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Archives Then and Now by John West

The End of the Book ............. !

In October 2008 a Symposium on Northumberland’s Collections, skilfully organized at the Woodhorn Northumberland Museum Archives and Colliery Park (more properly Northumberland County Record Office) inflicted a painful intergenerational shock. The sheer range, content and polish of the material offered was startling. Much of this high standard was explained in the presentation of “Digitalisation and Restoration” and the archivists’ frequent reference to the Internet and their Electronic Catalogue brought me suddenly up-to-date. “This,” I thought, “is the end of the book as I knew it!” This over-excited view was cheerfully confirmed by several young computer-literate friends. How much, in fact, has the internet changed the scope and methods of the modern local historian?.

In olden days the pre-net student’s route started from the Victoria County History in the local library, re-tracing its footnotes, and leading to index cards, printed collections and microfilm at the County Record Office. Other resources were found in municipal Reference Libraries, the indexes of County Record Societies, the British Library at Boston Spa, and the National Archives at Kew. Distanced learning involved travel, telephone calls, letters, photocopies, and postage. Has this old long distance route now been bypassed by the internet? Where does the newcomer begin today – out of doors, or at home on the internet?

It is in fact quite easy to combine the two approaches. Certainly we can now begin at home. Exploration of a multitude of websites is reassuring, offering as it does an additional library and archive at home. In fact, www offers, not the end but a new beginning of the book as we now know it

Getting Started

If we decide to undertake a local study by internet there is immediate advice available which can be used progressively, from simple guides to advanced courses of study. The scene is set for a beginner by Local History on Line (http://www.local-history.co.uk) This site outlines a programme of action leading from “Visit your local Archives” - to local history groups and County Record Societies, the British Society for Local History and the Historical Association An authoritative booklist is recommended for purchase. In fact, overall, the internet can provide many a shopping list on chosen topics. Back to the Book by net ?


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