On Monday 15 April last year, West Glamorgan Archives was host to an experiment which may yet have far-reaching effects for archives in the UK. A live link was made between the archive cataloguing software of West Glamorgan Archives and Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University, proving it was possible to share reader registration data between the two repositories.
This experiment may not have had quite the dramatic effect of the first telephone call by Alexander Graham Bell, “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you,” but then in 1876 the full potential of the telephone was not yet foreseen and I suspect that experiment also may not have been prefaced offstage by a long drum-roll.
The potential that lies within the 2013 experiment is that it showed it was possible for CALM proprietary archive cataloguing systems to link live with each other and a multi-functional national archive reader’s ticket for local record offices moved one step closer. For Axiell, the software company which produces CALM, there was a useful spin-off in their efforts to develop a software platform for a unified multi-repository catalogue.
West Glamorgan Archives belongs to the Archives Wales reader ticket scheme along with Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and the Richard Burton Archives. The drawback of the current Archives Wales ticket system, like the much larger CARN (County Archives Research Network) scheme that operates in England and most of the rest of Wales, is that tickets issued by offices have to be accepted as valid in any other location than their original issuing office with no quick way of checking their validity.
Live reader’s ticket data means that one day using an archive reader’s ticket may be as simple and straightforward to validate as the host of plastic cards that we already carry around with us from banks, shops and supermarkets. At that point, we may hope that the multitude of archive reader’s tickets that peripatetic researchers have to carry around on their travels round the UK will begin to diminish. The goal must surely be one ticket scheme for local authority, university and specialist archives across the UK.
As part of the Archives and Records Association of UK and Ireland working group on developing the CARN reader’s ticket, I am personally very keen that each home nation should have its own branded ticket, much like we currently recognise Scottish banknotes as legal currency south of the border. The clever part will be that, despite the different branding, they will all be part of one live database of registered archive users in the UK and Ireland. This will allow Scottish, Irish and of course Welsh archives to create marketing campaigns for their services which respond to their users’ own distinct cultural identities and bilingualism.