The Cost of Historical Research

25 05 2013

Funding cuts to and the reorganization of libraries and archives have been in the news on both sides of the Atlantic recently. In Ottawa, the Library and Archives saga continues to unfold. In the UK, it appears that austerity is having its greatest impact on those historical researchers who use local archives. The premier national institutions, the British Library and the National Archives in Kew, appear to have been spared the worst of the cuts, perhaps because the British government wants visiting researchers from overseas to have a good impression of the UK. However, many of the local archives have responded to reductions in their subsidies by increasing the fees they charge for photocopying and digital cameras.

Yesterday, The Guardian ran an interesting story about these funding cuts. Researchers have noted that photocopying charges and digital camera permits vary considerably from one local archive to another. I’ve certainly noticed major discrepancies in the cost of photocopying a page, which clearly suggests that some of the archives are charging well above cost. (After all, the cost of toner and photocopy paper is pretty uniform).  The costs of digital camera permits vary even more considerably.

Day passes are issued for users to photograph documents to transcribe later from home or university. These can vary in price from £2 at Birmingham to £25 at North Yorkshire County Record OfficeBerkshire Record Office charges £1 per image and for those needing access to long documents, the cost can become prohibitive.

You can read more about this important issue here



2 responses

25 05 2013
David Zylberberg

The Berkshire charges are absurdly high. However, Darby suggests that photographing documents reduces the use of archival resources. In my experience, researchers photographing increases the amount of work performed by archival staff. I spent three months in the Hampshire Record Office in 2011, when the cost of a daily digital photography license was 10 quid. I mostly read and took notes in the archives, but there were some documents I needed to photograph so as to database later. I consciously put all of my photographing on a limited number of days to reduce costs. The result was that on the days I paid 10 quid, I probably used up most of one staff member’s day in retrieving my documents. One day, I went through 66 bundles. This clearly stressed the Record Office’s time and I can understand their charging a fee for high volume users like those of us who photograph. It probably works better in archives that offer weekly/monthly/yearly rates in addition to daily ones as researchers like me would spread photographing over the entirety of our time there and not disproportionately strain resources. It would also work better if the research funds people at my university understood what a photography license was and that it is a necessary part of many research projects. The result would then be that some of the money saved on travel costs by the universities would make its way to the local archives whose budgets are heavily strained.

27 05 2013

David, You make a good point about how the daily photography licences are categorized for research funds purposes. It may be that their system of categorization is a few years behind the technology. Most North American archives don’t charge a daily fee to simply use a digital camera, so I can see why Canadian research funds administrators are unfamiliar with the concept.

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