There seems to be a rash of ‘archives’ at the moment and it’s starting to get confusing
Some of my fleet will soon be in the National Small Boat Register (NSBR) run by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (NMMC). The NSBR is a register of all those boats (under 40ft LOA) which deserve to be preserved by individuals, organisations, trusts or museums and the Classic and Vintage Racing Dinghy Association is keen to be involved with the register and hopes to work with the NMMC to make the register a vibrant and ongoing ‘virtual’ collection.
Whilst the NSBR is not the easiest database to search (and a little slow to run) it is a good start to getting details of relevant craft in one place. Hopefully some joined up thinking will take place at some point to allow the inclusion of the NSBR within the National Register of Historic Vessels (NRHV) and maybe we might see the ‘National Core Collection’ come out of the merging of registers.
With the NSBR being run by National Maritime Museum Cornwall and NRHV maintained by National Historic Ships I’d imagine that both registers have a good chance of continuing and being maintained, and with the backing of these organisations there should be some decent advocacy in place so the registers should continue to be populated with the details of a range of vessels.
In recent weeks there’s been announcements of a couple of new initiatives, though not from museums or related sectors.
The first of these new archives is the British National Yachting Archive (BNYA), this is due to be launched at the London Boat Show (see this press release). Although the BNYA states it is a charity there is no record (as of 7th January) at the Charity Commission’s website. The BNYA has the following aims:
- To promote the preservation of sailing’s heritage
- To establish a knowledge base of yachting heritage and provide public access
- To facilitate the presentation and display of yachting heritage at appropriate museums and other organisations
- To provide grants, bursaries and scholarships for those who would advance knowledge and understanding of yachting heritage
The BNYA’s website is very much under construction, but it appears that the information to be contained in the ‘archive’ will be for paying members only and there is an ambition ‘to provide suitable archival storage’. It does make me wonder why the National Martime Museum Cornwall or the National Maritime Museum (Greenwich) are not involved, as these organisations could provide professional expertise in archiving techniques, and of course provide free public access. Personally, before archives are launched I’d like to see some policies in place. Some metadata would be nice alongside a commitment to Open Access, but the issue that worries me most is the copyright for the archive as looking at the BNYA site it appears that all content is Copyright: British National Yachting Archive, hardly encouraging for would be depositors.
A sister organisation of the BNYA is the recently announced National Racing Dinghy Archive (NDRA) which aims to:
- Capture, document and store any material, be it in the form of plans, photo’s, brochures, or books - to be placed in the care of the ‘master’ archive when a permanent location for this is agreed
- The capturing of oral histories, backed up where possible by video recording, from those key influencers that have left such a mark on the sport
- To make as much of the detail held above, either documentary or the historical interviews, available whenever possible for public access
The NDRA has the rather meaningless All rights reserved statement on each web page, but if this is going to be an archive of donated material with full public access copyright and open access issues need to be sorted out. Statements such as “….. you know that it will be stored and treated with sympathy (and not just stored in a ‘black hole’)” need to be backed up by a preservation policy - if there’s no physical location for items where will they be stored?
Both the BNYA and the NRDA seem to be developing a new business model for archives, that of calling for funding from subscribers then populating an archive. If these archives want to attract donations they must develop policies on both copyright of materials and become open access. Exclusiveness of information will not attract people to “donate” to what can be construed as a non-public space.
It’s amazing that none of the registers or archives are looking at ways of sharing their databases. The simple data structures used may be easy to manage at the moment with relatively few records but at some point someones going to realise that search engines and harvesters have a use, and unless the data is in a usable format then you are left with multiple silos of information and no way of sharing.
It’s great there’s so much interest in maritime history but perhaps it’s time for these archives and registers to get together and develop a shared vision and way forward otherwise there’s going to be duplication of some information and no way of finding some artifacts which may remain buried in garage somewhere.