Ware and tear – The challenges of cataloguing a large solicitors archive

This week I wanted to share the journey of one of our archive cataloguing projects and how we made a 78 box collection accessible to the public for the first time.

Our volunteers work incredibly hard and you’ve heard from and about them in our earlier blog posts and on social media. They dedicate their time to us every Thursday in the Archives Reading Room at York Explore.

One of the largest community collections to have been brought back on-site was Ware & Co Solicitors. It’s a complex legal collection with documents relating to a wide range of Yorkshire families, properties and businesses.

The challenge was how to organise such a large collection with so many different parts. The records themselves were also quite challenging as they date back to 1554 so can be difficult to read and interpret without specialist skills.

Volunteers enjoying historical legal documents, complete with wax seal!

Initially we thought that it might prove to be an easy collection, despite it’s size, as there was an old printed list and most of the boxes were labelled. We set the volunteers off checking items in the boxes against the list. The complexity of the records and the list meant this was slow going and we all started to feel like we were never going to get anything done! Families, properties and business were all mixed up together, often in poor condition, with many items not appearing at all on the original list.

So we needed a new approach. The work the volunteers had done so far had given us a good idea of the types of records and their condition but it wasn’t sustainable to keep working at such a detailed level.

Our new system was to first come up with an arrangement for the collection. We printed out the names of 67 families as well as 15 properties and businesses and set the volunteers the challenge of matching up the boxes to the names. Once all the boxes had been assigned a name, this gave us a starting point for writing catalogue entries. We chose to keep the descriptions brief as almost all of the collection consisted of the same types of legal records.

The volunteers, who by this time had a lot of experience using the collection, recorded the key details about the items including covering dates and a brief description of the documents.

We also set our volunteer Richard the task of discovering more about each family. The information he found was especially important as some of these families have played a key role in the history and development of the local area.

In just 4 weeks…that’s 80 hours…we had gone from a un-usable collection to one full labelled and searchable on the online catalogue. Without the support of our volunteers it would have taken one member of paid staff over 2 weeks to complete the collection…and that’s without them working on anything else!

The now organised Wares Solicitors collection. Searchable on the online catalogue at Ref no. WSC

The now organised Wares Solicitors collection.  Ref no. WSC

We learnt a valuable lesson on this project, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tacking an archive cataloguing project, and it’s something we’ll take forward to the rest of the archive team as we build a lasting legacy to the Gateway to History project.

The full collection will be searchable via the online catalogue w/c 21st September with the reference no. WSC For further information about this collection please email jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk.

NEW art project launched at York Explore

Do you remember at the start of the year we ran ‘What Should York Remember?’ and the Archives Roadshow? We mentioned there could be an art project in the pipeline and that you should wait for details….well your wait is over!

I’m pleased to announce the results of the Roadshow and to launch ‘What York means to us’, a visual representation of York’s past, present and future through the voices of 600 York residents.

We gathered a total of 600 spoken, written and artistic responses from residents aged 3-90 across York. These responses were then presented to local artists who pitched their ideas for a piece of legacy artwork, to tell a very local story of York revealing how the City sees itself.

We chose Emily Harvey to scope, create and install the artwork as a legacy of the York: Gateway to History project. Emily has experience in community arts and one of her most recent projects was the collaborative creation of the banners that hung along the city walls during the Tour De France.

Emily is a printmaker who runs courses as well as leading community art projects

Emily is a printmaker who runs courses as well as leading community art projects

Emily is creating a coloured textured panel made from resin plaster, based on the City Walls with the stones illustrating aspects of York that local people shared with us during the project. The mortar will contain text to link the words and voices of today’s residents to the images in the stones. Emily shared her ideas, and inspiration with us as a taster of what’s to come:

“I am really excited to be starting work on the panel for York Explore Library and Archives. This project brings together a lot of things I am interested in especially community arts, design, architecture, history, and public art.

I started by reading through all the stories about York collected over the last few months, these have inspired a lot of images already which I have been sketching and researching.

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I got some funny looks when I was out taking close up photos of the walls – I must have looked like a very short sighted tourist! I particularly like the ones with accidental faces in them.

Faces in the City Walls discoverd by Emily as part of her research

Faces in the City Walls discoverd by Emily as part of her research

I also have a life size drawing on the wall of the studio to I can collect all the ideas together and get them into a coherent design. I am sure this will change and evolve over time.

The wall in Emily's studio is ready and waiting!

The wall in Emily’s studio is ready and waiting!

In order to get the technique and the measurements right I have done a few test pieces – I find that more ideas come while actually making things so the process is a mixture of planning, doing and thinking and eventually the final piece starts to take shape.”

 

Sample panels and sketches created by Emily as a taster of what’s to come!

Emily has created some mood boards showing how she has been inspired, not only by the responses but also by the City Walls and our archive collections. These are on display on the 1st floor landing at York Explore where the final piece will be installed.

Pop along to York Explore and discover what’s inspiring Emily and where the final art piece will be installed

What York means to us will be launched in November 2015 and be available to everyone to enjoy. If you or anyone you know contributed to this activity, pop along and see if anything you said is featured!

Watch out in The Press over the next couple of weeks for a feature revealing even more about this exciting project!

Hello there! Introducing Explore’s Newbie…

Hello there! I am Jenny McGarvey, the latest newbie here at York Explore (when I say “newbie”, that’s not technically correct. You might recognise me from my previous blog post, “Getting to Grips with Criminal Histories…”, posted back in March when I was a placement student here, but I am delighted to be back as a member of staff!).

Cataloguing at the end of my first week as Community Collections Assistant

Cataloguing at the end of my first week as Community Collections Assistant

I am the new Community Collections Assistant and I am very excited to be working on the fabulous York: Gateway to History project. My role is to work with Sarah to help her deliver different aspects of the project; from winding up the Archives Roadshow and cataloguing the collections though to helping deliver the Gateway to your Archives workshops and our Community Collections volunteering programme.

 

Some of our volunteers working hard cataloguing some of the community collections.

Some of our volunteers working hard cataloguing some of the community collections.

One aspect of the project that I am very excited about is the creation of an art installation that will reflect the different views of the local community on the question “What should York remember?”. This is the question that has been put to you, the general public, during our Archives Roadshow sessions that have taken place across all of York’s local libraries over the past few months. A local artist will be using your responses to create an installation that will be displayed in the first floor landing at York Explore.

I went along to my first Archives Roadshow session on Monday afternoon at Strensall library, which made for a very interesting first day! We also went along to Dunnington Library yesterday evening for our final stop in the Archives Roadshow journey. It was clear that local history is a popular passion in both Dunnington and Strensall, and it was lots of fun chatting to local residents about the things that they think are important to York’s past. I cannot wait to see the final outcome of the art piece, and how it reflects the huge range of responses we have had about what we should remember about York’s history.

 

“What should York remember?” - some responses given at Strensall library Archives Roadshow.

“What should York remember?” – some responses given at Strensall library Archives Roadshow.

I am also very much looking forward to being involved in the Gateway to your Archives workshops, where we will be encouraging local community groups to develop and manage their own archives. The workshops have been a fantastic success so far and they are an amazing opportunity for us to meet lots of local community group members and help them enhance their archival skills.

 

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

Today I have been busy doing my first bit of cataloguing which I am thoroughly enjoying. It has given me the opportunity to have a quick nosey at some very interesting documents and learn how to actually organise a collection logically. I am getting to know the catalogue system and finding it easier each time I log a new entry! I can tell already that I am really going to enjoy this aspect of my job.

You’ll certainly hear a lot more from me over the next few months on our outreach and cataloguing work as part of the Gateway to History project here at York Explore, as I’ll be keeping you updated on our latest events and progress through the blog as well as Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr.

What makes you a Yorkie?

I’m sat in one of our branch libraries and a member of the public walks in;
I ask, ‘What do you think York should remember?’

The member of the public replies, ‘O, well I’m not from York’
Probing further I ask, ‘How long have you lived here?’
‘Around 30 years’ they answer, quickly followed by ‘…but I grew up elsewhere’

The Archives Roadshow has been running since February 2015 and has been to 12 of our 16 branch libraries and gathered over 300 responses to our question ‘What Should York Remember?’ I’ve had this same conversation with people more times than I could count and it has led me to think a little more about what a sense of place really is and what truly does make you a Yorkie.

A grandmother, daughter and grandchildren share York memories with Explore staff and volunteers and Tang Hall Library

A grandmother, daughter and grandchildren share York memories with Explore staff and volunteers and Tang Hall Library

So where does our sense of place come from, and at what point do we decide where we’re from? We tend to say that the place we spent most of our childhood is where we’re from even if we no longer live there or haven’t since we were teenagers or young adults. Where we grew up is perhaps part our individual identity that has shaped who we are today. I’m no exception, I’ve lived in York for just over a year but even if from now on I always live in York, I think I’ll always say I’m from Merseyside as its part of who I am and my journey to get here.

We all have an important part to play in the past, present and future of the communities we live in. Several people have commented on the Roadshow that ‘York is like a big village’. I’d certainly agree with that but around 70% of people we’re spoken to on the Roadshow didn’t grow up in York. How does the fact that so many of us don’t associate ourselves with being from York affect our almost taken for granted community cohesion, in a city already so crowded with tourists?

Museum Gardens. Imagine York Collections, City of York Council, Ima

Museum Gardens. Imagine York Collections, City of York Council

I believe that everyone has some attachment to the city, especially if you’ve lived here for 30 years, so I always ask, ‘How has your community changed since you’ve lived here?’ I’ve found this to be a great way of exploring personal community connections and usually encourages people to share stories about their own children and grandchildren such as ‘feeding squirrels in Museum Gardens’. Childhood, whether it’s your own or your family’s, seems to increase our attachment to a place. It’s not just places that people are attached to as there seems to be a real sense of ownership around recent local events such as the Tour De France and Tour De Yorkshire. Perhaps it reveals the true social value of these events as well as attracting tourism and funding.

Roadshow attendees feel a strong connection to events that take place in the city such as the Viking Festival.

Roadshow attendees feel a strong connection to events that take place in the city such as the Viking Festival.

Our experiences in local places and feeling part of events play a vital role in community identity. The responses to ‘What Should York Remember?’ give us a snapshot in time as to what is important to residents in 2015, whether they have been in the city all their lives or just a few months.

So what does make you a true Yorkie? Someone on the Roadshow said it wasn’t until you’ve seen the Minster without scaffolding. We might be waiting a long while for that to happen but maybe as soon as you move to York you become a Yorkie, after all are we not part of one big village?

Coming soon – Wondering what we’re planning do to with the 300 ‘What Should York Remember?’ responses? Well watch this space for a sneak preview of what’s coming up later this year.

Coming soon to a library near you…

This year we’re pleased to announce that we’re taking archives and local history out across Explore’s branch libraries in our first ever Archives Roadshow.

We’re thrilled with our new archive service at Explore York but we know that for many of you, the local library is still the heart and soul of your community. That’s why Francesca and I will be touring all branch libraries during 2015, giving you a chance to discover more.

We've had all our publicity professionally designed so you'll know what to look out for in your branch

Seen these leaflets around? It’s all Gateway to History!

Expect to see shiny pop up banners and leaflets advertising the Gateway to History project and the Gateway to Your Archives training workshops; discover how to use the archive catalogue; see copies of items from our community archives; ask us all about the new archive service and share your local history stories with us.

But we’d like you to get involved as well. Throughout 2015 we’re asking you, What should York Remember? We want your thoughts on the people, places, events and memories that have shaped our city and the way we live.

We launched this event at Residents Festival in York Explore on 31st January and we got some facinating responses including ‘The remarkable lives of ordinary people’, ‘the smell of chocolate’ and ‘disability rights in York’. We had some truly inspirational discussions and even some children popped in to draw us a picture of York Minster!

Examples from our activity at Residents Weekend 2015

Examples from our activity at Residents Festival 2015

If you’d like to have your say and learn more, the first 3 dates of the Roadshow are:

Tang Hall Library – 17th February 2015
Clifton Library – 25th February 2015
Acomb Library – 26th February 2015

Expect to see us at each branch library at least twice throughout 2015 and we’ll be advertising more dates throughout the year. Keep a look out for this eye catching poster in your local library to see when we’re next coming to you!

Look out for this poster in your local library!

Look out for this poster in your local library as it will include dates for each branch

From April 2015, you’ll also get a chance to see our popular WW1 pop-up banner exhibition as it tours the branches. Its currently upstairs in the foyer at York Explore Library so if you’re popping in, take a look. Check with your local library over the coming months and discover when its coming to you.

Our WW1 banner exhibition - coming soon to a branch near you!

Our WW1 banner exhibition – currently on the landing at York Explore

We look forward to meeting you all as we travel around the city and discover what York should remember!

Our new Community Collections Pinterest board: The highlights so far…

Over the past few weeks, the Explore team has been busy at the main library preparing the archive for when we open on the 5th of January. Me, Georgie and Sarah have been getting stuck into the Community Collections by organising, cataloguing and re-boxing them so that they can be easily navigated and used by everyone. Up until now, I have been doing this without actually seeing any of the archives themselves. But how? I hear you cry! Well thanks to the dedicated work of previous volunteers and archivists we have managed to use many of the existing lists to put entire collections on our CALM catalogue system, some of which will be searchable online when we reopen.

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Our York Conservative Association collection (YCA), re-boxed and ready to go!

Since we opened up our first archive box a few weeks back, I have finally been able to set eyes on our collections for the first time and it is amazing just how diverse and visually impressive they are in the flesh! You can see some of our favourite items that we have discovered so far on our new Community Collections Pinterest board.

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One of my personal favourites has been the York and District Boy Scouts Association collection, chock full of amazing scrapbooks containing drawings, photographs and memories from scout life like outings, events and cuttings like this one.

Then there is the Yorkshire Musical Festival collection which contains beautifully printed tickets and programmes from the 19th Century as well as a list of what was worn by attendees of the Fancy Ball, which we tweeted about last week.

On top of this, another highlight has been our York Mystery Plays collection which contains stunningly painted set designs, costume sketchbooks and annotated scripts from the 1960s and 1970s. But this only scratches the surface!

Over the course of 2015, we will gradually be able to make more collections available for you to have a rummage through and hopefully make some amazing discoveries of your own.

Make sure you stay tuned to the Community Collections Pinterest board for more archive sneak peeks in the near future!

The Community archive collections are coming!

January 5th is fast approaching and the whole team is busy preparing York Explore for opening. Right now a team of library and archive staff are hard at work stocking the shelves and preparing archive collections.

Preparing the archives has been a process that Francesca, Georgie and I have been working on since August and we were all so excited when we got a huge scale delivery from Deepstore two weeks ago. It was the first time since I started my job back in January that I had actually seen the community collections I manage.

The archives arrived from Deepstore, who are based in the salt mines in Cheshire

The archives arriving from Deepstore from the salt mines in Cheshire where the archives have been kept safely while we built our strongroom.

We had around 300 boxes delivered, most of which were Civic records to be processed by Justine but it also included some previously inaccessible community collections. We haven’t had everything sent back as we are doing this gradually to make sure that the collections we make accessible are catalogued and properly packaged.

The first of the community collections safely on shelves in the strongroom

The first of the community collections safely on shelves in the strongroom

Due to the hard work, and a real team effort, we’re pleased to announce that so far we have 15 community collections ready for researchers to use when our doors open.  Justine is hard at work making sections of the Civic archive ready, which will form the bulk of the archives ready for use.

Here’s a taster of what community collections you’ll be able to discover:

  • The York Art Society
  • York Rugby League Club
  • York Musical Theatre Society
  • Boy Scouts Association York
  • York Educational Settlement
  • Cundall Family Papers and Photographs
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The Boy Scouts collection is full of exciting finds including loads of troop photographs and log books!

All of the collections we have available will be searchable via the Library catalogue and we’re currently working on a programme of work which will allow us to continue making collections accessible gradually throughout 2015. We’re creating a Pinterest board to showcase these collections, similar to the one we have for our First World War material. We’ll also be sharing collection updates via our website and here on the blog.

Finally, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to Georgie who is a Reading and Learning Advisor at York Explore. She came across to this project on secondment to gain archive experience and she has been responsible for half of the collections we’re making accessible in January. You’ll probably see Georgie around the library as she is returning to her previous role and will be working in all areas of the library and archive service.

Georgie, complete with high viz working on one of our collections

Georgie complete with high viz working on one of our collections

Francesca has been responsibe for the other half of the collections and you’ll also see her and myself around as she’ll be working with me throughout 2015 to deliver outreach activities. I’ll be blogging shortly with more details about what you can expect to see from the Gateway to History project next year.

We’ll see you in January!