AIDS Archivesin the UK by Janet Foster. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 1990. ISBN 0 902 65730 5. Pp 40. Available price £6.00 from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT.
This excellent little publication is of far wider interest to the archive profession than its title might indicate. Firstly, it is a valuable guide to archives being generated through the response to an epidemic. As such it serves as a model. It delineates what existing bodies are creating and preserving records on the subject, and what repositories have an existing interest. It reveals the plethora of involved bodies: voluntary organisations local and national set up to meet this specific crisis, existing groups which have an interest in AIDS, businesses, hospitals, quasi-governmental and parliamentary bodies, health authorities, and even individuals whose interests have led them to accumulate relevant materials. This sensitivity to the variousness of record-creating on different levels is what we might expect from an editor of British Archives.
While obviously of greatest use to researchers in this specific field, it is a volume which could with benefit be put into the hands of those looking for sources in many other fields. It should provoke consideration as to why and how records are created and preserved, and, hopefully, suggest what records might survive for other issues.
It is also a work I should not hesitate to recommend to organisations. It indicates sharply how at risk certain classes of historical evidence are, and should raise the consciousness of record creators. My blood ran cold some years back reading a interview with a well-known lobbyist who described what happened when a campaign ended: burning the files, closing the office, and onto the next--a course of action counterproductive for the campaigner as well as the future historian. Foster gives helpful hints for the non-professional as how best to keep records, and I have seldom seen a more useful list to show voluntary and non-official bodies of what should be kept and what need not be preserved. She also emphasises the need for thinking about long-term preservation and researcher access.
This is an issue pertinent also to the archivist. There are far too many entries, even for voluntary bodies of long standing, for which it has proved necessary to state that "there is no obvious appropriate repository for these records". Even where one can be identified, there is not always an assurance that it will provide a home. In her Introduction Foster raises the question of the archivist's involvement in the creation and preservation of contemporary records of non-official organisations. Such bodies are often eager and grateful for advice on record-keeping, and I am sure we all agree that this should be encouraged. However, I think we should give consideration to the problems caused by the lack of a safety net for the records of organisations with a national role--given immediacy by, but not unique to, this particular case. It would be sad if in a hundred years the only evidence for the very existence of some of these archives were the entry in this booklet.