Monday, 21 July 2008

The National Archives of Scotland

On July 21st, in the afternoon, Margaret McBride, of Education Services, gave us a powerpoint presentation introducing the National Archives of Scotland, or NAS, whose mission is “to preserve, protect and promote the nation’s records,” and “to provide the best possible inclusive and accessible archive that educates, informs and engages the people of Scotland and the world.” The archives are a government agency, maintained and staffed by about 120 civil servants and 40 archivists. They report to the Minister of Affairs and Europe, and are under the same minister as the National Collections of Scotland. The NAS is housed in three buildings in Edinburgh, which, due to the country’s small size, are able to collaborate easily with other departments in the government. These three buildings include the General Register House, which was built in 1774, the West Register House, which was acquired for use by the archives in 1971, and the Thomas Thompson House, which was completed in 1995. The latter is not open to the public and is the main storage facility of the archives, with temperature and humidity controls and a nice, open conservation space.

The conservation department of the archives is engaged in a massive digitization project, wherein they dismantle each volume of records to scan the pages individually, and then reassembles the books for perpetuity. Local archivists have the option to have their local records housed locally if they meet certain archival criteria, but otherwise all local records must be moved to the national archives within a certain period of time.

The functions of the NAS include selecting the public records, preserving the archival standards, and promoting public access. They have encountered the same problems that we have seen everywhere with digital conversion and grappling with the inconsistencies of digital preservation media, but they are working to make all of the records that they house accessible digitally. The National Archives also strive to provide advice, guidance, and support for researchers; to take the lead in development of archival practices; and to deploy the resources of the archives in an effective and efficient way. This is difficult when dealing with over 70 kilometers of records going back to the 12th century, including the Register of Sasines—the property transfer records of all of Scotland, going back to the 1600’s. They provide this access via both paper catalogs and electronic catalogs, and through the websites which are maintained by the NAS.

The archives main website,, acts as a portal to all of the other websites that are operated by the NAS, and provides the main web presence for the archives. It also links to the OPAC of the Archives, which is available to researchers on the internet. The Scottish Archives Network, at, provides “internet access to the written history of Scotland,” and is “the official government source for genealogical data for Scotland,” where researchers can go to search family histories. The local government recently made Scottish history compulsory for entry to the Scottish universities, and for support, the NAS runs

The NAS has recently undergone extensive renovation, which we were privileged to view during our tour, as well as getting to see their on-site conservation lab. They are doing a soft launch of their new computer access to the digital records for six weeks in August and September. In order to try to find a happy medium, users will have two hours of access for free per day, and will have to pay £10 for more access during that 24-hour period. Along with this re-vamping, they have also redesigned their logo and are launching a new image database at

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