Underfunding leading to a major reduction in staffing is putting the protection of "vital records" preserving the island's history at risk, the island's Director of Archives has warned.
Jersey Archive's Linda Romeril explained that staff numbers had reduced by as much as 35% between 2015 and 2017 - despite politicians passing a law that meant they now have to process more public records than ever before.
It also means that major projects, including digitising the Jersey Evening Post's collection of 1.5milllion photographs dating from 1921, have hit a roadblock. Just over one tenth of the images are now online. The project previously had four dedicated members of staff, but their contracts ended in August. Now there is only one member of staff - a 0.4 FTE - working on it.
In fact, the Archive's entire cataloguing function, which involves thousands of documents and images, now relies on just 10 members of full and part-time staff (8.1FTE), as well as volunteers, down from 14.
Pictured: The project to get all of the island's newspaper archive photos online has now majorly stalled after four staff left.
Ms Romeril explained that the loss of four full-time members of staff came at the end of a three-year funding agreement with the Chief Minister’s Department, as well as following some changes to working hours.
The Director of Archives and Collections at Jersey Heritage says that the staffing reductions come in direct contrast to the fact the Archive is now managing "more records, more retention schedules, an increased numbers of digital transfers and more enquiries from both public institutions and members of the public.”
If the States continue to ignore the Archive's requests for increased funding to secure more staff, Ms Romeril warned that not only key records charting the island's history could be at risk, but that the body could also have legal implications.
Pictured: Linda Romeril, Director of Archives and Collections at Jersey Heritage.
These come in the form of the Jersey Freedom of Information Law (FOI) and the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which have resulted in additional pressures on current staff.
“Jersey Archive is currently underfunded to carry out the governance requirements placed on the service by Public Records, Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation. Without additional staff, the archive cannot fully support public institutions and enable them tomeet their obligations. This will result in risk to the long-term preservation of vital records, in particular to the identification, transfer and long-term storage of digital material," Ms Romeril cautioned in the Archive's 2017 Annual report.
This is not the first time the island's Archives and Collections Director has highlighted staffing challenges.
Pictured: Linda Romeril (pictured left) says four more staff members are needed at the Archive to allow it to continue its work.
She first did so in the archive’s 2016 report following the loss of temporary staff for the FOI implementation programme. The Economic Development Department (now Economy and Partnerships) then asked her to prepare a business case for additional staff, which is currently said to be under consideration, but has not yet resulted in any funding proposals.
Jeremy Harris, chair of the Records Advisory Panel, shared Ms Romeril's concerns. "In our view, Jersey Archive is not currently provided with sufficient resources to carry out its core functions properly under the Public Records Law. These include conservation, cataloguing, digital records, and advice and support for public institutions.
"The Advisory Panel fully supports the business case for additional staff, and believes a successful outcome will bring many benefits in terms of records management and access to public records," he said.
Pictured: Jersey Archive's new strongroom should be completed by 2020.
Recruitment seems crucial for the Archive, as construction of the new archive strongroom block started in January 2018. It is expected to be completed by January 2020 to allow the Archive "to continue to transfer physical archive material from Public Institutions for at least the next 25 years."
The strongroom development includes a dedicated digital server room. Arkivum Perpetua, which provides a digital preservation and archival safeguarding system, designed specifically for the heritage sector, was recently appointed to help Jersey Archive store and preserve the huge volumes of digital records in its care. The system will be in place by the end of the year at a starting cost of £18,500 a year, increasing as more records become available.
Ms Romeril said: “The digital archive had grown so much that our local servers were holding 20 terabytes of data. Processes, such as authenticity checks, had to be run manually, which was time-consuming, and the risk of data loss and corruption was an overriding concern.
“Our new system will give us all peace of mind. We’re having a new physical strong room built at the moment, and I see Arkivum Perpetua as its digital equivalent, giving us confidence that we can preserve a vital part of Jersey’s history for decades and centuries to come.”
Paula Keogh, vice-president of heritage and higher education at Arkivum, said: “Archives, such as Jersey Heritage, now handle an array of formats – from images, videos and audio material, to documents such as PDFs. They have to test for authenticity, manage format obsolescence, and above all, keep all their digital assets secure. With Arkivum Perpetua, Jersey Heritage can now reassure the organisations and individuals contributing to the archive that their irreplaceable materials are in safe hands."
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