An interesting footnote in the history of the training of archivists, is the proposal for a course to be established here at the University of Aberdeen. At that time there were no courses in Scotland and students had to travel to England or Wales. In addition to expanding provision to allow students from Scotland to stay and study, there was also a need to provide training that was tailored to the specific requirements of working with Scottish records.
In early 1970 University archivist Colin McLaren, working with colleagues in the library and in the departments of history, economic history, law and religious studies, drew up initial plans for a course. In 1972 the plans were presented to the Scottish Record Office (now National Records of Scotland).
The course was to be structured into 10 modules:
- record office administration and methodology
- storage and conservation techniques
- records of central and local administration
- the reading and interpreting of documents
- the records of business and technology
- the compilation of finding aids
- modern records management
- bibliographical and reference aids
- record services and record-users
A further 5 modules were optional, with students expected to attend not less than two of these:
- techniques of information retrieval
- archive administration abroad
- advanced techniques of historical research
- modern, legal and local government records
- ecclesiastical records
There were ongoing concerns that the viability of the course, in terms of recruitment and subsequent employment, could not be ultimately ensured. A regular intake of prospective business archivists could not be expected and, once the posts in the anticipated Scottish local repositories had been filled (following wholesale re-organisation after the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, which created councils with the power to make provision for archive services), the turnover of jobs in Scotland was expected to be limited. The plan was therefore revised with the aim that students who completed the course might be able to compete on equal terms with other students who had completed courses in the UK and overseas.
Ultimately the plans though were abandoned in mid-1973 when it became clear that the Scottish Record Office could not collaborate in supplying students for the course without materially affecting its academic structure and that the course could not otherwise be made viable without upsetting the fine balance of recruitment and appointment in England and Wales. Further factors were the slow development of local authority repositories in Scotland following the Local Government Act. The final factor was another Diploma course which started in Dublin in mid-1972.
This new course would have proceeded the Society of Archivists Diploma which launched in 1980 and the Scottish Archive Training School (SATS) which started in 1982 by a consortium of Liverpool University, the Scottish Record Office and Glasgow University. It is a big unknown as to what effect it would have had if an archival school had been established in Aberdeen: on archive provision at the University, on the research agenda at the University, and more widely than that, on the development of the Scottish archival scene from the 1970s onwards. In the end it would be another long wait until 2004 before courses would be delivered in Scotland (in Glasgow and Dundee).
Sources: MSU 545/1 University of Aberdeen Library subject file and Archives and Archivists in 20th century England (Elizabeth Shepherd, Routledge, 2009).