History

For our 25th anniversary in 2002, founder member Ian Maxted wrote Jubilee: a short history of the Local Studies Group, which is published below in the form agreed at a special meeting of the committee on 4 November 2002.

There have been some changes to the group since 2002, so please contact us for up-to-date information.


1.1 The beginnings

The genesis of the Local Studies Group (LSG) lies in the year 1973 with the formation of the Local Studies sub-group of the Reference, Specal and Information Services group (RSIS). It was formed largely under the initiative of Dorothy McCulla, head of the local studies service in Birmingham, whose dynamism shines through in her messages in early issues of the LSG newsletter. The first meeting of the committee was held in November 1973 with her in the chair following a preliminary meeting in Birmingham in 1972. The membership of the sub-group grew to such an extent that by 1977 it was felt that the interests of local studies librarians would be better served by an independent group. On 1 December 1977 the inaugural meeting was held at Guildhall Library, London when those attending were addressed by Professor Maurice Beresford on the uses of local history resources.

A main aim of the Group was to counteract the isolation of local studies librarians and this remains a continuing task. Even in the 1980s the editor of the Local Studies Librarian (Local studies librarian, vol.6 no.2) could point out that at least two local studies librarians where busy compiling parish packs blissfully unaware of each others activity in the field. Nevertheless the activities of the LSG have done much to bring local studies staff together.

The LSG has continually reassessed its role. In 1987 a "think tank" was set up which the following year made various proposals on publicity, publications and the branch structure. A mission statement was published in 1995 (Local studies librarian vol.14 no.2) which codified much that the LSG had been doing for many years, and each committee meeting brings new ideas forward.

2. Constitution

The tedious part of setting up any new organisation lies in forming a sustainable structure and browbeating individuals into committing themselves to its work. Local studies librarians are busy people and it says much for the inherent interest of their work that an enthusiastic band of people has been found over the years.

2.1 Committee

A committee was established from the start and has generally met three times a year. For a long time meetings alternated between the Library Association headquarters in London and Birmingham but at present it meets three times a year in Birmingham Central Library. 

Beside the officers and normal members there have since the 1980s been representatives of LSG branches, including since the mid 1990s, a representative of Local History Panel of the Library and Information Services Council of Northern Ireland. Since the mid 1990s a liaison officer from the LA (and now CILIP) has been attached to the Group and they have each brought special expertise, Sandy Norman her knowledge of intellectual property law and Jill Martin her work in the international arena. After the formation of CILIP Damien McManus became liaison officer in 2002. 

Since about 1990 too there has been a LA/CILIP councillor from the committee who represents the Group’s interests and is normally attached to an appropriate committee. Those who have served in this capacity, which can involve the devouring of considerable quantities of paperwork, are Paul Sturges, Neil Bruce, Albert Hartley and Elizabeth Melrose. 

The Committee has been most fortunate in continuity of membership. Ian Jamieson has been a member since 1977, Diana Winterbotham from the earliest days until 1993, some time after her retirement. Elizabeth Melrose has served since 1981, Ian Maxted since 1982 with a gap between 1988 and 1990. This was because of pressure of work, and it is a tribute to members of the main and branch committees that they are able to devote so much time to LSG affairs amid their busy workload. Other members of the current committee who have served for ten years or more include Philippa Stevens of Hampshire (1988), Alice Lock of Tameside (1990) and Don Martin of East Dunbartonshire (1981). 

2.2 Chairman

There have been five chairmen (the LSG has avoided the term "chair") during the first quarter century. The first was Dorothy McCulla of Birmingham Library, who served from 1973 until her untimely death on 7 March 1981. She was succeeded by:

  • 1981-89 Chris Makepeace, Greater Manchester Planning Department
  • 1990-94 Ian Jamieson, Newcastle Polytechnic (University of Northumbria)
  • 1995-2001 Elizabeth Melrose, Lincolnshire, then North Yorkshire Libraries 
  • 2001- Ian Maxted, Devon Libraries 

2.3 Secretary

There have been four secretaries in the 25 years since the establishment of the LSG. The work of an efficient secretary can make the role of the chairman a sinecure, as the present chairman can testify, and tribute must also be paid to those who have so often shared the burden, the assistant secretaries and minutes secretaries.

  • 1977-82 Brian Hall, Birmingham Polytechnic
  • 1982-86 Paul Sturges, Loughborough University
  • 1988-99 Patrick Baird, Birmingham Libraries
  • 2000- Diana Dixon, Loughborough University

2.4 Treasurer

The role of treasurer is a difficult one to fill, and it is fortunate that the LSG has only had to seek postholders five times since 1977.

  • 1977-81 Olive Herbert, Sandwell Libraries 
  • 1981-85 Bernard Nurse, Southwark Libraries 
  • 1985-92 Elizabeth Melrose, Lincolnshire, then North Yorkshire 
  • 1993-94 Paul Drew, College of Librarianship Wales 
  • 1994- Philip Thomas, Birmingham

2.5 Annual general meeting

This has been held in various parts of the country, usually as part of a branch meeting. It is normally a matter of formality and receives the annual report and accounts which are published in the Local Studies Librarian. 

The accounts typically show about four fifths of the income deriving from capitation, perhaps one tenth from surpluses for conferences, five per cent from sales of publications and another five per cent from interest. 

As far as expenditure is concerned the two issues of the Local Studies Librarian typically eat up more than half of the income, committee expenses about one fifth, grants to subgroups about ten percent and postage and stationery a similar proportion. 

3. Membership

That the LSG filled a long-felt need can be seen by the rapid growth of membership. Soon after its inauguration it stood at 622 and by the end of 1978 it had risen to 847. By 1982 it stood at 1500, rising to 1700 by 1986, 1800 by 1992 and peaking at a little under 2000 in 1996. Since then it has fallen back somewhat and now stands at a little under 1700. 

In addition to normal membership, from 1983 it was possible for personal affiliates who were not members of the LA to join and by 1985 there were 16 such members. 

In addition the Group has conferred life membership to a small number of people, including Joe Fisher of Glasgow and Gyula Mandli and Erzsebet Gancs of Hungary.

4. Publications

The main publications of the LSG are its periodicals which have appeared throughout the lifetime of the Group and regularly reach every member automatically as part of their entitlement. 

4.1

The first issue of the Newsletter was published in November 1977 as a duplicated A4 set of stapled sheets under the editorship of Brian Hall. It was a lively, informal yet informative publication but not a suitable vehicle for more substantial articles. The last issue appeared in Autumn 1981. 

4.2 Local studies librarian

This was established in 1982 when the LSG had a large enough membership base to sustain a more formal publication. Its editor has always been Ian Jamieson who, as a library school lecturer has been able to retain a broad view of the local studies field and maintain a good flow of articles which reflect the wide range of issues that local studies librarians have to confront. It appears twice a year. There have been useful indexes to the articles, reviews, reports of meetings, notes and news and official notices compiled by Elizabeth Melrose and Alice Lock. 

Other publications are mentioned under branches. A publications sub-committee was set up in 1981 with the aim of producing a series of pamphlets. It was reconvened in 1986 and a house history leaflet commissioned in 1987, but the proposed series of guides to sources has never materialised as a central LSG initiative. It was not until 1990 that a logo - that sine qua non of any organisation - was designed by Michael Dewe, a long-standing Committee member from the College of Librarianship, Wales, its concentric circles representing local, regional, national and international history (Local studies librarian vol.9 no.2), and this was used on the Group’s first publicity leaflet which was prepared for the UmbrelLA conference in 1991. 

However the LSG has been associated with a number of publications by Committee members, notably Ian Jamieson’s contributions on local studies in British librarianship and information work 1976-80, 1981-85 and 1986-90Local studies librarianship by committee member Harold Nichols (1979), and the Manual of local studies librarianship, edited by Michael Dewe, which was published by Gower in two volumes in 1987 and 1991, containing contributions by a range of LSG members. A updated version under his editorship appeared in 2002 with the title Local studies collection management, published by Ashgate.   There was a more direct LSG involvement in Local studies librarianship: a world bibliography by Diana Dixon, which LA Publishing issued in 2001. At times too the group’s work has reached a wider audience, for example through the series of articles in the Library Association Record of December 1988 or Diana Winterbotham’s article on local studies librarianship in the International encyclopaedia of librarianship.    

5. Evidence to committees

This was among the first activities of the newly formed group. Already in 1978 evidence was presented to the Blake Committee to review local history (Local studies newsletter vol.1 no.2). This was published in 1979 by the Standing Conference for Local History (Local studies newslettervol. 2 no. 2) and among other things led to the relaunching of the organisation as the British Association for Local History in 1982. David Hayes, the Association’s Field Officer visited many members of the Group when preparing his report in 1982-3.

In 1979 evidence was given to the Committee of Enquiry into the working of the Public Records Act (the Wilson Committee). In 1978 the LSG submitted a paper on charging for services for the green paper on financing public library services. In 1994 it made representations to the government’s review of the public library service in England and Wales and its proposals for the contracting out of public services. 

It also voiced its concern at the local government reorganisation proposals in the mid 1990s with the adverse effect that smaller authorities might bring to specialist services. In 2002 there was LSG representation on the CILIP group who responded to the consultation on revised conditions of access to electoral registers and there are many other examples of lobbying by members of the LSG committee.

6. Standards and gudelines

A sub-committee on this topic was convened under the leadership of Harold Nichols as early as 1977 (Local studies newsletter vol.1 no.1) but seems to have made little progress. It was re-convened by Diana Winterbotham in 1985 and draft standards were presented to the LSG Committee in October 1986. They were discussed at a meeting in Preston which was attended by 35 people and further comments were invited. The final draft was submitted to the LA in 1988, they were agreed in 1989 and published in 1990 as an A5 booklet. They were well received, but the second edition was fraught with difficulties.

In 1989 a survey on local studies provision had been commissioned by the LSG and the results, analysed by Diana Winterbotham, were published in 1990 (Local studies librarian vol.9 no.1). By 1996 it was clear that there had been so many changes since the draft of the first edition that a revised version was called for. A working party under the leadership of Don Martin was set up and the first draft, which was closely based on the first edition with provision for IT developments was submitted to the LA in 1998 and was referred back for rewriting as it was felt that it did not do justice to the innovative and dynamic work of local studies libraries and it also suffered from having been drawn up just before the appearance of The new library: the people’s network (1997) and other significant reports. Such aspects as new technology, social inclusion and promotion were then highlighted in a section called "New horizons" and the draft resubmitted. 

Ironically the fact that these had been isolated from the mainstream of the work was now the subject of criticism, the world of local studies librarianship had been moving so fast that some of these horizons were already no longer new. The LA was supportive and helpful and the document which was finally published in 2002 was all the better for the blood, sweat and tears, and a great credit to the devoted work of Don Martin.

7. Regional bibliographies

This was an early interest of the LSG and in 1978 the examples of Kent and the East Midlands were held up as examples of good practice (Local studies newsletter vol.1 no.2).

In 1983 Paul Sturges contributed an article on the subject to LSL which provoked a response from those involved in bibliographies for Essex and Kent (Local studies librarian vol.3 no.1). It was recognised that local collections contained much that was not represented in national libraries and the LSG encouraged participation in national bibliographical initiatives such as the Eighteenth-century Short Title Catalogue - now the English Short Title Catalogue (Local studies librarian vol.3 no.1).

The involvement of local studies librarians in regional bibliographical work meant that the LSG was represented on a British Library project to investigate the legal deposit of local publications in 1999.

8. Working parties

On occasion the LSG has set up its own working groups to deal with burning issues. In 1978 such a group was set up on ephemera (Local studies newsletter vol.2 no.1) following a meeting held in 1977 to receive the preliminary report of the Advisory Committee on Ephemera and Minor Publications. 

In 1981 the LSG participated in a working party on archives policy for libraries, museums and record offices which resulted in a joint statement being issued. 

More often however the LSG has been represented on a range of other bodies, for example the British Library Consultative Group on Newspapers on which it has served since 1983, first by Frank Manders and since 1991 by Elizabeth Melrose, who has also been Chair of the LINC Newsplan Committee and now its successor, the UK and Ireland Newsplan Committee. 

Other bodies similarly supported are the Standing Conference on Archives and Museums (SCAM), the Black and Asian Studies Association, the British Book Trade Index Advisory Committee and BRICMICS, a body made up of map curators and acting as a lobby group for libraries to the Ordnance Survey.

9. Sub-groups

The establishment of branches or sub-groups was approved in 1978 and a number of regional or national branches were established during the 1980s. 

Between them the branches have contributed greatly to the development of local studies staff across the country, organising day schools on a wide range of topics as well as visits to libraries and other relevant resource collections. The branch reports always form one of the most substantial sections of the LSG Committee meetings.

9.1 Scottish

Established in 1980, this was the first of the LSG branches and always one of the most active. For many years it has been a key player in the Scottish local history week, which has taken place regularly since 1988, and its newsletter Locscot which has appeared since 1982 often rivals the Local studies librarian in size. 

9.2 North-west

This sub-group was established in 1981. Among its achievements has been the publication in 1987 of Sure coffers: sources for the history of religion in the North West. In 1995 it undertook a survey of spending cuts in the region. Its Newsletter has appeared since 2001. 

9.3 London and Home Counties

Established in 1983, this group has maintained an active programme and has published its Newsletter since 1986. 

9.4 Eastern

Established in 1985, this sub-group became dormant in the 1990s and reformed as the Midlands and Anglia in 1998. This has been more successful with 300 members in 2000. 

9.5 Welsh

Established in 1988, this is the most recent branch and also publishes its own Newsletter. 

10. Conferences

The LSG fulfils much of its function of educating and informing local studies staff through an active programme of involvement in conferences and meetings. This has been the case since its earliest days when it participated in the LA national conferences.

  • In 1979 (September 11-14) the LA Study School and National Conference was held at Nottingham, a marathon event lasting four days, including LSG sessions on local collections in university libraries, oral history and conservation (Local studies newsletter  vol.3 no.1).
  • In 1981 (September 14-18) the LA National Conference and Exhibition at Cliftonville rivalled this with eight sessions on the overall conference theme of "Learning through life" and the papers were published in Library Assocation Record Oct 1981. 
The group has been involved in all the series of UmbrelLA conferences which have taken place in alternate years over a period of two to three days, usually in June or July. 
  • 1991 UmbrelLA, 1, Leeds. The papers included a contribution from Assumpta Baillac from Spain, who spoke on local studies in Catalonia. The papers were published in Local studies librarian vol. 11 no.1.
  • 1993 UmbrelLA, 2, Manchester. The theme for this conference was: "Local but not parochial" and included presentations with an international dimension, including a presentation from Erzsebet Gancs on local studies in Hungary. The papers appeared in Local studies librarian vol.13 no.1.
  • 1995 UmbrelLA, 3, Manchester. The theme was local collections local pride. Papers were published in Local studies librarian vol.15 no.1
  • 1997 UmbrelLA, 4, Manchester. The theme was the graphic image. Papers appeared in Local studies librarian vol.16 no.2. There was also a joint session with the Rare Books Group when Andrew Phillips spoke on "Preserving the nation’s collection of rare local materials: towards a coalition" (Local studies librarian vol.17 no.1).
  • 1999 UmbrelLA, 5, Manchester. The theme was aspects of popular culture with coverage ranging from skiffle to cricket and newspaper advertising. Papers were published in Local studies librarian vol.18 no.2 and vol.19 no.1.
  • 2001 UmbrelLA, 6, Manchester. The theme for this conference was social inclusion.
There are active plans for participation in the 2003 and 2005 conferences. Although attendance at individual session has normally been small, the fact that many papers are subsequently published has meant that the work has benefited a wide range of the membership.  The LSG has also had active involvement in the Libtech event held at Hatfield. In 1990 it hosted a session on information and data retrieval for local studies which featured the East Yorkshire Bibliography and Scotloc. In 1995 it held a seminar on the Gateshead 1900 and Durham Record projects and in 1996 it dealt with community information on the internet.

11. Day and weekend schools

These have had a mixed success. As with the major conferences, local studies staff are often at the end of the line when it is a question of employers funding their training by underwriting their attendance. Examples of weekend schools with their themes include: 

  • 1978 September 12-13, Brighton: Publishing and local studies, education and local studies (Local studies newsletter vol.1 no.2) 
  • 1983 March 18-20 St Anne on Sea. New technology 
  • 1985 September 27-29 Wansfell College, Epping. Education and local studies 
  • 1986 September 19-21, Loughborough University. Modern techniques and media 

The 1987 autumn meeting in Birmingham on industrial history was postponed and then cancelled and the meeting at Perth on 27-29 April 1990 on library publishing and new technology only attracted about 20 delegates. The day schools, which are normally organised by branches and, in regions like the South West where there is no branch, by other groups such as the ISG, have normally been more successful than the residential courses and again papers often appear in LSL, as for example in the case of the day school on marketing organised by the Midlands and Anglia Branch on 19 May 1999 (Local studies librarian vol.19 no.1).

12. Awards

The LSG seeks to encourage high standards in local studies librarianship and participates in several award schemes to recognise good practice. 

12.1 Dorothy McCulla award

This was inaugurated in 1981 in memory of the founder of the LSG. Nominations are sought each year for a member of the Group who has made an outstanding contribution to local studies work. The panel look in particular for good overall service provision, innovation and promotional work and the winner receives a cash award and a hand-written certificate.

The winners have been:

1981 Diana Winterbotham, Lancashire  1982 Not awarded  1983 Norma Armstrong  1984 Harold Nichols, Loughborough University  1985 Margaret Evans, York University  1986 George A.Carter, Warrington  1987 John H.Chandler, Wiltshire  1988 Michael Dewe, College of Librarianship, Wales  1989 David Moody  1990 Not awarded?  1991 Joe Fisher, Glasgow  1992 Chris Makepeace  1993 Mike Petty, Cambridgeshire  1994 Don Martin, Kirkintilloch  1995 Ken Hinshalwood, Renfrew  1996 Caroline Jacob, Merthyr Tydfil  1997 Ian Maxted, Devon  1998 Martin Hayes, West Sussex  1999 Eileen Hume, Knowsley  2000 Alice Lock, Tameside  2001 Michael Marshman, Wiltshire  2002 Marilyn Higson, Telford & Wrekin 

12.2 Alan Ball award

This award encourages local history publication by public libraries and local authorities and is organised by the Library Services Trust. Bernard Nurse has been the LSG representative on the panel since this award was inaugurated in 1985. Two awards are normally made, one for the author and the other for book production. 

12.3 Other awards

Members of the LSG have also won a series of other awards in which the Group is not a prime mover. A few examples must suffice: in 1990 the National Preservation Office and the Riley, Dunn and Wilson conservation competition was won by Thea Randall and Pauline Thompson. In the same year the LA/T.C.Farries public relations and publicity award won by Mike Petty of Cambridgeshire. In 2000 Public Library Entrepreneur of the Year Award was won by Mike Spick for his interactive CD entitled The Sheffield Time Machine.

There is also a crop of MBEs and similar honours won by LSG members such as Diana Winterbotham and Mike Petty and several members of the Group were awarded Centenary Medals in 1998.

13. Media

The LSG has long recognised the important role that the media can play in educating about local studies and has encouraged participation in a range of initiatives.

In 1981 following the Granada TV "Pictures of the past" project, the resulting photographs were distributed by LSG. Perhaps the first major series on local history was the BBC’s "History on your doorstep" in 1982, and the LSG arranged for a speaker on the programme at the LA Conference in 1981 (Local studies librarian vol.3 no.2). During the 1986 Domesday 900 celebrations, which produced the innovative laserdisc, the LSG organised a number of linked meetings (Local studies librarian vol.5 no.1). Similar encouragement has been given to the BBC’s History 2000 initiative and the work of the History Channel.

14. International links

The active programme of international links shows the importance of being local but not parochial and the exchange of ideas has certainly been a two-way traffic. 

The programme began in the late 1980s when correspondence with Spain in 1989 resulted in Spanish participation in Umbrella in 1991. Also in 1989, following the Hampshire-Normandy accord, Alain Girard of Caen Municipal Library spoke to London & Home Counties Branch on local studies in France (Local studies librarian vol.12 no.2). In 1993 a formal international policy was drawn up (LSL 12:2) and the same year the Group supported Andrei Masevitch, a visiting librarian from St Petersburg and Erzsébet Gancs from Györ, Hungary, spoke at Umbrella in Manchester. 

In fact Hungary has led the international programme of the Group, partly because of the great enthusiasm in that country. In 1994 Elizabeth Melrose spoke at the 26th conference of Hungarian Librarians in Körmend (Local studies librarian vol.13 no.2). The following year Ian Maxted spoke at the 2nd Hungarian LSG conference in Sopron (Local studies librarian vol.14 no.2) and in 1996 Penny Ward spoke at the 3rd Conference in Tata (Local studies librarian vol.15 no.2). Others who have benefited from Hungarian hospitality, which normally includes a study tour of libraries in Hungary, are Diana Dixon who spoke at 5th Conference at Kiskunhalas in 1998 (Local studies librarian vol.17 no.2) and Mick Scott who spoke at the 7th Conference at Sekesféhérvár in 2000 (Local studies librarian vol.19 no.2). 

The success of these initiatives are largely due to the personal enthusiasm of Elizabeth Melrose, who maintains extensive contacts with several countries, including Romania (Local studies librarian vol.14 no.2) and Latvia. In 1996 she attended a Latvian conference of local studies librarians (Local studies librarian vol.15 no.2).

15. Website

This is one of the most recent initiatives of the LSG. During 2001 Linda Greenwood, the LSG representative from Northern Ireland worked with a designer to produce a website for the Group. The result, after much badgering to obtain the desired design, contains information on the current committee, events, publications and other matters. It will increasingly provide an important channel through which the work of the Group can reach members and the wider world.

16. In conclusion

Any organisation is made up of its members and it is a very positive reflection on the enthusiasm and activity across the country that a large part of the LSG’s role has not only been to initiate but also to publicise, encourage and codify work being undertaken by others.

Over the past quarter century in fact the rest of the world has been progressively waking up to what local studies staff have been doing, too quietly perhaps, since well before the group was established. We have always known that we were acting in the role of the British Library for the area we served - now the concept of the distributed national collection has emerged, with local studies librarians key players. 

We have always been aware of the importance of local and family history in motivating individuals of all ages and backgrounds to undertake personally relevant research - now the concept of life-long learning is with us. In our collections we have always sought, with varying degrees of success, to reflect all aspects of the community we serve - now the concepts of social inclusion and cultural diversity have been articulated.

From being an isolated and marginalised part of the library service, often seen as dusty and elitist, the LSG has helped local studies to emerge as one of the key elements in information provision and a leading library player in the heritage team of the museums, archives and libraries sector. A key function of the LSG in the coming years will be to see that local studies staff are supported in maintaining this central role.