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 (laura.yeoman@exploreyork.org.uk). Further details, including a detailed role profile, can be found in the Get Involved section of the website.

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!

Explore logo

Past, Present, Future

GTA VI? No! Architect's visualisation showing new archive storage extension

GTA York dlc? No! Architect’s visualisation showing new archive storage extension

There are 6 weeks left for my part of the CMH project, and so you might think it is nearly time for me to start winding down the blog. Not so! Instead of closing it down we are instead going to open it up. They’ll be new authors and topics, as we morph it into a blog for our whole archive service rather than just this civic cataloguing project.

Over the next few weeks you can expect a new batch of posts from me, updating you on what the project has achieved, what the new catalogue is going to look like, and how the volunteers are making progress. There will also be another Lucky Dip or two to get us up close and personal with more hidden gems of the collection.

As well as that, we’ll start to have posts about the bigger picture of what’s going on, particularly the Gateway to History Project.

Preliminary ideas for the landing

Sketch ideas for the oculus

This is an exciting time for the archive, with a new cataloguing foundation in place for the civic archive, and the imminent move of selected archive and local history resources downstairs at York Explore to run as a core reduced service, allowing building work to begin upstairs.

There will be lots of temporary changes to services, and occasional closures to parts of the building, so we will use this blog to not just give notice of this but go behind the scenes to what’s actually happening, and explore the reasons behind the changes.

Overview7 Sep 2013

For the most up to date information if you are planning a visit, see our key information page.  There are also collections guides from the different stages to let you know what material is available when, on which subjects.

Oh, and we also have a new Twitter for the archives,  separate from the joint @YorkLibrariesUK one. This will allow us to post more archival-specific tweets and engage with other archives online, without spamming all library followers. Currently trending across the UK, archival kittens! Our new account is @YorkArchivesUK so please drop by, welcome us, and share your favourite historic mog.

The storm before the calm

Is it really that long since my last post? Oh dear, time has flown. Since then I have unpacked, sorted, shelved and scanned the barcodes of over 850 boxes. I keep taking pictures to post on here, and then before I get the chance to put them online I unpack more boxes and so take more recent pictures and so want to put them up instead!


Four out of thirty-odd large shelving units.

Here are the photos from last week – the shelves are filling up nicely. The rollcages that I receive are packed with a jumble of boxes packed in for space efficiency that I then need to separate out into clusters of accessions, which I group around my space in a sensible fashion. Hopefully I’ve just two more half-lorry load deliveries to go.

Yep - exactly the same roll cages that you see used for supermarket deliveries.

Yep – exactly the same roll cages that you see used for supermarket deliveries.

It’s time consuming and hard work, but physically sorting the boxes is a helpful “pass through” of the physical material for me on a macro scale. I can see the accessions fitting into my structure, and am surprised by the size of some of them, such as our civic defence and environmental health files. It’s frustrating that I can’t get properly stuck in yet, but at least I’m engaging with the records on a personal level.

Card indexes from various plan collections

Some of the legacy item-level finding aids – original indexes that correlate to various civic plan collections

The art gallery decant should be finished in early June, which means I’ll have not only the civic records but also the furniture and preservation supplies that I need to be able to setup ready for the volunteers. After working on my own for over a month to prep everything, it will be great to be joined by a group of passionate local people of varied ages and experiences to get our hands dirty together working with this collection.

I can’t wait to have the team in place, and will be organising a training day as soon as the workroom is finally clear of pallets and rollcages. Hopefully they’ll let me introduce them to you all on here, and join in this blogging journey by pointing out what catches their eyes as they physically process the documents.


Elsewhere in the Libraries and Archives department, the exploration of whether we might become a social enterprise continues to develop. It’s a long and complicated process, so our head of service Fiona Williams is blogging about it at http://yorklibrariesconsultation.wordpress.com/ . It’s a good place to find out about the bigger picture, or ask her any questions, or you can pop into a library to read the display boards and pass on any comments in person.

Thank-you for your patience with my infrequent postings. I really hope the calm is just round the corner. Moving an archive is a big task, but makes sense as part of this reinvigoration and reworking of access to all our collections for the 21st century: no pain, no gain!

Archives on shelf = peaceful. Archives in transit = hard work!


Move joy mezzanine


move before


Let’s start with a sign of the times. Do you remember the York Press article about the project that was out in the Autumn? The top picture is that of me standing in the mezzanine, pondering, surrounded my massive plan chests and towering stacks of plans of bridges. Well it’s now completely empty!

I think the slightly maniac expression on Joy’s face tells the story of that move! Part of that story includes our biggest plan chest, which must have actually been assembled on the mezzanine in the first place, as it didn’t fit through any of the doors. Here’s a pic of it being loaded onto the lorry after being taken apart and put together again, heading off to Deepstore.

move chest outside

So what about my end? Here’s what the strongroom looked like a week ago. These racks are far from ideal, only having 3 tiers, but are very strong which is really the main thing.


On Monday my first delivery turned up as expected, and was loaded into the strongroom without fuss – this is a much more accessible building!


This is what I was left with – pallets loaded with crates, filled with volumes. We’re using the crates for items that won’t fit into boxes. They have been kindly lent to us by the National Railway Museum, and are proving very useful. They are extremely heavy so I’ve had help putting them onto the bottom tier for now. Then I’ll have to unpack some because they take up a huge amount of space on my shelves in an inefficient way.


I’ve taken delivery of about 80 crates, all the rest should now be archive boxes packed in roll cages. Much more manageable. I’m booked in to get 3 deliveries a fortnight, and will be busy in between unpacking. Next week I’ll start making myself a record of all the locations. Every item (whether a crate, box or wrapped single item) has been given a barcode. With the aid of a usb barcode reader and a spreadsheet I’ll be able to build a record of what is where – essential for the intellectual and physical control of the archive.

So that was our week, how about yours?

Taking control of the archive, box by box by box

Joy and Edward getting stuck in with the inventory

Joy and Edward getting stuck in with the inventory

Time has flown since my last blog post! I’ve now been to the local storage contractor I told you about, to see the space for the first time and see how much of the collection we can fit in, based on the measurements taken the week before.

It was a really useful visit as it let us see all the facilities including office space, access for delivery vehicles, security, internet, processing space, shelving etc. It looks like a really workable space, phew! We’ve worked out how much we can fit in there, and are negotiating for the extra shelving we need.

As expected, we won’t be able to fit in all the civic archive at once, so the rest will be stored elsewhere with the non-civic archive collections until a large chunk has been catalogued, then we can have a swap over.  This obviously requires a high level of physical control of individual boxes so we can safely transport and accurately identify them. We do this with an inventory. This control is required for the whole archive, not just the civic records.

Chloe and Phil focusing hard on day 3 of the inventory

Chloe and Phil focusing hard on day 3 of the inventory

So, three temporary staff have joined us for a few weeks working full time with Joy and Victoria to make a precise inventory and package items that need stabilising for the move. This means boxing for some and wrapping in Tyvek for others. When the movers are appointed, we’ll then get the barcode stickers and can link this up to our new inventory so we know exactly where everything is at any one time.

Joy inputting the handwritten invenotry forms onto a good ole spreadsheet

Joy inputting the handwritten inventory forms onto a good ole spreadsheet

While they’re doing that, I’m working out the staged move – splitting the archive into discrete chunks of the right size (such as the Giles-listed material or the NYCRO-catalogued Town Clerks boxes) and deciding which order everything should be catalogued in. I don’t want to make a mistake and find the series of records I need to catalogue first has accidentally been send a hundred miles away!

Aisle 1 as you've never seen it before - no loose papers!

Aisle 1 as you’ve never seen it before – no loose papers!

The next step will be for Victoria to recruit the volunteers who will physically process the records as I catalogue them. I’ll let you know as soon as the advert is ready in case any of you would like to apply. The final details are still being sorted out but it’s looking like we’ll need 8 people, able to give a regular commitment of one afternoon per week (on specific days), starting around June time. This isn’t finalised yet so please bear with me, you’ll know as soon as I do.

Stay tuned next week for my next Lucky Dip post, if I can nip into aisle 7 to grab something without getting in everyone’s way!

Space, the final frontier…

Close up of tape measure

Our move out of the art gallery is fast approaching. As the new strongroom at York Explore won’t be ready until next year, the records need to go into storage in the meantime. The bulk of the archive will be going away for a year to remote storage, but what about the civic archive that I’m working on?

The idea is to move these records into a secure local storage facility here in York, and for me to go with them so I can still work on them directly. This is obviously a bit of a nuisance in the middle of a major cataloguing project but it can’t be helped!

I need to contribute to this process by working out exactly what the requirements will be for the new space, so that it can be negotiated, budgeted for, and set up correctly ready for me and the records to move in smoothly.

The first thing I did was go through the collection and work out which records have to come with me, and which were better off going away to storage. For example, the heavy plan chests on the mezzanine are very unwieldy and take up lots of space, so I should prioritise cataloguing them before the move so they can go straight into storage.

Wooden plan chests with rolled plans piled on top.

This is about a third of our wooden heavy plan chests.

Also, minute books are very straightforward to catalogue – I don’t actually need to physically have them with me, if I have a basic list to work from. So that’s another big chunk (c.60 shelves) that can potentially be knocked off.

Shelf with bound volumes on it

There are about 60 shelves full of council minute books

After I’d been through the archive in this way, I then had to work out what is left and what space I need to fit it in. At the moment, our shelves are 44cm deep, 97cm wide and are set between 20-60cm tall. There are currently 729 standard ones in use in strongroom 1, plus another 80 extra deep ones that rolled plans are kept in.

Non-standard shelves include these extra-deep short ones for the wrapped PH plans

Non-standard shelves include these extra-deep short ones for the wrapped PH plans

However, that size is not necessarily the best to fit the boxes we have, so today I’m measuring our various standard boxes to see how they fit together, and come up with a size range for each dimension of a shelf that I can give to the contractor so they can supply the right racking.


Here are two of our standard box sizes. The height of one tall one is about the same as two medium ones.

Like many things in archives, you need to be systematic and accurate. I don’t want a surprise on moving day finding out that the boxes won’t fit. I once bought a sofa that wouldn’t fit through my hallway (we had to take the window out to get it in the front room) so I’m being extra careful to get it right this time!

In a few weeks Victoria and I will do a site visit to see what facilities there are, such as loading bays, room for our large work table, computer/office access, and see if there is the right space to accommodate us based on the shelving needs that I’ve worked out.

The move is becoming a lot more real at the moment, and as soon as the plans are fully in place I can finally get stuck into physically cataloguing the records, starting with those on my priority list that may be going away for storage. Interesting times!