The Excellent Archives

By | January 7, 2005

Just got back from a day at London’s Public Record Office which now seems to call itself the National Archives. It’s an amazing place, and I have to say very well organised and run. And it’s all free.

I was digging around for stuff for my alleged book on Indonesian politics, but from a technology point of view it’s interesting to see how all this kind of archive-digging has gotten easier. I haven’t been in an archive for a decade, so I was intrigued to see how, on one hand, you’re only allowed a pencil and paper to write with (as pens might damage the documents), but if you’re smart you bring in a laptop and/or a camera.

Luckily I had both, and when I noticed folks using their digital cameras to photograph documents, I grabbed mine from my locker. The results are quite acceptable, and save a lot of time, though I’m wondering if there’s any way of ensuring a) the pictures are the best for printing or turning into PDFs and b) there’s any way of ensuring there’s no damage to documents? No one used a flash that I could see, and the guidelines (PDF) expressly forbid that.

Anyway, excellent place, great way of ordering documents (you can do over the Net, and while you’re in the building you can check on the status of your requests for more by swiping your reader card at any of the terminals dotted throughout the complex). Meanwhile you can wander around the cafe or shop, or just look at all the wonderful eccentrics dashing about, conducting their own obsessive sleuthing. I was awed.

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