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BVI in threat of losing centuries of historical archives

Christopher Varlack

The British Virgin Islands is in danger of losing centuries of historical documents, which are currently housed in a structurally unsound building in Road Town.

Chief Records Management Officer Christopher Varlack said the territory has documents that are more than 200 years old that need to be secured ahead of the 2018 hurricane season, which is forecast to be active.

He said his department already took a beating during the onslaught of hurricanes Irma and Maria on the territory last September.

“In terms of what was lost … there are many records that should become archives that won’t become archives because they were damaged significantly,” Varlack said.

Documents date back to 1700s

But, the records management chief said his department didn’t only lose undocumented material.

He said the hurricanes damaged the department’s Burnhym Building headquarters in Road Town and made off with a number of archival material.

“We lost a few materials from our main office where we had current archives stored. I would say roughly about three to five percent of those materials.”

“In terms of the older archives that date back to the late 1700s, we didn’t lose any. However, that does not discount that we do have some structural issues with that building and we need to ensure that those records are kept safe because that is really the nucleus of archival material that we have here — the oldest, most ancient records that we have here in the territory and those need to be preserved by any needs necessary,” Varlack told journalists last week.

National Library needed

He was speaking at a press conference with a regional expert from the Caribbean Branch of the International Council on Archives (CARBICA), Valérie Martens-Monier.

Martens-Monier was in the territory conducting a survey of buildings and records collections in the territory.

Ahead of her report on the findings, the CARBICA representative concurred that the roof of the building that houses the Archives Management Unit needs urgent attention.

She also made other recommendations.

“One need is definitely that you need a national repository, be it a national archive and maybe a national library as well.”

While responding to the recommendations, Varlack agreed that the territory needs a national library.

“The stage we are now in our development, it’s time. We’ve had many reports written for national archives, national archives repository so it’s not a new proposition whatsoever. But it’s the will, the funding, and just getting it done.”

According to the territory’s proposed recovery plan, government plans to pump some $1.6 million into a national repository.

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19 Comments

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  1. YUP says:

    THE BVI DOESN’T MAINTAIN OR CARE FOR MUCH THINGS SO HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS ARE NOT EXEMPTED. WE NEED TO DO BETTER IN THIS PLACE. THIS IS OUR HISTORY HERE!!!

  2. Albion says:

    It would be a great tragedy to lose this part of our history. It would be great to preserve the original paper records, but it would also be a great idea to make electronic scans of these old documents to ensure they will survive for future generations to study.

    • Looking forward says:

      Great point. The opportunity to digitize all of the records could, if it were properly thought out, be the nucleus for local digital economy jobs. Imagine creating a scanning center that could also assist local businesses!
      All we need is advanced planning, a properly trained archivist, and a tech coach to get started.

      • Historian says:

        I had the opportunity to see the excellent equipment Gov. has purchased from Europe for scanning and Mr. Varlack is very well trained. He assisted me greatly in my research for Newspapers articles some time ago, as far back as 1968. I was very impressed. Never thought we have these facilities here, but just think how many thousands of documents had to be scanned. It just take time. Still – we need a safe depository for the originals, like old deeds and much more.

        • Ok says:

          ” It just takes time ” . How much time? I suppose it depends on priorities and importance. Preservation of our history and culture from aIl that has transpired lately, appears to be a low priority even by locals who are hired and paid well to do just that.
          It has been more than 50 years since you saw ” the excellent equipmemt Gov . has purchased from Europe for scanning ”
          More and more there is justification and reasons for hiring expats in order to get the job done.

          • Historian says:

            @ OK – read again please! The Search I did was last year, but the newspapers I needed were 50 years old! 50 years ago scanners were not even invented

          • Interesting says:

            In your blog, Your mentioned timeline was 1968. Indeed scanners were available, Most notably the microfiche was popular during the sixties. Stating your admiration and surprise ,..” never thought we have these facilities here…I was impressed”… It is safe to assume that your reference was to the period you specifically mentioned which was 1968, 50 years ago. Scanners have been around in one form or another since the 1920s..Microfiche and Fax machines preceeded the digital scanners of today.

  3. Wendy says:

    No bank vaults where such things can be stored ? Off Island or in the UK?

  4. Wendy says:

    My assumption also that these documents have all been scanned and electronically stored. Hope my assumtion is correct.

  5. Before the birth of EU says:

    Frankly, preservation of any and all historical documents should be a no brainer.

    But what the people have already lost is much more valuable and critical to their final disposition in history.

    The people have lost value for and of self, their history and the first “race.”

    The race, from infancy to present, that birthed humanity, philosophy, religion, architecture, mathematics, navigation and technology, among many other disciplines to the world.

    Where a people look to and refer to another country other than Africa as the/their “Mother land,” that people have lost all psychological and historical compasses, and is neither, therefore, fit not for preservation or other..

    • BoyBlue says:

      What the people acquired is self hatred and self loathing.
      What vould be more important than safeguarding these historical dovuments? The BVI is a hurrricane tsunami flooding and earthquake zone for chrissake.
      This is the electronic age abd has been for quite sometime. Storage facilities for original historical documents are available somewhere in this wide wide world and the UK. Bvi owns a three story brick fortress like building in the UK call Tortola House so why not house there what needs to be housed even if temporary.
      My God, can it get any worse in this place.

  6. E. Leonard says:

    “BVI in threat of losing centuries of historical archives.” This is bone chilling, earth shattering news that should thrust every Virgin Islander and every generation {Silent, Boomer, Millenial (GenY), Gen X, Gen Z) into action. This is a Quadrant 1 issue, ie, important and urgent.

    The avoidable damage and lost of the historical information will inflict another catastrophic disaster on the VI that would make the damage cause by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the historic flood look like just a cloudy day. The VI can recover from the physical damages from the tropical weather systems but the recovery from the lost of historical information may be insurmountable. The cost of the lost of this information is incalculable.

    Moreover, the current generations of Virgin Islanders have an obligation to protect and preserve this priceless historical information for the use and benefit of future Virgin Islanders (generations yet unborn). Protecting and preserving this information is an integral part of effective governing and urgent action is needed to protect and preserve it.

    Consequently, a special project must be rolled out immediately to protect and preserve this historical information. Additionally, a special project should also be rolled to scan this information and have the information stored off site (off island) to preserve it. Failing to protect and preserve this priceless and invaluable historical information is failing both current and especially future generations. Thus, It needs to be protected and preserved for the benefit of future Virgin Islanders, researchers, curators, historians……etc.

  7. nalyd says:

    Although these things should be electronically stored, we need a physical repository where this information can be organised and researched if need be. One of the older plans for Road Town earmarked the area by the Sir Rupert Briecliffe Hall and the Scouts Building as the institutional centre of Road Town and, in all reality, the B.V.I.
    Although that is a medium term scale of project, I believe that something like that should be priority among our redevelopment initiatives.

  8. TurtleDove says:

    The question is what did Christopher Varlack or those before him do to help secure the documents before now? So tired of the responsible ringing the bell hell it’s their job…..Tell us what you proposed that was not heeded? and what you are proposing now.

  9. Ok says:

    ” It just takes time ” . How much time? I suppose it depends on priorities and importance. Preservation of our history and culture from aIl that has transpired lately, appears to be a low priority even by locals who are hired and paid well to do just that.
    It has been more than 50 years since you saw ” the excellent equipmemt Gov . has purchased from Europe for scanning ”
    More and more there is justification and reasons for hiring expats in order to get the job done.

    • Capt. Obvious says:

      Reading and comprehension is fundamental.English teachers, please use the above as an example in your class. Scroll up and read what they were responding to.

  10. Excited? says:

    A no brainer either to protect and cherish the 100 year old sloop that was recently disposed of. Why was that done and what can/will be done about it… I applaud Mr. Varlack in his quest. Somebody need to get behind the issue!

  11. Capt. Obvious says:

    Reading and comprehension is fundamental.English teachers, please use the above as an example in your class. Scroll up and read what they were responding to.

  12. Reuben says:

    This transcends BVI. Consider to nominate these archives as part of the World Heritage (World Memory).

    https://en.unesco.org/events/risk-towards-resilient-preservation-documentary-heritage-latin-america-and-caribbean

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