Annual Report 2008-09 - Information Committee Contents

CHAPTER 7: Parliamentary Archives

Annual Review 2007-08

29.  In January 2009, the Committee discussed the Annual Review 2007-08 with Caroline Shenton, Clerk of the Records. Particular highlights had been the completion of the Portcullis II cataloguing project, the Parliament and the British Slave Trade website, and the Act of Union Exhibition in the Royal Gallery. The Committee congratulated the staff of the Parliamentary Archives on their work.

Digital Preservation

30.  At the same meeting, the Committee discussed digital preservation and the challenge posed to Parliament's long-term digital information by technological obsolescence. For over 500 years Parliament has managed its information in various analogue (that is, hard-copy) formats, including parchment, paper, videotape and photographic film. It now needs to address the challenge of preserving Parliament's digital resources for the same length of time. Without access to the trusted digital information it needs to preserve (up to and including in perpetuity), neither House will be able to support the work of its Members or its administration, nor the requirements of the public for access to Parliamentary information wherever and whenever they want it in the future, including for archival research.

31.  Digital Preservation is the process of ensuring that a piece of digital information remains authentic and accessible over time, despite changes to, and obsolescence of, the hardware and software which makes it readable. Since June 2008 the Parliamentary Archives has been implementing a digital preservation strategy

  • to ensure that the long-term digital memory of Parliament is not lost or inaccessible, or compromised in any way which could damage either House's ability to do its work, or its reputation, and
  • to enable Parliament's mission to offer permanent public access to its online resources, for leisure, educational, academic or business use, and to support democratic accountability.

32.  The Committee welcomed the digital preservation activities underway to counter the risks to Parliament's digital resources.

Connecting with Communities Exhibition

33.  In January 2008 we agreed an outline proposal for a project entitled 'People and Parliament: connecting with communities' designed to generate interest in the History of Parliament and raise the profile of the Parliamentary Archives through web-based learning resources based around the idea of connecting with communities. Following that decision, plans were developed for an exhibition to link material held by the Parliamentary Archives with regional archives and thereby explore interactions between Parliament and communities, particularly over the course of the last three hundred years.

34.  In January of this year we received a progress report on plans for the exhibition and associated events in regions around the country. The exhibition was open to the public, free of charge, in Westminster Hall from July to September. Exhibits were drawn from the collections of the Parliamentary Archives and the regional partners and include archive film as well as documents. The exhibition launched a four-year outreach project which partners Parliamentary Archives with regional archive services in Birmingham, Kent, Glamorgan, Norfolk and Tyne & Wear. The aim of the project is to explore ways in which Parliament has affected people and communities and how in turn people have influenced Parliament.

Taking Liberties Exhibition at the British Library

35.  In February, the Committee visited the British Library's exhibition Taking Liberties: The Struggle for Britain's Freedoms and Rights with David Prior, Assistant Clerk of the Records (Public Services & Outreach), for a curator-led tour. The Parliamentary Archives had lent four iconic constitutional records to the exhibition—the Petition of Right 1628, the Death Warrant of Charles I 1649, the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Great Reform Act 1832.

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