Gateway to Your Archives: A Sneak Preview!

You’ve probably read in my previous blog posts that I’m currently planning archive training workshops for community groups across York. As I start bringing the content for these workshops together, here’s a sneak preview of what’s coming in 2015!

The consultation process for the Gateway to History project revealed to us very early on that communities want advice and support for managing their archives. With this in mind, our activity plan includes delivery of archive training workshops. These workshops will include practical and relevant advice and to make sure we deliver this, everyone I talk to gets a chance to say what they would like to learn about.

My discussions so far have revealed the most popular subjects to be:

  • Archive storage including case studies
  • Risks to your archives (fire/flood/theft)
  • Cataloguing your collections
  • How to manage digital records
  • Ideas for how you can use your archives for innovative projects
  • How archives should be prepared for deposit at York Explore

Cupboard or community archive? A case study sneak preview!

To turn these subjects into a workshop session and a written resource I’m  working through best practice archive standards and guidance. The main source of this guidance is The National Archives and the British Library Collection Care website with information for both archivists and non-archivists. The problem I’ve found is that this guidance  assumes their audience is a large organisation with available funds to install a purpose built strong room.

I’m creating a resource that covers all the important information but presents it in a way which is realistic  for groups with limited funds, storage space and staffing. Our aim is that the training and resources we provide give community groups the confidence to take control over their collections. We also want communities to see  Explore as an established place of  friendly professional support where their ideas can be shared and made a reality.

If you’re part of a community group in York and interested in learning about how to manage your archives, get in touch and share your thoughts on content for our workshops. We don’t yet have dates  finalised for the workshops in 2015, but if you’re interested in coming along get in touch and we’ll add you to our contacts list. Further details will follow towards the end of this year.

A tale of two archives services

As Richard mentioned in his blog post earlier in the week, York Explore has now closed for the last phase of the Gateway to History building works. As part of the closure, earlier this week I spent time helping the staff at York Explore move part of our temporary Archives and Local History service from the Marriott Room to Acomb Explore, with the remainder going into secure storage. It’s been a lot of hard work from a very dedicated team of staff, but we are finally ready to open in Acomb on Monday.


Marriott Room boxed up

The boxing up of the Marriott Room went much quicker than expected.

When I wrote my last post I was in the process of designing the new service – complete with tape measure and scale drawings – to ensure that everything we wanted to take with us would fit in the new space. Well, the good news is… it does! I love it when a plan comes together. The new temporary service has fewer desks in it compared to the Marriott Room, but whilst it is small we’ve still got a good range of material for family and local history on offer, and Acomb Explore is equipped with public PCs for accessing Ancestry and the British Newspaper Archive. (It’s also got a really great cafe!). Our alternative was to close the service completely until we reopen later in the year, so I’m very grateful to Acomb Explore for agreeing to let us have one of their rooms. Full details of everything available at Acomb can be found on our website, as are details of how to make an appointment to use the resources there.


Acomb archives service

The new temporary Archives and Local History Service in Acomb Explore.

Now that the temporary service has moved it’s time for me to turn my attention to an altogether larger beast – the new service at York Explore. At the moment the upstairs has been completely stripped out to allow the builders to start the final phase of the works. Now that it’s empty it’s clear just how big the space is. My challenge for the summer is to create all the policies, processes and procedures for the new service, as well as all the communications and staff training materials. I’ll also be involved in sourcing some of the new fixtures and fittings, so watch this space to see how things develop!


York Explore Local History space

The next challenge!

If you are stuck for things to do over the summer why not get involved with our new volunteer project, which will be taking place at Sycamore House Reading Cafe in central York? We’re going to start putting the information from our local history card index onto the library catalogue, so that the collections can be searched online, alongside our lending stock, for the first time. It won’t be possible to get everything done before the reopening, as there are around 150,000 cards to sort through, so I’ve chosen to split the project into a number of different phases. The first phase will concentrate on index cards relating to books. This will be followed by further phases looking at different types of cards, including pamphlets and journal articles. If you are interested in spending some time helping us with the data inputting please let me know ( Further details, including a detailed role profile, can be found in the Get Involved section of the website.

Creating a legacy for York’s Veterans

Today is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, and with this in mind I wanted to share with you a new project we’re running as part of the Gateway to History project.

You may have seen on the news today that there are a lot of anniversary ceremonies and services taking place out in Normandy. Veterans from across the UK are attending, including those from York,  remembering the heroic role they played in D-Day 70 years ago.

This anniversary is a particularly important one, as it is the last one that most of our veterans will see. The national organisation, Normandy Veterans, exists to support veterans up until the 70th anniversary, so this year also marks the end of this official organisation. For the members of the York Branch, the organisation is a social support network; allowing individuals to regularly get together, fundraise and arrange visits to Normandy. The York branch will carry on from 2014 as a social group for as long as it is needed.

Last month, a fundraiser for the group who is responsible for making the York Veteran’s visit to Normandy happen this year, approached the Archive service. The veterans were concerned about their legacy and future of their archive collections. It was a moving conversation and by acting now we can preserve the records of the group and the individual stories they represent.

I’m thrilled to announce that over the coming months we’ll be running a Normandy Veterans York Legacy project to collaboratively catalogue the archives of individual York veterans, and the official archive of the Normandy Veterans: York Branch. We’ve recruited two fantastic University of York Public History MA student volunteers who, as part of a 4 week project, will work with the veterans to create a catalogue of their archives. They will be  recording  information that could otherwise be lost such as the names of people in photographs and the acts of bravery behind their medals.

The archive collections will be transferred to the new archive facility at York Explore library in 2015, leaving a lasting legacy for our Normandy Veterans in York.

There will be more details to follow in July/August 2014 as we begin the project.

Making a mark…

 Welcome to my first and last blog post!

Picture of Richard Taylor, City Archivist, capitioned "not here for much longer"

Not here for much longer…

This is a week of mixed feelings for me, because after five years leading the York Archives & Local History team (in the past few months jointly with Victoria Hoyle) I am now leaving to take up a new post as Project Curator at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

My last day in the office at York will be Thursday 5th June, so please accept my apologies for making my farewells via this blog, as it’s just not possible individually to contact everyone on York who I’ve met the last five years.  The city archives has come a long way since 2009, and so many people in and around the city have been instrumental in getting us to where we are now.  

 In 2009 there was some doubt that we could succeed in our plans to apply to the Heritage Lottery Find for support for the “Gateway to History” project. And now here we are – only a few months away from re-opening a refreshed and extended city centre archive in York Explore which will be open to many more people than ever before in its history.  So, to everyone who has helped the project at any stage with advice, or by attending a consultation session or sending in your views – thank you!

1950's railway poster "York: The Gateway to History"

As you will have seen, York Explore has now closed for the final and most extensive stage of the Gateway to History project building work.  From now until late autumn our contractors William Birch will be lifting and repairing the ground floor wooden parquet floor, replacing our life-expired heating system boiler; repairing the main slate roof for the first time since 1927, and completing the construction and fitting out of the new first floor archive spaces.  It will all look different and yet reassuringly the same when it re-opens.

I had a look round the building last month before the closure.  The main difference which you will see externally is, of course, the new environmentally-controlled archive vault which is being built on top of the children’s library and cafe wing of York Explore.  The wooden carcass of this is now in place, sitting on the hefty load-bearing steel framework that was lifted into place by our big crane earlier in the year. 

Picture of interior of new wooden archive vault, captioned "As one of my colleagues says - it looks like a Swedish sauna..."

As one of my colleagues says – it looks like a Swedish sauna…

 The new vault is linked to the existing building by a connecting lobby and ramp, which exits into the existing first floor landing via one of the mysterious corner doors.

Looking into the new vault from the first floor landing.

Looking into the new vault from the first floor landing.

 One of the related pieces of work we are doing is to improve the look and feel of that first floor landing by de-cluttering the space, and improving the lighting of the glass dome.

As you can see, when I climbed up into the roof space, at some point in the past someone decided that the best way to light this dome was with three aggressively orange sodium lights which we will be replacing with softer illumination.

I suspect these lights were left over from a street lighting project...

I suspect these lights were left over from a street lighting project…

 Whilst up in the roof space, I discovered a couple of the gratifying little surprises which York Explore can spring on you.   Firstly, you’ll all be glad to see that the roof is being held up by proudly British steel:

British to the core

British to the core

And then, on the internal wall which supports the roof of the central bay of the building, generations of builders and maintenance workers have left a dated record of their presence:

"JD May 26th 1927" - the year the first part of the building was completed

“JD May 26th 1927” – the year the first part of the building was completed

"JR & JM (?) May 2 1934"

“JR & JM (?) May 2 1934”








"TC & RWP June 30th 1950"

“TC & RWP June 30th 1950”

As you can imagine, as an archivist I found this record of the past particularly striking.   If only some of these workers could come back and see how we are taking the building into the 21st century for new generations of users.



Almost up to date - "Gary 26/10/2000"

Almost up to date – “Gary 26/10/2000”

One of my regrets about leaving is that I won’t get the chance to add my own initials to the wall.  So I’ll just have to content myself with the knowledge that I’ve made my mark in other ways.

Thank you all, and goodbye.