on the make-up of the local area and how it has got to where it is today, irreplacable documents pertaining to family history, local political history, environmental and building history. For many years, Doncaster’s archives have struggled due to redundancies, under-funding, and having to cope with a delapidated building that isn’t fit for purpose. The council have failed to understand how archives play such a vital part in the culture, history and civic pride of a town, in the same way that they have failed to appreciate the value of the rest of the library service. As a result, the library service has failed and lost even more of its budget.
If only Doncaster libraries had managers who were able to advocate for the library service and all its functions, not just “customer service”. Maybe then we’d have an engaging and informative online local studies resource, like Wolverhampton’s. It makes you wonder, how could a comprehensive and efficient library service ever be delivered by unskilled volunteers?