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The Librarian as Archivist

The subject o{-archir,e science has almost ceased to be a stranger in the

librarian's syliabus of studit:s. For quite a number of'y'ears, Ibr example, it
has figured in that of' the Library ;\ssociation, and it has been a regular
lbature in the summer school organised br Dr. Ballinger at Aberystwlth.
Nlost important, perhaps, because most lbrmal. rvas the recognition given to
it when it included in the svllabus o{'the new School o1' Librarianship
started nine vears ago at University C)ollege, London. It has continued to be
a necessarv part ol'the training in that school, and everv vear lrom twentv to
lbrty students, destined, many of' them, to take positions in the public
libraries ol'the country', ha'u'e dedicated thirty or forty hours ol'lecture, and
much more of private rvork, to the studv of this subject in combination with
palaeography'. Nloreover, the Sch<nl o{'Librarianship has been responsible
lbr the appearance of what was, good or bad, the first attempt made
anyrvhere at a complete ,llanual oJ' Archit,e Adminislration,t a book rr'ritten
largely' to meet the needs of'the class there . I hope . since I happen to have
been the teacher charged with the duty of organizing this study at Universin
College, I may be tbrgiven if'I regard this approach ol a new t.vpe ol'studelt
to a ne\{ subject as a matter ol somc interest; and il'I take the opportunitr'
(finding myself in a gathering ol'distinguished librarians) to set out fbr
inlbrmation, and perhaps criticism, m) o\\n olthe reason whv archil'e
science is a subject proper lbr the attention o1'English librarians. and of'the
lines along which it should be studied.
Archir,'es iI'I may begin with a definition are the pieces ol'u'riting, on
whatever material made and in whatever lbrm-(u'hether orisinals received or
drafts prepared lbr despatch or memoranda ol transactions), u'hich business
men and business olEces, pubiic or pri'u'ate, ha'u'e tended everylvhere to
ol tallies with

(llarendorr Press. l!122


accumulate and preserve by lvay of reminder and summary of various

aspects ol'the work o{'which they lormed a part; and during the last century
or two it has become recognised that the masses o1'archives which have
survived to us after their original purpose had long ceased to be of any
importance lorm a mine of infbrmation as to the doings of the past not only
quite independent of the narrative accounts, more or less contemporary and
more or less prejudiced, which had hitherto formed the basis of our histories,
but actually superior to them very often in wealth of detail and always in
authenticity and impartiality. So much have archives gained in estimation
and there is almost a danger lest the use of those derived from the past, and
the presen,ation of those which are being piled up in the present by an age of
card-indexes and duplicators, should alike be overdone. That, however, rs a
point we need not labour here: what interests us is the iact that there is in our
ii-. .ro subject of serious research which may not which cloes not,
frequently turn to them for its illustration. Just as- there is no human
activity or interest which does not, sooner or later, become involved in the
machinery o{'the world's business, so there is none which may not be found
figuring in archives of one kind or another, often in the most unexpected
places: the best specimens of early English wallpapers and of eighteenth-
century patterns o1'dress materials (to take two recentiy-noted examples) are
among the public records. And since the librarian is the servant of research
the subject of archir,es, at least from a bibliographical point of view, of their
whereabouts and availability, of the means of approach to them and of the
books in which they are made public, has become an essential part of his
But it is not because other people studying archives may require his
intelligent assistance that I have ventured to suggest lor the librarian the role
of archivist. That word, as I see it, is properly applied not to the research-
worker who takes from archives what interests him or helps his work, but to
the man who, armed u,ith the necessary special knowledge, undertakes the
task of preserving them and of producing them when required of doing for
them, in fact, what the librarian does for his books. It was with - the object of
training young iibrarians lbr this task that the archives course at University
College was planned; and the questions I wish to trv and answer in this
paper are, first. why should the English librarian be asked to undertake this
extra labour? and, second, why and how is the training necessary for the
keeping o1'N{SS. which are archi'n'es different lrom that required for the
keeping of other MSS. or of books?
To answer the first of these questions involves a brief sun'ey of the official
position of archives in England. In most countries the State recognises and
controls, at least in theory, the archives produced by all grades o{'public
administration, irom the central N{inistry down to the least important
hamlet: generally the central and controlling authority is that which has the
- E\KINSON Tlte Librarian as Archiuist t17

-,l Various .1ctua.l care o1-the most important central collections.2 ln England r,r'e have no
:st century :uch s-vstem. The Public Record Oifice Acts ol'1838 to 1B9B anci the C)rder in
.nich have [.ouncil o1'1852 give to the lr'Iaster of the Rolls control over all legal records
;e of' an,v '.r ithin the direct jurisdiction of the High C.lourt and, rvith some n'rodification,
s: not onh' r er the accruing archives o{'existing public departments; but r,r,ith onll'one
:crary and i'\ception (to be mentioned presentlr'), althoueh various Acts3 have tiom
: histories, iLmc to tinre recogr.risec'l an obligation upon this or that local authoritr ro
aluays in lake and preserve ret:ords, no attcmpt has been made to thce. br-u'a1'of
.stimation --r-atLlte. the problem oi- enabling and enlbrcinq their presen'ation under
. paSt, and rroper r:onditions. I'his being so. it neec'l hardlv be said that there has been
'. an aqe ot iro stiitutorv attempt to cieal rvith the qLrestion o1- the preservation oi'the
ever, is a .rlchives o1'semi-public bodies or of prir.ate persons or institutions. though
:r 1s ln our .he Historic'al NISS. Clonrmission. in the 150 odd volumes it has published
cioes not, .ince 1870, has done valuable nork bl calling attention to their existcnce and
:.o human -mp0rtance.
' ed in the it. is in respect chieflr' o1'the classe-i ol-privatc archives, though to some
: be found ,:rtent also ol' thosc ol' a semi-public nature.t that some o{- us rvho are
re\pected ,ntercsted in the possibilitie.r o1'documents have endeavoured to ir.n'okc tfre
:Ehteenth- iicl crl'the librarian. It is hardh l)ecessarv tc; emphasise here the value ol tirc
:ples/ are -iot'uments or rhe nlagnitude,,t'the pcril thev have bcen made the sub.ject
: research rl denunciation or appeal lbr- manv vcars - at numerous confbrences o1'the
'' . of their .carned, arrd onh' last vcar thr' (iongress of'Arch:ieological Societic-s deloted
.nd o1'the :he larger part of its annual mceting to the sub.ject l;u1 I permii mvsell'one
::rt of his - (-lairns' Act. some irli"'
:rarnple o{'lr'hat Inav occur: Sincc thr: passine ol'l,ord
\ ears ago, macle the prc-ccn'aiion ol- the olde r titie deeds to land no lonser a
,quire his practical neccssitv ir is litt-rallv tnre that huncireds o1'thousands of-such
,r the role deeds. rnanv of priceless r.alue ibr iocal histon. have been destror.'ed or
:esear<:h- scattered. Onc could si\.c corintless detailed illustration ol' tire cflbct oi-
:k. brit to uncontrolled ignorance . cor-rrbined u,ith a little cupiditv and a sood deai ol'
-,akes the apathr', upon u'hat shouki har c beert a recognised national inheritance.
doing lbr It nra"' be asked rvhl' pick out the librarian lbr tl're palt ol'1aa.i ex machina?
olrject of Irrankh, the arisu,er - is that one takes the best one can get. Locai interest irr
i versi ty local historv. u.'iiich so olttn does (as it aluat's should) lind a natural alh'in
.:' in this the local librarian. is the stror-rgest motivr: lbrce tor the sal'eguarding o1'
:rake this clocuments: but the lundamental question, as experiencc has shou'n aqain
i tbr the and again, is that ot'repositorv spacc. '\'ou u'ant me.' sat's the o$'ner. 'to
: tbr the reliain liom selling ml lamili papers; but have vou anv place in which. il'l
l. '1'lrrrs in Franceit is tlic .lrrins: ,\'alnnale.r. the instituti,in lhich links alicr tht archircs ol'
ie official
nrost ol thc grcat departrrrcnts ol State. past:rnci prcseni. \\hi(h is tht head ol tht'rvholc
rlses and .\rchivc .\drninistration oi tht' r'outt trr'.
-1 public .j. .\ notable cxarrrple is the [,ocal Cirircrnrncnt.\ct oi lt]!)1.
rportant L For instance. thosc o1-schools and rharitics and ol cornrnt'r,ial lirnrs or prrltlit
. has the such as those lbrmccl clrrrirts the Clreat \\'ar. nhch havc ccascd to ltttrction.

oflered to deposit them for public use, they could be securely and
permanently bestowed?' And inevitablv, though we know the difEculty it too
has to face in this connection, we turn to the local library.
One more word about the position of the local library as an archive
repository. I spoke earlier of'an exception to the rule that this country knows
no central control over local archives. Lord Birkenhead's Act of 1922 seemed
to many scholars as fatal potentially to the Court Rolls the records o{'that
wonderful system of local jurisdiction r,r'hich was such a -remarkable feature of
medieval England and so strong an influence in moulding the growth of later
local institutions as fatal to them as was Lord Cairns' Act to the Deeds;
and on this occasion- timely agitation produced an amending measure by
which the Master of the Rolls, the head of'the Public Records, is gir.'en power
to prevent the destruction and dissipation of Court Rolls and under certain
circumstances to order their deposit in local repositories to be approved b,v
him. The administration o[these powers is a delicate and difficult task, and
the N,Iaster of the Rolls. with a committee which he has appointed, has been
engaged so thr principally in encouragine the discor.'ery and listing oi'these
records Ibr at present evervone is in the dark as to the number and extent
- accumulations and in finding and approving local repositorics
of existing
both suitable for and willing- to take local deposits when these may offer. Of
about fifty repositories so approved up to date trvo-thirds are librarics a
sufficient evidence of the wa,v in which this newest of archive problems - is
touching the librarian: and as some indication of its extent I will r.'enture to
quote in conclusion the case of my own counq-, Surrev. Here we have just
had issued by the County Council, in collaboration with the Record Society,s
as complete a list as we could make of Surrey Court Rolls; and though this
county, owing to its semi-suburban position, will probably prove to be one of
the poorest in such sun'ivals we have been abie to list rolls from over 200
manors, twelve collections dating fiom the thirteenth century and twentv-
Ibur more from the fourteenth. Oithree Surrev repositories so far approved
two are libraries the N{inet Librarv at Camberwell and Croydon.
So lar we have- suggested that the local library is, by lorce of circum-
stances, not only the natural centre for inlbrmation about local archives, but
ofien also their custodiatr. Numerous examples might be given from large
libraries, such as those of Birmingham, Cardiff, and Croydon, downwards
where such work has already been taken in hand, but space forbids. I turn -to
the question what should be the special training siven to a young librarian
- lacts?
in view of these
The principal classes ol'topics which nray be the subject of his instruction
are, I think, three. First there is the phlsical care of documents, embracing the
question of'the conditions under which paper, parchment, ink, and other

5. Surrey Record Society, No. XXVIII.

The Librarian as Arcltiaist I lg

writing materials may best be conserved, questions of binding and recep-

rely and tacles, the problem of suitable buildings and fittings, probiems of protectron
ulrv it too from fire, vermin, and other enemies. Next we have the moral deJence of
archives, including all probiems attendant on the archivist's task of making
r archive his archives available for students and the problem (if he feels called upon to
:ra'knows lace it; I do not myself think he should) of selecting what is worth preserving.
i2 seemed Finally, there are the studies required by the archivist in so f,ar as he finds it
ds of that necessary to read his archives for the purpose ofarranging, listing, andperhaps
teature of publishing.
]r oflater In regard to the first and second ofthese groups, but particularly the first,
re Deeds; the iibrarian should not have much to learn, for he should have studied, or be
:asure by studying, in connection with his more ordinar,v duties the questions of library
en power architecture, the atmospherics of the library, the qualities of binding and
:r certain parceiling materials, and the natures of paper, parchment, ink, and so forth;
rroved by and similarly he should be acquainted with all the received views as to
task, and 'production' from repository, the superuision of students, and the like
has been questions. It might be thought that in addition to his ordinary training the
r of these librarian would require little here save a lew demonstrations of the speciai
nd extent requirements of some unfarniliar {brms of material or make-up, such as
>ositories pai'chment rolls or seals. That is, with one exception. true: apart from a lew
oiler. Of trifling specialities there is only one thing, one piece of knowledge which the
ries _ a librarian lacks or should lack. But that one is a principle which governs so
rblems is strictly (if I am right) and so universally the whole of archive work make-
enlure to up, repair) labeiling, listing, superr,'ision and production, publication- that
har.'e just - of
it is necessary to emphasize and enforce it by illustration or demonstration
Society,s irs application in every department,
>ueh this The piece of knowledge about which I have made so much ado is nothing
be one of more than the fact that whereas the ordinary collection of books (or of any
or er 200 other objecis the MSS., for instance, in the British Museum) is the result
I trventy- ofselection by- persons interested in the object which that coilection serves to-
rpproved day, the individual pieces having no other necessary relation than the lact
'circum- that they were all chosen lor the same reason, a group of archives is a single
organism which has not been made but has grown for reasons and under
Lives, but circumstances quite independent of'the interests which now make use ol'it.
om large This is responsible for every particularity which one has to prescribe in the
11 31d5 treatment of archives: it is responsible (for example) for the extreme
I turn -to importance attaching to the question of custody, an unblemished reputation
Librarian in this respect being, it cannot too often be repeated, the dtfferentia between
an archive and a plain document: it is responsible for a like preciseness as to
-itruction the place or connection in which an archive was first found: two copies oi'the
rcing the London Ga4tte, for example, which to the librarian are two copies o1-the
nd other London Ga4tte, taking on for the archivist totally different values and
characters because one is (shail we say) an enclosure to Foreign O{fice

correspondence, while the other is merely part of the office miscellanea of the
Admiralty. One might multiply examples of the way in which this archive
character, which consists in the relation of every piece to the administrative
machinery which produced it, governs or should govern every action of the
archivist's official life; but space once more forbids. N{ay I merely say in
conclusion, deliberately, that there is in my opinion no item in all the dismal
catalogue of errors and crimes in the past treatment of archives in this and
other countries by their appointed custodians which was not the result of
ignorance or neglect of this fundamental fact?
There remains the question of the necessary acquirements for an archivist-
librarian in the matters of palaeography and other preliminaries to reading;
they may be stated briefly. He will need in the first place a trifle more of the
outiines ol' English History than generailv remains alier an average
education; a trifle of the History of Law. especially that of real propertv, if (as
they almost certainly will in a collection of any size) his documents are to
include deeds; some Latin if (once more) the collection is of any size or age,
and if it is a medievai one some French as well; not to mention some idea of
the medieval modifications of those languages, though this is not so severe a
task as it sounds; a specially good bibliographical knowledge of the
authorities upon Family History and Topography; and a more detailed
acquaintance with those relating to his own neighbourhood; a familiarity
with the actual Scripts employed in the period and variety of documents with
which he is concerned; and some knowledge of Administrative History.
The last two Palaeography and Administrative History raise a point
- The necessity of Palaeography of a kind -is obvious; and
of some di{ficulty.
elsewhereu I have endeavoured to show that the necessity for Administrative
History, if less obvious, is really greater; though indeed it should not require
much proof that to understand documents which formed part of a business
process one must understand the process which produced them. The trouble
is that, while one is anxious to restrict the studies of the aspiring archivist to
the period and v.ariety of document with which he will have to deal, one
cannot in practice make him a reliable reader without giving him a
knowledge of the earlier forms out of which those belonging to his period
were evolved; nor c:rn he practice upon earlier documents without knowing
something of the administration which lies behind them also. In a modified
form the same difficulty attaches also to the other preliminary studies we
have named; he may not, for example, find Latin in his own documents, but
may need it for the reading of earlier ones, the study of which seems essential
for understanding the scripts of his own period. The case is one where it is
very di{ficult to prescribe. Perhaps the best we can do is to lay it down, as a
rough guide, that if the documents to be deait with are not earlier than the

6. Palaeography and the Studv ofCourt Hand: Cambridge, 1915.

\SON The Librarian as Archiuist l2l

:i the eighteenth century they may, at a pinch, be tackled without preliminary

chive palaeographical work; that the reading of sixteenth and seventeenth
'aIlVe century hands ought to be based on a knowledge ofthose -
- ofthe fifteenth; and
)l- the that for earlier hands than this last one really requires to begin ab ouo say
a\ ln liom Domesday. \\'ith this we may couple a hope that the student will-make
:smal his studies as thorough as possible and an assurance that he cannot have too
s and much practice and that he will not find the subject dull.
ult of It may be useful if I end this paper with some description of the eflect upon
the student, so far as I have been able to observe it, of such training as we
:lvis t- were able to give under the circumstances, and on the lines, I have
.orng; mentioned. Our students were of the London University N'latriculation
,i the standard, and they were expected to pass, at the end ofa vear's course, an
erage examination which fell into two parts. one of Archiv'e Science and one of the
id)^^ reading. explaining, and annotating of documents, including transcription
tre to from 'unseen' facsimiles of medieval manuscripts. Nlost of them succeeded in
i age, reaching a forty per cent. pass in both. To attain this I ficund that they
iea of needed no more than five or six lectures and demonstrations, with the
refe? corresponding amount of private work, on Archive Science; all the rest of the
': the time (more than two terms' rvork out of three) being given to reading
railed practice, elementary Palaeographv. and what I have called Administrative
iiarity History. The students at the end of this training were not, of course,
s rvith experienced archivists; but they had a good idea of their own ignorance and
of the means of correcting it. They ga',,e quite a definite impression that they
point found the subject, or subjects, interesting, and I was certainly very sorry
: and when I had to give up the pleasant task of teaching them.
s iness
'ist to
. one
35 We
s. but
n the