Sunday, 14 April 2013

The National Archives of Scotland

Recently our troop paid a visit to what is now known as the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh; I think ‘wow’, as a description, would be an understatement. First of all, what is the NRS?

The NRS is the result of a merger between the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) and the General Register Office of Scotland (GROS). The purpose of this body is to,

", preserve and make available the national archives of Scotland… to promote growth and maintenance of proper archive provision… and to lead development of archival practice in Scotland." (

Based on the tour and talk we received at the National Archives General Register House on Princes Street, the NRS does this and more. The facilities in this building appear to be vast and quite striking. To date, us volunteers and researchers have now visited a number of archives including the GMRC (please see the previous blogpost) and the Sound Screen Archive of Scotland. While both were fascinating in their goals and scope, I would say that the facility of the NRS is unique in its beauty.

Arriving at the General Register House we entered the back of the building by going through the Adam Dome, the perfect vision of record storage. It is a large circular room, roofed with a glass dome, and with walls completely covered in records. From here, there are several other adjoining rooms that hold ever more materials, as well as areas for people to conduct research. Holding historical records of businesses, states, families and more - with over 72kms of historical records - the archive is a popular spot for genealogists and certainly a good place to start if you want to trace your family tree. Touring the building, it is hard to comprehend the number of lives the NRS touches upon, particularly considering this is only one of several that they use!

Along with the tour, our group received a talk on the aims of the organisation and the life cycle of records (see Figure 1.).
Figure 1.

The process of creating records electronically was particularly interesting. Using a Canon 800II Microfilm Scanner and Oce TCS500 Wide-Format scanner and printer (for those interested in the technology behind this), the NRS have created custom booths where employees sit and scan a surprisingly large quantity of records. Although the goal is to eventually digitise everything, the Digital Imagining Unit's (DIU) approach is lovely and practical, working through records that are requested, alongside those that are most frequently used.

Three archives later (four, if I include the Glasgow School of Art archive), the one dominant feature of these properties that I am impressed with, is that there is no dominant feature. Most archives appear to be allocated a property, an empty space that happens to be available, and are left to try and adapt to this environment. The Glasgow School of Art archive is in the basement; the Sound Screen Archive of Scotland is situated in an old industrial estate; and the NRS is in a listed building, beautiful, but a hindrance for making any changes to the property. The GMRC appears to be unique, in that it was designed with the purpose of an archive facility in mind. 

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