To discuss the Local Studies and Museum Consultation.
Councillor Levy stated that he believed it was important that this Committee uses its time to gather information on how policies are determined as well as reacting to decisions made. He said it would be useful to better understand the rationale that informed the consultation process relating to the proposed operational changes to the Local Studies and Museum Services.
The Chair invited James Rolfe (Director of Finance, Resources & Customer Services)to explain the issues being considered by the service prior to the start of the consultation process.
James Rolfe said proposals followed on from the Council’s need to make savings and the desire to modernise and develop the service. This included an aim to increase access to heritage resources through a programme of digitalising the borough’s artefacts. He referred to a new resource for the Palmers Green library, of a large exhibit case which will provide an interactive experience, which should be particularly interesting for children.
The findings from the consultation exercise were considered, and after listening to comments changes have now been made to the proposals. This operational decision had been made by James Rolfe as the responsible officer.
The original proposal to have an appointments system only for the Local Studies Centre has been amended. It will now be open to the public for three days a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9am to 5pm..There will also be a planned access/ appointment system for those requiring professional support from the Local Studies Officer. The Local Studies Centre will be closed to the public on Mondays and Fridays to enable staff to increase the amount of stock which is available digitally
It was asked whether the museum exhibition space currently based on the ground floor would be moved to the first floor and James Rolfe stated that the decision had now been made to retain the exhibition space in its current location on both the ground and first floors of the Dugdale Centre.
When asked why consideration had been given to moving the museum exhibition space from the ground floor to the first floor and what was the service hoping to achieve from this? It was answered that it would have allowed the space to be used either for another council service or alternatively for an additional retail area.
A number of people had voiced their concerns about the proposed changes to the Museum and Local Studies services. It was asked what was hoped to be achieved from the proposals and what had we discovered from the consultation process?. Kate Robertson (Assistant Director Gateway Services) answered that it had never been intended to digitalise all objects and prohibit access to resources, which some people had thought. She believed there had been a misunderstanding by some people and our aims could have been made clearer in the consultation. The digitalising of objects would allow for items to be viewed on line and staffing resources would be utilized to do this, some funding had already been provided for this through the Heritage Lottery fund.
The digitilising of assets would not free- up extra space as the objects would remain in the museum. It would increase access to our resources especially for those who are unable to come to the Dugdale Centre. Julie Gibson (Head of Libraries and Museums), anticipates a high number of on-line visits and thought that this would lead to more people coming along to view objects. She referred to a similar programme undertaken by Essex Council where there was an increase in the number of visits by people viewing objects/ artefacts following on from digitalisation. It was confirmed that there would not be a charge for this service. Some objects are very delicate and would not usually be accessible, the digitilisation process would enable people to view these items. Members asked that they be kept informed of the increase in numbers of people using the service in future
There are some items that are of particular interest including a document with Elizabeth I signature, also the 700 year Royal Charter for Enfield market, it is hoped that when these are digitilised these would hopefully act as a ‘springboard’ to generate interest for other items in the collection.
The current users of the Local Studies and Museum service do not appear to be reflective of the Enfield population, however it is hoped that the digitilisation process will mean that the service will reach out to more people. During the consultation process fears had been expressed that the valuable knowledge /experience that current staff possess would be lost. It was confirmed that two of the most experienced staff will remain, and it was thought important that their knowledge is shared so that others can benefit for the future.
Councillor Orhan,(Cabinet Member for Education, Children’s Services and Protection) spoke of the need for the Council to make savings and was pleased that in light of this we had managed to keep the borough’s libraries open and would also be able to continue the Local Studies Centre and provide an enhanced digital service.
The Chair suggested that an area for concern in the consultation process was that there is a core set of people who use this service and who may have benefitted from a pre-consultation meeting. Although staff had spoken to users it was thought their own uncertainties about the future of the service meant that they did not ease their concerns.
Kate Robertson summarised the findings from the consultation exercise. She mentioned that 412 responses were received of which 85% had previously used the Local Studies Centre and 88% had visited the museum. 84% of respondents were over 40 and 71% over 45, 78% were White British.
She said a lot of people gave contradictory disagreements. Half the respondents agreed that they would be interested in using an on line function to access the Local Studies documents while 31% disagreed. When asked if there was a preference for when appointments may be available during office hours 73% said no while 27% said yes, however of those that selected yes, 40 selected all three periods (morning lunchtime and afternoon sessions).
As it appears that the users of the service were not reflective of the demographics for Enfield, it was asked how it is intended to reach out to all ages and all members of the community. Julie Gibson referred to the repaired display cases at Fore Street library which are available for local community artefacts, she also referred to Edmonton Library where it is anticipated there will be an increased space for Local Studies. It is hoped that cultural events throughout the borough will help to engage with local communities such as the Edmonton Festival and Palmers Green Festival.
Councillor Orhan and Councillor Brett (Cabinet Member for Community Organisations and Culture) referred to the rich heritage of local communities and how cultural exhibitions could be held, and display cases used to reach out to communities at our libraries/ facilities such as at Forty Hall.
We also needed to look at ways to engage young people to inspire their interest in their local heritage. It was thought that much was being done to do this through our local schools and this would be promoted further by the new on-line digitilising process.
Reference was made to the vast heritage information available from the cemeteries in the borough, it may be viable to look at the possiblity of making this archive material available on- line.
James Rolfe as Director of Finance, Resources & Customer Services signed this decision he confirmed that an ‘operational decision’ is determined by the costs involved i.e the value is under the threshold of £250K.
AGREED that a meeting be arranged next year for officers and the Cabinet Member for Education, Children’s Services and Protection to look at the participation statistics for people using the Local Studies and Museum service. ACTION: Councillor Levy / Claire Johnson