How to build a new archive, Part 1

Another new voice on the blog! I’m Victoria Hoyle, the City Archivist; or at least 40% of the City Archivist.  I job-share the role with Richard Taylor, working on a Monday and Tuesday.  The rest of the time I am studying for a PhD about archives and communities in York. (More on that another time!)  My job is to manage Archives and Local History with Richard, and to deliver our vision and objectives.  At the moment my life is all about the Heritage Lottery funded Gateway to History project, which I know you have heard about already.   Sarah has written about her work with the community archives recently – very exciting! – so I will give you an update on the building works which are now in full swing.

Over the next 9 months we will be extending York Explore Library to add an archives store, and refurbishing the former reference rooms to create three new public areas for using archives and local history collections.  We have planned the building work in four phases so that the library can stay open for as long as possible.   It will be business as usual until Phase 4 when the whole building will close for the most intrusive of the works.  According to the current timetable the closure will be from the beginning of June until the end of October this year.

We are about halfway through Phase 1 at the moment, which is all about preparing for the new store to be built in Phase 2.  The work is focused on the ground floor in the Children’s Library and part of the cafe as these will be directly beneath the new store.

The new store won’t be visible from the front of the library as it will be hidden behind the original frontage.

The new store won’t be visible from the front of the library as it will be hidden behind the original frontage.

If you know the library you might be wondering where exactly the store is going to go, because it looks like the building already has two storeys.  Actually the second floor is missing on the right hand-side.  The new store will fill the gap.

Our local contractor William Birch & Sons Ltd started on site six weeks ago on 6th January and put up a hoarding around the Phase 1 working area.

The hoarding protects staff and customers from dust and debris. If only it were sound proof too – hammering and drilling is our library soundtrack at the moment!

The hoarding protects staff and customers from dust and debris. If only it were sound proof too – hammering and drilling is our library soundtrack at the moment!

This part of the library is now strictly off limits without hard hats and high vis as heavy duty structural work is going on.  This morning I donned mine and tagged on to a tour with our Design Team to give you a sneaky peak behind the scenes.

Going where no archivist has gone before...

Going where no archivist has gone before…

Stripped of all the books and furniture the Children’s Library looks huge.  The story-telling space is now filled with scaffolding.  There were two skylights in the existing roof and one of the first tasks was to remove and fill these in so that the new storey can be built on top.  I say ‘built’ but the skeleton structure will actually be craned into place and then finished on site.  The big craning is due to take place in a few weeks time.

This photo looks dark because of the dust and hoarding.  We don’t think that blocking the skylights will make much different to the light, especially when all the windows are cleaned.

This photo looks dark because of the dust and hoarding. We don’t think that blocking the skylights will make much difference to the light, especially when all the windows are cleaned.

The second big job is to strengthen the steel supports so that the ground floor can take the weight of the new store.  The existing foundations were originally designed to take a second floor but archive stores need some extra support.  This is not only because of the mobile shelving but because the documents themselves are extremely heavy.  Anyone who has tried moving a filing cabinet full of papers will understand what I mean!  Once the new steels are installed the building will be able to take a weight equivalent to six regular storeys.

These existing steels will be replaced with stronger ones.  We are also putting in a new column with deeper foundations on the back wall.

These existing steels will be replaced with stronger ones. We are also putting in a new column with deeper foundations on the back wall.

The builders are also taking this opportunity to investigate an existing problem with the library floor.  Over the last few years it has been buckling and lifting in places, suggesting there is moisture trying to escape.  During the Gateway work we will also be fixing this and an initial step is to establish a cause.  Cue lots of digging big holes!

As of today the building work is running to time.  This means that Phase 2 – craning on the store and installing the walls – will begin in two weeks time.  There will be a temporary closure of Library Square, and probably the Library itself, during this period because of the enormous crane in front of the building.  Once the structure is in place the new store will really start to feel real.  I will be back out with my camera as soon as there is something to see!

Exploring York and York Exploring

I’ve been at City of York Council for a month now, so what have I been doing? Well, my main focus has been to get a better idea of what non-civic archive collections we hold. Over the past month I’ve worked my way through a total of 1,023  individual archive entries, relying mostly on the original accessions register. I’ve then been recording the type, dates, size, ownership and level of detail that has been recorded about the collection.

I’ve chosen to record this information in a spreadsheet as it’s easy to use and move data around into other ‘sheets’ when you need to create themes or different sections. It’s the digital equivalent of sorting out boxes in a room!

I’m a massive fan of colour as a way to visualise links between things and to highlight priorities.  Each colour represents a different type of collection and I’ve used a traffic light system to make it clear, at a glance, what collections will need exploring in more detail.

Still from the accessions audit spreadsheet

Still from the accessions audit spreadsheet

With each collection ranging in size from just 1 piece of paper up to 30 boxes,  it’s important to find new ways to make these diverse collections accessible to our users. Through  dividing collections into clearly defined themes we aim to make it easier for our users to explore a new side to York’s history. So at the end of the initial audit of the collections I’ve divided the non-civic collections into the following themes:

  • York Individuals and Families
  • York  Businesses
  • York Charities and Voluntary Organisations
  • York Events and Local Culture
  • York Artwork and Photography

These themes are still subject to change and it might be that as I move collections around and get a chance to explore the physical records, which are held off-site, that I discover some of these themes are too broad, too specific or that we need to add additional ones.

Using themes will also make it easier to  identify where our collections are weakest, and where we should be looking to actively collect. We hope that through supporting local community groups we can expand the reach of the non-civic archive to reflect ‘all communities and cultures, past and present’.

Reading in York Explore Library

Reading in York Explore Library

I’ve also been busy researching a bit more about the history and culture of York using the resources in York Explore library which is especially important as I’m new to the city. I’ve also been reading about other archive outreach projects and best practice guidance to better understand how we should scope our own project. We’re keen to avoid using previous projects as a framework for our own as the needs of each community is different, so we’ll be taking the time to find out exactly what York’s community groups need and then use other projects and best practice guidance to support our ideas.

All of this background work is time consuming and involves a lot of reading, but it’s an essential part of the project which will enable me to work with our communities in the best way possible so that they feel confident in my knowledge and skills.

Look out for further posts as I develop the themes and begin to explore York’s community groups. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!