The team at Jersey Archive has been praised for actively encouraging public institutions to open more closed records, in turn breaking a trend which saw things moving in the opposite direction.
Figures show that the number of public records opened for Islanders to access had dropped by more than 30% over the past decade. However, having identified the problem, Jersey Archive ran a training session with public bodies at the end of last year and 2020 has already shown positive results.
In her annual report, which was presented to the States Assembly this week, Jersey Heritage’s Director of Archives & Collections Linda Romeril, reveals that in 2010 almost 97% of public records due to be opened were actually opened, but this had dropped to 67% by 2019. Following the training, this rose to 83% at the beginning of 2020.
She says that although the decrease in opened records could be explained by the rise in data privacy and implementation of new data protection legislation as a result of GDPR, there was a principle at stake: “It is important that we continue to balance an individual’s right to privacy against the rights of the citizen to information from public institutions enshrined in Freedom of Information legislation.”
Her team’s actions were praised by Jeremy Harris, Chairperson of the Records Advisory Panel – an independent body which reviews and advises Jersey Heritage and Government departments on their roles with respect to public records. In the report, he says the Panel was pleased to see the improvement and that the training had “undoubtedly helped to raise the level of understanding of this issue”. He also praised the Archive for a year of “consolidation and development” in general, but highlighted the fact that there is still a significant backlog of closed records awaiting review from 2018 and 2019. “The Panel looks forward to this being given due priority by the relevant public institutions,” he says.
The annual report reveals that Jersey Archive’s long-standing plea for more funding and staff to help with the backlog of cataloguing, conservation and preservation work and to provide more support for digital preservation and records management was finally met at the end of 2019, when additional funding was identified in the new Government Plan. Acknowledging this successful outcome, Mrs Romeril says: “We need to ensure that there is a long-term commitment to additional funding as the Archive continues to receive more physical and digital records on an annual basis.”
Overall, her report shows that the Archive had another busy and successful year during 2019:
- 149 new collections were received, including thousands of individual documents, of which over 3,000 were in a digital format
- 38,501 new records were added to the online catalogue, including records from the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (IJCI)
- 50 volunteers worked with staff at the Archive, donating over 3,400 hours of their time
- Nearly 90,000 people engaged with the online catalogue, of which 34% were from the UK, 7.5% from the USA, nearly 7% from Australia and 5% from Canada
- Over 2,000 people visited the Archive to attend talks and events, including those to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage in Jersey, and the second Family History Festival, which focused on French connections
- 35 retention scheduled were reviewed to ensure they reflected the records that are currently produced by the relevant public institution
- 236 enquiries were answered directly from public institutions covering the loan of documents, records management advice and transfer advice. Of these, nearly 40% concerned the loan of documents back to institutions to allow them to answer data subject access requests and FOI enquiries.
During 2020, the new £3.5 million strongroom at the Archive will be completed and it will double the storage capacity. Mrs Romeril says her team has already identified over 5,000 boxes of public records that would need to be transferred to the Archive in 2020-2021 and placed in the new extension.
A server room for digital archives is also part of the new extension and this, combined with the Archive’s digital preservation system, would allow them to continue to accept not only physical but also digital material, she says.
The 2019 Annual Report on the Work of Jersey Heritage and the Archivist Under the Public Records (Jersey) Law, 2002 can be viewed in full on www.jerseyheritage.org/corporate-information.