Creating community connections

As we head towards the summer I’m reflecting on my time in York, since those days in early January when I first started. I’m very lucky to be living and working in such a beautiful city and to be meeting such enthusiastic people with interesting archives and projects to share.

I thought I’d use this blog post to share with you my top 3 tips for community engagement based on my experiences over the past 3 months, as we learn new ways of working going forward as Explore Libraries & Archives.

1. Be prepared to travel!

Since March I’ve met with representatives of over 20 different community groups across York from Parish Councils through to support services. The Google map I’ve created visualises the places I’ve been to with the stars representing our current and proposed projects.

The travels of a Community Collections Archivist!

The travels of a Community Collections Archivist!

As soon as I started this project I made the decision that I’d try and visit groups rather than expect them to visit me at West Offices.  I’ve had meetings in local pubs, village halls, and homes – always over a good cup of tea! Visiting the different locations in York has given me a real insight into the variety of community activity taking place, and has made it easier to understand how to develop partnership working. In turn I’ll be delivering activities at York Explore library in 2015; giving groups the chance to use our spaces.

Rufforth Church, one of many picturesque villages around York

Rufforth Church, one of many picturesque locations around York I’ve visited

2. Be flexible

Learning to be flexible is actually one of the hardest things to do, especially as part of an externally funded project. I’m a planner so I like to know exactly what I need to do and what I will be delivering. Our plan is to scope community archives, develop community relationships and deliver a programme of activities. What those archives are, how the relationships look and what those activities will be is where I’ve had to learn to be flexible. The result has been really interesting. By listening and being flexible we’re launching more projects and starting to assume a support role in linking community groups together. We hadn’t planned for this to happen, but its successful because its community driven.

3. Respond quickly or get left behind!

Community groups are often led by volunteers who also have full time jobs, which means that evening and weekends are normal community working hours. I’m sent most emails at the weekends, so I’ve learned that getting in touch towards the end of the week means that by Monday I usually have a response. I’ve also learned that I need to be prepared to reply quickly to those interested if we want to work with them. Projects loose momentum over time, especially for community groups who are very active, and the same group might find another partner if we don’t act quickly. In my experience, you can arrange a meeting, plan and set timescales to deliver a project within a few days, through being flexible and responsive.

Overall, it’s been a steep learning curve as the archive service is new to this kind of activity. We’ve already made some fantastic contacts around the city, and we’re thrilled that so many groups have ideas and plans for projects that they want us to be involved with. I’m sure there’s still so much we’ll learn over the coming years, which will continue changing how we work and hopefully inspire other organisations to work with their local communities.

Watch out for further blog posts from me as we’re launching another pilot project over the next couple of months. If you’re part of a community group and have comments and projects you’d like to share with us, feel free to get in touch –

Join us – Community Collections Assistant

I’ve some great news to share today, we’ve  opened recruitment for a brand new post on the ALH team, a community collections assistant.

We’re looking for someone to join us for 6 months (full-time) to support our community collections archivist on the York: Gateway to History project.

Our collection already includes over 150 archives created by local groups, societies, businesses and families.  These rich collections are currently only known through difficult to access typed lists of varying standards and detail.

You will pay a key role on making information on these community collections accessible online for the first time, carrying out detailed research and creating authority files – just as I did for the civic archive. You will also be involved in hands on physical processing tasks, such as packaging the archives to ensure their long term survival. We’re looking with someone who is not only interested in working with records, but people too – as you will be involved in supervising small groups of volunteers working on various tasks,  social media, blogging and awareness building such as attending local events in York.

We are looking for someone who is enthusiatic about working with archives and making them accesible to a wider audience, and has excellent literacy, numeracy and computer skills. A degree in a relevant subject area, and experience of using CALM cataloguing software are both desirable but not essential.

This post would suit someone looking for pre-qualification experience, or with an interest in heritage outreach and public history.

You’ll also be a little bit of history yourself as this is the very first new post in our new organisation, Explore York Libraries and Archives, the community benefit society providing York’s city libraries and archives service.

Sounds good? Here’s what you need to do next:

Find out more by downloading an application packfrom by navigating to the ‘Us’ section or following the link to Current Vacancies at the top of the page. If you are unable to access the website please contact or call 01904 554247 (8.00am – 4.00pm, Mon – Fri) to request an application pack quoting the job title. 

The closing date for applications is Monday 9th June 2014 at 12 noon.  Interviews will take place in York on Tuesday 1st July.

This post is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the £1.6m York: Gateway to History project.    

Ringing the changes

Hi all, it’s Justine here. Welcome to the newly tweaked City Making History blog, which I’ve rejigged and updated slightly to better reflect the archives service as a whole and where we are today, moving on from the original format of this blog as an online diary for the City Making History project.

All the original content and your comments are still here, we’ve just got a fresh look and more accurate information on the services we have going on at the moment.

I hope you like it, I think the new twitter panel down the side is a nice addition as it gives a proper look at our tweets without you needing to have a twitter account. Shiny. It’s also more easy to see who has written which post by looking at our names and job titles in the yellow tags on the left side of the screen – if you want to read posts by one person for example, just click their name for a list to choose from.

The eagle eyed among you may notice that the new design ties in with the new Explore York website, over at, with our signature light blue colour. Now we are a separate organisation from CYC we have our own website and branding that you’ll start to see more of around York as we update our buildings and services. Every household in York should have received a leaflet talking about the transfer with lots of photos so hopefully you’ll have an idea of who we are and what we are doing. The website will soon be updated to include lots of information on the new community benefit society and how you can be a member, so keep an eye out.

Thanks for following the blog for the past (nearly) two years, I hope you like the new design, just let me know if you come across any broken links or oddments and I’ll fix them as I tidy up the loose ends next week. Going forward there is going to be a post a week from one of the ALH archive team, and maybe a few sneaky extra ones when we have something we’re burning to share and can’t wait our turn. Have a nice weekend in the sun, and I’ll see you again soon.

A new voice and a new service

It’s time for yet another new voice on the blog! I’m Laura, and as Justine hinted at in her last blog post I started work as the new Archives and Local History Public Services Manager on 7th April. Like Justine I have previously worked at the Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), and I’ve come back to York after nearly seven years in Edinburgh. It’s going to be my job to make sure that all the public services we offer run smoothly and that we provide visitors with the best possible experience. There’s a lot to organise, but I like a challenge!

Laura Yeoman

Me – Archives and Local History Public Services Manager

As well as introducing myself, it’s also my pleasure to introduce you to our new organisation – ‘Explore York Libraries and Archives’, or ‘Explore’ for short. Explore came into being on 1 May and is a staff-led social enterprise which will be running York’s libraries and archives under an initial five year contract from City of York Council. As a result we are now no longer part of the council, have charitable status and are led by a board of directors. We officially launched Explore with a reception (and cake!) in our Reading Café in Rowntree Park. You can find out more about Explore and what it means for our libraries and archives on the CYC website.

Explore launch cake

Turning a ‘new chapter’ with our launch cake

So, turning back to me, how have I spent my first month in post? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of induction work, including reading the Gateway to History project documents so that I’m up to speed on what the new public service should actually look like. I’ve seen a lot of new faces and new places, and despite the service currently being closed I’ve also had an opportunity to see some of the civic archives and get acquainted with the local history collections.

One of my first tasks in post is to create a temporary service for Archives and Local History, which will operate from one of our other libraries whilst York Explore is closed for the final phase of the building work. As a result, I’ve been out with my measuring tape and ended up drawing the room to scale to see how the furniture would fit. After many attempts with various designs, I am now happy I’ve got something that works. Over the next few weeks I’ll also be looking at getting the information we have on our website updated, and putting together a proposal for how we can get details of more of the local history collection onto the library catalogue. More on that in a future post.

One thing that has struck me over the last couple of weeks is just how amazing the Archives and Local History collections actually are, and how lucky we are to have them. I’m really looking forward to creating a new public service that befits the collection – it’s an exciting period in our history, and one that I’m really happy to be part of. Keep an eye on the blog over the coming months to see how things are progressing in the new world of Explore!

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