The Act Room is the physical and intellectual heart of the Archives. It has been described as ‘the most important room in Britain’, and with some justification: the intricate chequerboard of 64,000 parchment rolls which lines its walls embodies the legal and constitutional basis of the UK. But the Act Room is just the most famous and recognisable space within the nine kilometres of records which make up our collections. Parliamentary records are at the very heart of our democracy, and have embodied our liberties, rights and responsibilities for over five hundred years. They include some of the most important documents in British history, such as the Bill of Rights, the death warrant of Charles I, and the Great Reform Act. But they don’t just document the grand and portentous events of our national story – our collections touch on every aspect of life in every corner of the UK, the commonplace alongside the esoteric, from the development of our transport networks, to the many and varied concerns of petitioners to Parliament, to the most deeply personal subjects such as religion and divorce. This is reflected in the vast range of interests of the 1,000 researchers we welcome each year in our search room, and the 5-6,000 enquiries we answer from around the world.
However, it’s not just our collections which contain a wealth of amazing stories; we number amongst our staff experts in everything from collection care, exhibition design, records management and digitisation, to the history of women in Parliament and railway plans. And this is an exciting time for the Archives, with a wide range of initiatives underway. We’re building a whole range of new services for our users, not only making it easier for anyone to discover and access information within our collections from anywhere in the world, but also opening them up to new audiences which might never have previously thought to come to us, or indeed might not even know we exist. Through our records management services, we’re supporting the Houses’ digital agenda, exploring how new technologies can be used to help Parliament work more efficiently and openly, enabling it to make its decisions and act as effectively as possible. We’re continuing to develop innovative techniques to preserve the huge range of material within our collections, from parchment rolls to podcasts, for the benefit of current and future generations. We are exploring options for a possible new long term home for the Archives and its services. And we continue to develop our ambitious exhibitions and outreach programme, working with local communities to explore how Parliament has affected them, displaying our documents in exhibitions around the country, and presenting the compelling and inspiring story of Parliament, people and communities right up to the present day.
Through this blog we would like to share some of these stories with you. In upcoming posts we’ll describe some of the exciting and innovative projects we’re undertaking; we’ll explore some of the unusual and unexpected parts of our collections; we’ll share news of upcoming events and activities; and we want to hear your comments and ideas, to help us shape what we do. There are lots of ways to tell us what you think, or to find out more: you can comment on this blog, email us, follow us on Twitter, visit our Facebook pages and YouTube playlist, or go to our website.
When showing visitors around the Archives, we pride ourselves that we can always find something from within our collections which will resonate with them individually. Similarly, with such a diversity of stories to tell, we hope that anyone and everyone - from existing and potential future users of our collections, to archivists and records managers, to someone who hitherto knew nothing about who we are or what we do – may find something to interest, excite and inform amongst the many and varied tales from the Act Room.