View Full Version : The AiX archive

16-02-2011, 20:05
In view of your appeal for donations since the securing of the Pembury collection, I would like to respectfully pose a question regarding your intent on providing yet another archive.

You mention that both the National Archive and the RAFM wanted to secure the collection. In view of the fact that the former is an organisation and asset provided for the nation, why do you feel that it is necessary to create another facility in addition to the excellent facilities at Kew?

Additionally, do you allow public access and have you plans to provide internet access to facilitate digital impressions?

I pose these questions because I have a passing interest in the military aviation of this country and travel from the East Midlands to London on many occasions to visit Kew. The aviation content will most probably become a larger aspect for me in the future, and the thought of yet another organisation wishing to compete does not fill me with delight. At least with the National Archive, they make every effort to provide superb facilities for everyone wishing to access documents. They do this with the intent of provided a facility for the nation, with unfettered access. I would humbly contend that their facilities would have been considered the most suitable location for such important items.

I ask these questions with the very best intent and eagerly await your considered reply.

16-02-2011, 22:33
A good question which I'm sure will attract further comment.

Why do you feel that it is necessary to create another facility in addition to the excellent facilities at Kew?
Because we're prepared to secure and collate additional associated material which would fall outside their brief thus adding significant contextual value for future researchers. Material of significance which would otherwise be lost.

Additionally, do you allow public access and have you plans to provide internet access to facilitate digital impressions?
Yes. That is made clear in our business plan.

the thought of yet another organisation wishing to compete does not fill me with delight.
I trust that point two makes it clear we're not actually in competition - it's inevitable there will be an element of competition to acquire certain items from time to time. But it's not at all unusual for archives and collections to collaborate in many different ways.
Furthermore internet technology is already reducing the significance of physical locations to reseachers as "sharing techniques" for digital file access adopts exciting new standards.

Anyway.. diversity is always a good thing as it fosters innovation.

Paul Francis
16-02-2011, 22:48
Opel, we feel it is necessary for several reasons. Our archive is unique, you will not find much of the material that we have in TNA. Much of the archive is based on life-time research and collating of material that was unwanted by Defence Estates and other defence / civilian organisations. Much of ours is the result of trawling through skips of data (with permission), acquiring material from developers plus our own obsession with photographing airfield buildings for the last 40 odd years. None of which is carried out by the likes of TNA. We have even acquired a quantity of material that originally came from TNA when they effectively bined a load of booklets from their library and sold this stock to a book shop! I say all of this as a consistant researcher at PRO / TNA for the last 30 or more years.

Currently you will know from various threads on here that we do not have premises and that the ARG archives are spread out over various sites in the UK. We are endevouring to produce a digital archive but this will be a photo based archive and not files, although this may happen in the future.

We are not in the same league as TNA, minute in comparison, but we feel that one day we will have something to offer researchers but at the moment it is just a dream. I know TNA advertise themselves as 'the nation's archive' and in many ways it is but likewise the RAFM is the museum of the Royal Air Force, does this mean that there should not be other RAF related museums, such as the one at Tangmere? We feel the UK is big enough to have two or more aviation related archives - and why shouldn't we?.

Hope that answers your interesting question


Paul Francis
16-02-2011, 23:44
I certainly agree with you there Dave about the internet, its quite clear to me that one day there will not be a need for physical archives. The sooner the beter in my opinion but in the meantime we go ahead as planned.

When the wind is blowing in the right direction and I look skywards as I make my way walking the last few metres from the car park to TNA, I look up at the biggest threat to TNA and I think to myself, the sooner everything is digitised the better. As all it would take, is one incident and TNA would be wiped out forever and with it the UK's archives. Why did they build it underneath the flight path to Heathrow's runway?

17-02-2011, 00:36
... as I make my way walking the last few metres from the car park to TNA, I look up at the biggest threat to TNA ..
Ditto - this goes through my mind every single time I enter TNA. Terrorist threat - Hmm possibly -but no great international public outcry, so possibly not. But irreplaceable data on the UK's heritage is another thing.

TNA die-hards know that what we can access at Kew is just a hint of what actually went on , but it is infinitely better than nothing at all.


Peter Kirk
17-02-2011, 09:56
For me one of the important aspects the AiX archive, not always covered by national archives, is personal archives from the likes of AiX/ARG members. A lot of you must have built up records both original and as notes/databases that desreve to be archived when you are no longer need them (as it were). Families are likely to bin them if not passed down and a smaller, friendlier organisation could take them on, providing you made a note in your will.

TNA? under a flight path and next to a small river? Hmmm!

18-02-2011, 14:46
It is interesting to view your thoughts. I must suggest that any duplication in repositories in my humble opinion is counter productive to those who wish to make use of such material. I suppose it boils down to a matter of ownership – direct, implied or otherwise – but the relative easy journey to Kew is just about affordable and their facilities are excellent.

I was fortunate only the other day, to have a “behind the scenes look” at a regional repository and was surprised at the measures taken to prolong and conserve the material held. Although much was not catalogued (therefore by implication not available to the public) the split level storage area was of the highest order. It was pleasing to see that there were many safeguard in place to reduce possible deterioration to a minimum, and much physical security in place to negate the possibility of loss due to unauthorised entry. Additional safeguards included a comprehensive fire alarm and much effort and equipment installed to keep the entire area at a constant temperature and also humidity within stringent levels.

I would therefore suggest that with such precautions evident at a relatively small regional facility, the mind cannot begin to imagine quite what is involved at Kew. I would suggest that the possibility of most scenarios has been contemplated and thus defended against. I could therefore ague that any such concern regarding inadvertent loss to material has been guarded against, but this would merely be speculation based upon an informed and educated guess. Incidentally, why not ask them about the terrorist scenario, it would be interesting to hear the response? If nothing else I find that the staff there are most helpful and more importantly, very knowledgeable and approachable. I suppose this could possibly extend from the notion that what they offer is for the nation and not for any particular group, collective or any such entity.

With the AiX wishing to compete for material with potential value to the nation, have you considered all scenarios’? Please understand that I do not want to belittle in any way what you wish to do, but when playing with ‘the big boys’ there are obviously many different things to consider. Taking a project from collecting material rejected or perhaps perceived as having no value, to competing with national agents for ‘worthwhile material’ opens you up a whole new arena.

I suggest that I have laboured the point somewhat and for that please forgive me. At the end of the day I hope that in the distant future, I’ll come and visit and be met by a lovely bunch of peeps doing a good job… for the nation.

18-02-2011, 17:12
Opel... Thanks again for your post - I think it's good to have such debates from time to time.

Previous replies have made the case for the ARG - but I'm not sure you've convinced me about the TNA case though as I harbour fundamental concerns about the concept any London based government funded "monopolies" - even organisations as highly respected and well managed as TNA. - When it's their turn for cuts and efficiency savings will they be still be interested in some of the "lesser" records and documents?? I rather think they'd maybe look to farm them out to organsations such as ARG??? Who knows.

Peter Kirk
19-02-2011, 11:13
Although Kew is probably the largest source, there are still many that may require a look. So far on my current project I have looked at or had copies made from the archives at RAFM, FAAM, IWM and dozens of local authority archives all of which have yielded important information that is not at Kew. One more will not matter and if the AiX/ARG archive is more accessible it will make it easier.
Kew has had an awful lot of money thrown at it so should be the best but it is still at the mercy of the goverment in power and its short term whims.

Slightly off topic, but on a recent visit to TNA I came across one of those annoying files where they had put a treasury tag through a folded map making it impossible to photograph or even view it. Normally they have a duplicate elsewhere in the file but this one was important to me so I had to go to the help station and ask them if they could remove the map for me to photograph, which they did.
Also you frequently come across envelopes labelled something like "documents beyond repair", what are you supposed to do, not open it?

Paul Francis
19-02-2011, 11:46
Ah! The whims at TNA, PNK, such as closing on Mondays and the proposed £5 parking charge, plus the increased waiting time for files to 40 minutes (to be fair, waiting time is often less than 40 minutes).

Your second point PNK is an interesting one too, as the state of the AIR files at TNA has always been an issue for me. They are very often in poor physical condition with treasury type tags not allowing one to view anything larger than fullscap. As one is not allowed to dismantle files, it has led to tearing of the pages. Hence receiving files in poor condition. There is no excuse for this and the issue has been pointed out on several occasions to the staff there. How many times does one come across missing files, or parts been removed by staff and placed else where, AHB borrowing files and taking several months to return them. Or in some cases parts of files having been stolen? The Dambusters and RAF Scampton springs to mind. That said, these are relatively minor gripes and I agree completely with Opel about TNA staff and the general running of the national archives.

01-03-2011, 23:34
Opel, some deep and inquisitive comments you have made. Might I ask, do you have a professional interest? I wonder.

To allay any fears some might have about our motives, ability and integrity might I point out that we have not entered into this with rose-tinted glasses. The Archive, as an idea and an entity, its aims and ambitions, are well described here and elsewhere on the this web site. It is worth considering that in some instances, a great quantity of material from smaller, private collections is offered up the larger bodies who, for a variety of reasons, will refuse it. This is not a failing on the part of them as institutions. Reasons may include for example it not being within their scope. A smaller collection, such as ours, is able to cater for the niche market in terms of archives thus ensuring items of direct relevance to the history and archaeology of airfields is considered for preservation which might otherwise be lost.

We have taken a great deal of care in terms of our approach to the archive, its collections and their care. We already have in place, aside from a lengthy management document, three very robust policy documents which dictate the operations of the Archive and its staff. We adhere very closely to both BS5454:2000 and BS4971:2002 (the documents upon which our policies are based, amongst others). These include Disaster & Emergency Planning, Acquisitions and Preservation & Conservation – perhaps the three most important aspects. Of course, any artefact is assessed for condition and provenance prior to acquisition, in turn guiding many aspects of conservation and availability.

The current holdings for the archive are stored in the approved manner in secure premises until such time as we have finished acquiring our own, dedicated, location. This material is currently being fully catalogued. Where necessary any work required will be by a fully qualified conservator (of over 25 years experience in the museums and libraries environment). All conservation materials are being sourced from the relevant specialist outlets.

Perhaps critically, one advantage of being a smaller archive is our ability to react quickly in terms of acquisitions of “minor” items which might otherwise be passed over many larger institutions and also the ability to have a quicker turn-around in making holdings available to public. Smaller museums and collections, (such as the tower museums of Debach and Framlingham, for example) have excellent collections of artefacts which may not have a ready place in a National. It also allows for rapid response (change management) within the wider business environment. By its very nature, the Museums, Libraries and Archives sector has to face the fact it is part of the leisure industry and as such not only has to compete “like-with-like”, it also has to be able to stand apart from other attractions. Being a smaller, niche archive, we feel that we fulfil a market requirement and have no problems at all working in concert with the larger Nationals – co-operation in many instances can be key but as NJR as has said, competition can drive innovation and we can strike that balance.

It might also be worth pointing out that much of this is being undertaken at our own expense – both finacially and in time. This community of interest within our modest group has meant that despite two years hard work already, enthusiasm and effort has not waned. Indeed, interest has grown considerably around the core team and we have a broad suite of expertise and knowledge to draw upon.

There is, clearly, a lot more to it than this but I'll stop now.