Thursday, 14 November 2013

Welcome to Brent EasyArchive

Will Shanice also be serving as Brent Museum archivist?

One of the aims of the Make Willesden Green platform in coming months is to establish connections between budget cuts, the quality of our public services and local democracy.  These are obviously hot political issues across the whole of the country, but they manifest themselves in very specific ways in our own neighbourhood, and should be a focal point of next year’s Council elections.

Take the case recently highlighted by Phil Grant, staunch defender of Brent’s local history and eloquent advocate for Willesden Green’s heritage LINK. Phil patiently details his own experience of  the consultation over Brent’s new Museum and Archives Strategy, and how he has tried to stop this being made a waste of time by a staff restructuring exercise which is going on simultaneously.  The restructuring appears to be an attempt by the Head of Libraries, Arts and Heritage to impose her own ‘vision’ before the Council’s formal consultation process ends in December 2013. Key decisions around staff restructuring - which will have a huge impact on the type of service delivered at the new Brent Museum and Archive in Willesden Green - were made prior to her consultation with staff, making it in Phil’s words ‘a complete sham’. Senior Council officers have said the matter is not open to further discussion, and it seems the jobs of the existing Archives staff are to be ‘deleted’.

The  new ‘vision’ for Libraries, Arts and Heritage aims to ‘move to a culture of archives users learning to research resources for themselves’  where ‘[customers] will be encouraged to self-help’ – presumably in line with our friendly new receptionist at the Civic Centre, Ms Holly Gramm. In Phil’s view,  the job descriptions for the new Heritage Officer posts suggest ‘they are not expected to have the detailed local history knowledge, or knowledge of the collections they are in charge of, that the existing staff have. Where ever possible, they will point you to a computer and say "find out for yourself". There will be more "digitised material" available, but how you will work out what you need to find in order to answer your particular question remains a mystery’.

Budget cuts will no doubt be trotted out as the reason behind the Archive’s staff restructuring, yet I understand that there is an alternative proposal on the table that would allow for modest savings whilst retaining existing staff. This too, it appears, has been dismissed in the consultation process thus far without further consideration by senior Council officers.

Those of us involved in the farcical ‘consultations’ over the Willesden Library redevelopment will sadly find much that is familiar in Phil’s story. The wider context is certainly one dominated by the ConDem cuts to local authority budgets, but it is the arrogance and lack of spirited creativity on the part our Labour-led  Council that will ultimately be responsible for the ‘no frills’ DIY Archives Service when it reopens in 2015. Until then, you can make the most of our existing Archives Service, relocated to a desk in the basement of George Furness House, and contribute to the Museum’s revised content and design HERE.   

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