Academic Day 8: British Museum Administrative Archive and Wiener Library of Holocaust & Genocide Studies
10th of July 2014
In the a.m., our class toured the British Museum's administrative archives to which there seemed to be a general consensus that a major error is occurring. The new archivist, Francesca Hillier, is wonderful, both, in her passion for preserving and disseminating the public record, and, for taking on such a daunting task. Obviously from somewhere in the administration, a low priority status has been placed on this record room which houses the pure memory of the British Museum...from the beginning documents that began the rumblings of this amazing institution, to the incendiary bomb shell casing which destroyed part of the complex during WWII.
All of these totally unique pieces of information are buried in the dank cellars beneath the complex, with no apparent method of maintaining optimal, or even just constant, indoor environmental qualities. True, this is a perfect place to protect the priceless information from another Blitz, but far more likely, and much more apparent, and happening as I write this, is the leather and paper degradation taking place due to excessive moisture and unmonitored temperatures. This form of cultural neglect is something more akin to the US, than to the UK.
Out of all the archives we toured, this was, by far, the most concerning in terms of administrative ignorance to the importance of its very own history. This coming from the iconic cultural heritage institution of the British Library was all-around shocking and personally ireful. What's even more infuriating is that the answer is staring the institution straight in the face, yet someone or some cabal continues turning the blind eye. Since the British Library moved out of their round reading room at the center of the British Museum complex, other than some random exhibits, I believe it has been virtually empty. Does not this institution's central circular structure of information seem destined to house the archives, they memory of its existence and its world renowned collections? The British Library's signature influence deserves to be evolved into the sustainably resilient message that both institutions aspire to: protection of posterity for the people.
In the p.m., we toured the Weiner Library which was a complete polar opposite from the British Museum. Small and carefully monitored, therefore understood and respected, state of the art storage facilities. Every square inch of this former residence is used in very wise ways, all-the-while, none of it looks crowded or cramped. Its design shows careful attention to historic architectural detail (both in and outside) and replete planning is evident of the compassionate conversion of spaces not originally built to house delicate materials (such as correspondence, photographs, film negatives, newspapers, and books). Despite the heavy subject matter of this library/archive, the professionalism by which all employees perform and attention to detail in their layout, this institution, is both inspiring and encouraging.