Friday, March 1, 2013

Progress in the Archive

Since my last post here, there has been much discussion of what we really need an archive for, and how this relates to what the College is prepared to pay. Even I have to admit that the prime purpose of Epsom College is teaching pupils, and that an Archive comes far down the list of priorities. However, more and more school are creating archives, manned professionally at the larger schools, and there must be some point in this.
In my view the question divides into two points of focus - how an archive benefits the pupils and how it benefits the school administration.
An archive benefits the pupils by promoting an understanding of the history of the school and the achievements of ex-pupils. This helps them value their surroundings and the tradition of the school, gaining an understanding of the privilege that they enjoy as a member of it and the values it seeks to imbue in them. A good school sees social values as an important part of its education, though these are very difficult to address directly. An understanding of the tradition of excellence, personally, academically and socially is a real requirement for future happiness and success. The Archive at Epsom supports this through providing knowledge in its support, whether it be of the meanings of windows in Chapel or the experiences of previous generations. Examples are not far to seek, whether in the careers and achievements of O.E. doctors or in the values shown by Brigadier Glyn Hughes in the direct responsibility he took for the welfare of the Jewish prisoners during the relief of the Bergen-Belsen 'horror camp'. It was our privilege to support the writing of the 150th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall showing exactly these values.
Institutionally the Archive is very important, and seeks to be more so. Old Epsomians and members of the public send enquiries from week to week about family history, all of which need to be answered and all of which take time to research. Members of Common Room are not born with a knowledge of the history of the College, so that maintaining a knowledge of the background of their working lives is important. What is the history of Granville House? Why is this picture important? Should this part of the College be changed? Are these pictures insured? This all takes time and is very worth while. College publications benefit from the perspective permitted through our thousands of photographs. We are a repository for things the College does not want in the way, but does not feel able to destroy. College records need to be organised and sifted, being destroyed at particular intervals to comply with data protection laws.Old Epsomians like to feel that they are remembered though, unaided by an archive, schools forget the past remarkably fast as pupils and staff change, so memories tend to be very short. Reputations rise and fall according to how they are remembered, so the Archive tends to hold a privileged place. To be the guardian of continuity is an important institutional role. As the need to raise money is always rather apparent, the Archive services the departments involved, providing the necessary background for relations with O.E.s. After all, the need to appeal for money from subscribers pre-dates the opening of the College itself.
So, for the last few months I have been submersed in the creation of an archive catalogue to improve access to those departments most directly involved. I am sure that this will be very valuable, even at the present stage, but in fact it is just the beginning of the cataloguing of the Archive as a whole, which will continue as a main aim indefinitely, improving access for all users. Benefits flowing from this will soon become evident on the Archive website and elsewhere in the life of the College.