Forgive me for coming back to this again but I have just had the Archivist for the Australian province of another religious order visiting Ballarat to discuss the future of their archival collection, given the reducing number of sisters they have in Australia. I know we have talked about this ourselves in relation to smaller Loreto provinces, but it is interesting that this problem is now so pressing for some other orders.
We discussed various possibilites for the future custody of such collections, given that the order themselves would not have continued resources to house or manage their collection. The most archivally sound practice would seem to be that the archives of closed houses and provinces should continue in the custody of the superior agency of the same organisation. This is not usually practical for international orders, given limited resources available to store and manage extra materials, the expense of moving collections off-shore, not to mention the issue of removal of cultural material from the country of origin.
The only option for this particular order seemed to be the splitting of the collection between archdiocese, diocese, interested collecting archives such as university archives and their central archives. This seemed to be intuitively a very unsatisfactory option as it would mean that researchers would have difficulty accessing the collection over various different institutions and the rather comforting situation of having the related records in the same facility would be lost. But perhaps I am being too precious about this. Perhaps if the intellectual control is sufficient and the possibilty of the digitising of vital records is available, the actual physical location of the records is irrelevant.
However, I still think that a better option would be the formation of an umbrella religious collections archives which could funded by contributing orders, perhaps with some sort of trust fund developed for long term financial security. The Sisters of Mercy, here, have a web design business which offers services generally but particularly for religious orders. No idea how this works financially but could this be an interesting model to pursue in regard to an archives storage and management service?
By the way, I was not able to give my visitor much help as I really do not know the answer to the problem. I only know that this is something that we should be facing sooner rather than later. The gut reaction seems to be to split the collection and I think this risks the loss of keeping our collections authentic, reliable and useable – the three tenets of archival practice.
Just wondering if you have had heard what other religous order might be doing or if anyone has approached you with the question.