I’ve just discovered that the UK-wide National Register of Archives is to be shut down imminently. Instead researchers are directed towards The National Archives’ new Discovery catalogue, to search across the board.
I’ve rather mixed views about this, generally not very happy. The National Register of Archives (NRA) may not be that well known among historical researchers, but it provided a way of accessing records held in other locations, in particular in private hands. So family estate papers, business records and so on that hadn’t made their way into any of the UK main archives.
When I was doing my postgraduate Masters degree I used the NRA to find the records of the Earls of Haddington, which I needed to check for my research into 17th century court records – a court that was controlled back then by that family. Similarly during my PhD I used the NRA to uncover potentially useful records for my research into Scottish reading habits about 200 years ago.
In some ways the NRA is an artefact of a long time ago, a rather archaic system, reflecting a pre-World Wide Web time, when searches were always conducted offline, in paper catalogues. So on the one hand integrating it into Discovery is progress and makes sense. But I’m concerned that the new search system may not make it so easy to search just these scattered records, and a search could be swamped for example by results from the UK national archive in London. Also as a Scot I’m wondering how well the new catalogue will reflect Scottish-held records, both in main archives like the National Records of Scotland and elsewhere.
Note also that the NRA webpage at the moment is a little broken, inviting users to use the new Discovery catalogue instead, but using a link that is broken and produces a 404 “Not Found” HTTP error. Hopefully that will be fixed.