The CMH project: an end and a beginning

The NCGS-funded City Making History project officially comes to an end this month, though work on the civic archive will continue as part of our preparations for reopening the archive in the improved HLF-funded spaces at York Explore in late 2014. The online civic catalogue in all its glory is intended to be one of our opening offerings.

My time is currently being spent finishing the paperwork; writing up the final report and making sure all the documentation is in place for sustainability. This is the perfect time to sum up what has been achieved by this ambitious project since June 2012, and what will be finished off in the next year.

Functional Structure

Functional structure imaged in 'bubbl.us'

Functional structure imaged in ‘bubbl.us’

A major aim of this project was always to get the first big picture idea of what’s going on the civic archive, and that’s just what the big functional map has achieved. Instead of opening all the boxes and building the structure based on what I found, I instead researched what the council has done over the last 800 years and then tested it with actual documents. I have aspirations that we will be able to use this as a visual interface for browsing the catalogue, with the addition of a bit of technical wizardry…

Authority files

My IMDB of the council. An unexpected outcome of the project, but one that was vital to preserve archival context and express the provenance of documents in the collection. Every series of records will be linked to a creator, and an authority file will include facts such as the dates, functions and legal responsibilities of that creator. I get giddily enthusiastic every time I talk about authority files because they have really improved our knowledge of ourselves. There are 150 ones written at the moment, and we can keep extending those in the future.

Series-level cataloguing

This is what looks like the ‘actual’ cataloguing, but is really only the final third, after the structure and authority files. Every series is being catalogued onto CALM, our software, and linked to one or more authority files. A series can be 1 file or 20 boxes. Following a MPLP process, we are not going into any further detail everything has been done to the consistent standard, but we will add in links to existing item level information, and target new projects onto specific areas once it is done. This work is ongoing, and will carry on throughout the next year based at our York offsite storage location.

Item-level processing

Wrapping volumes to preserve them for the future

Wrapping volumes to preserve them for the future

Also going on offsite is our item-level processing, aka, the weeding and packaging of the whole collection one item, file or box at a time by our snazzy team of City Making History project volunteers. I introduced the work in my last post and everything is going well, we’ve freed up several cubic metres of space for new archives by removing unnecessary duplicates and preserved fragile 19thc registers by wrapping them in Tyvek. This work will continue alongside the cataloguing, preparing the civic collection to be used again when we reopen in 2014.

Digital and online catalogue

An important part of the NCGS project was to setup the first digital catalogue for our archive service. This has been done in software called CALM, where our cataloguing now sits beside authority files and accessions information in one big database. We originally planned to make our catalogue available online via the Archives Hub, but it is not compatible with our need to use authority files, so Helen, our E-services librarian has cleverly found a way to link it up to our main library catalogue. This is still in testing but is an exciting development that we had not previously thought possible. It will allow people to search for books, Imagine York’s historic photographs and archive material all in one place, emphasising that these original documents are an open resource for everyone who wants to see them, not just academics or celebrities on Who Do You Think You Are!

Una Stubbs visited us as part of her WDYTYA journey

Una Stubbs brought a film crew with her when she came do use our records, bu you won’t have to!

Phew it’s been a busy 17 months (a 2 month extension was added to the project due to the disruption caused by moving out of our old home at the Art Gallery,) but now we’ve built the necessary foundation for a better future for the civic archive. There is still plenty of work to be done, but all the plans and processes are in place for it to tick along, ready for our grand launch next year.

So what about the blog? As I’ve said before, it will morph into a blog for the whole service, so expect new voices and a possible change of design. Thank-you for following along this journey so far, I’ve enjoyed all your contributions very much, and though the project is formally coming to an end, the blog is going to get busier again with updates on the civic archive, the Gateway to History Project and wider work  going on everyday behind the scenes. Stay tuned and stay in touch!

Justine Winstanley-Brown
– Project Archivist –