A Tale of Two Cities

Christ Church Gate, CanterburyThis is as close as you can get to Canterbury Cathedral nowadays without having to pay £6 per person to get within sight of the church. Once inside the cathedral, the first thing you see is a gift shop. There is another one as you leave the cathedral, and you are forced to walk through yet another one as you leave the cathedral’s grounds.

Three days after visiting Canterbury, I was in Paris. There, you can go around Notre Dame for no charge and the cathedral was heaving with visitors. Most museums in the UK reported huge rises in visitor numbers when they stopped charging for entry, so it would be interesting to see how the introduction of charges have affected Canterbury’s footfall. Notre Dame, Paris I’m sure it all comes down to whether the churches receive public funding for their upkeep or not, but it does seem a shame to restrict access to the cathedral’s immediate surroundings.

It reminded me of the issue of access to information about archives. The philosophy in the UK has always been that if descriptions of archives are created using public money (whether in a university or local government repository), then that information should be made freely available to the general public. Listing the collections is our core work and that information should be put into a digital form and made as widely available as possible, so that all potential users can become aware of the existence of our materials. Charging for access to archival finding aids would be like the barrier at the Christ Church Gate in Canterbury: irritating and exclusive.