U.K. religious archives being lost, at peril
Many religious archives from the U.K., some dating as far back as the medieval period up to the present, are becoming lost or are at peril, a recent study shows.
The survey, which was put together by the U.K. Religious Archives Group, the U.K. Archives and Records Association and the U.K. National Archives, was undertaken to provide a clear picture of information storage systems by faith organizations, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported.
According to the report, over one-third of faith groups lack the means to secure their records from flood, theft or fire. Other organizations shred documents to generate space, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Additionally, 41 percent of religious archives are handled, for lack of staff, by volunteers who are not trained even in basic work like cataloguing, the Yorkshire Evening Post said.
As a result, the report has recommended action on both national and local levels to preserve this important component of British history and to prevent gaps that might be incurred if records continue to be lost, the Yorkshire Evening Post said.
Low response rate
Some 2.686 major faith organizations were sent questionnaires for the survey, but only 15 percent responded, or a total of 414. Out of the total respondents, only 17 percent had fully catalogued archives. One in 10 respondents said mold and damp had distressed their archives, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported.
The study noted, “It is perhaps not surprising to see that although well over half of the questionnaires sent were to non-Christian organizations, Christian bodies account for 76% of responses,” according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.
The report also showed that only 44 percent of surviving collections of religious organizations had adequate storage protection from fire, theft and flood. Of the remainder, some 39 percent had no protection, Yorkshire Evening Post said.
It was noted that many religious groups are self-funded and lack the resources for archiving efficiently, more so amid a difficult economy. Furthermore, the archival heritage lacks sufficient recognition to generate support, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported.
Adding to the problem is the lack of access to training and/or professional advice and guidance on suitable archiving, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Oliver Morley, U.K. National Archives head told the Yorkshire Evening Post, “Religious archives should be recognized as the asset they are, not only by the faiths that created them but also society as a whole, even in tough financial times.”
Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London agreed, telling the Yorkshire Evening Post, “Much of our national heritage is recorded in the archives of faith organizations, but the information extends far beyond the religious sphere.”
According to Chartres, faith archives supply “the key to our self-understanding as a diverse union of nations built out of very different communities and traditions,” the Yorkshire Evening Post reported.