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Pro-Vice-Provost’s View

Paul Ayris22 February 2018

The National Archives at 40

Yesterday,  I attended an evening reception at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its new building. In addition, the CEO Jeff James noted that 2018 marks the 180th anniversary of the foundation of a precursor organisation, the Public Record Office, by Sir Henry Cole. Henry Cole also initiated the practice of sending commercial Christmas cards by post, so he has a lot to answer for. Cole was quite an innovator and clearly his day job gave him plenty of time to pursue other ideas and activities, as his entry in Wikipedia, which can be found here, makes clear.

As with all cultural organisations, the TNA is re-inventing its role in terms of how its spaces are configured and how it engages with the general public. Redevelopment of the TNA spaces, with bookable conference facilities, are already in evidence. I was reminded by TNA staff that the UCL Cruciform Hub has had quite an impact on the thinking of the TNA in how to configure public spaces. The TNA are extremely impressed by the UCL model for learning spaces, which is being implemented across the UCL family of libraries.

The formal part of the evening consisted of a number of short talks in the new Conference facility. Those of you with long memories (including me) will remember when Blue Peter on BBC1 was compulsive viewing for children and, surprisingly, a Blue Peter video formed the centrepiece of the presentations.

The video showed two of the Blue Peter presenters (those with long memories will recognise the main presenter) summoning up papers about the history of Halifax. I must have seen this programme when I was much younger, but I cannot remember it. Amazing to see how times have changed… The presenter in question arrived at the TNA and was told by Security at the desk, ‘Do you have a pencil?’. On being told ‘No’, the Security Officer  said, ‘Well you can’t come in without a pencil. Look, we can sell you one’ – 11d, I think, was the unit cost of TNA pencils. To emphasise the fact that times have now changed, the TNA demonstrated a 3D printer (unit cost £3,000) which was printing 3D replicas of seals which are attached to medieval and early modern TNA documents.

UCL of course currently has part of its Special Collections stored at the TNA, and we have our own dedicated Reading Room there. The TNA are good friends and we value our partnership with them whilst we plan exciting futures for our own Special Collections.

Paul Ayris


UCL Library Services