The Belize Archives and Records Service (BARS) owes its existence to the late Mr. Leo H. Bradley Sr., then Chief Librarian of the National Library Service, who knew the great value of the “old” records and manuscripts and sought to ensure these would be preserved for future generations. The first home of the archives was the National Collection Room at the Bliss Institute Library in Belize City. In 1964 the BARS became a Department and was moved to the capital, Belmopan. Four years later, the late Clinton Black, then Government Archivist of Jamaica, conducted an assessment and made important recommendations for improving the preservation of archival records. From its humble beginnings with a staff of four employees, it has grown to a department of twenty-five technical and support staff. It is comprised of four technical units: Preservation Unit responsible for paper restoration and conservation; Audio-visual Unit responsible for the management and preservation of audio-visual archives; Records Management Unit responsible for the implementation of records management systems within government departments and guidance in proper record keeping; and the User Services Unit responsible for the collection, management and access to archival records.
It has grown from a mere repository of records into a Department that takes a proactive approach to providing technical advice in handling and care of records, conservation and disaster preparedness, records and information management services, archives management, preservation, collection, access and awareness campaigns through publicity and outreach programs. In addition, it is proud to be custodian of the largest collection of primary records of Belize outside of the National Archives of the United Kingdom. One of the primary functions of the BARS is to provide access to students and researchers to its extensive collection of archival records which offer a valuable panorama of the historical, cultural and political development of the Belize.
Recent initiatives by the Government of Belize has given the BARS the opportunity to take an active role in the development of the National E-Governance Strategy for the public sector. Technical support has been provided, with the assistance of a consultant, in the development of a BARS-led concept paper and project initiation documents for a “Records, Information and Archives Strategy for the Public Service of Belize”. It is expected that these efforts will contribute to the control, preservation, exchange and access to electronic records. In addition, the BARS has adapted the government’s Central Information Technology Office’s computer network administration for increased control and security to our expanding electronic archiving capacity.
In 2015, the construction of a first floor to the main building was undertaken to house: three Units, a server room, an audio-visual laboratory, conference room, kitchenette, and the Director’s office. The Department has invested recently in the maximization of its floor space to improve the working environment for staff. Recently, it undertook a complete review of the three storerooms, deconstructed and rebuilt shelving to maximize the existing floor space available for records storage. A metal platform and stairs were constructed to provide easier access to boxes located on top of shelves that are over twelve feet high. For the past twelve years, the BARS has managed an off-site Records Centre for inactive public-sector records.
The Director, Dr. Herman Byrd, is coordinating a research project for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is aimed at collecting relevant documents not only at BARS but also at other government ministries showing British and Belizean administration of the country from the 1800’s to the present. Belize and Guatemala signed a Special Agreement in 2008 to submit the dispute to judicial settlement ad referendum. The valuable work of preserving Belize’s archival records that begun in the 1960’s and has continued over the years may play a leading role in upholding Belize’s case for its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.