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

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!

It’s time to Explore Your Archive!

This week the Explore Your Archive campaign is running across the UK and Ireland. This annual campaign was launched last year by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland) to ‘raise awareness of archives, their value to society and the impact they have on individual lives.’ Its aim is to promote archives to people who have previously never interacted with them, through a week-long programme of events and activities. Click on the video below to watch the advertisement for this year’s campaign:

Obviously we would have wanted to take part in Explore Your Archive this year, but as the building phase of the York: Gateway to History project hasn’t quite finished yet we are not able to offer tours of the new service or any exhibitions at the moment. Never fear, though, as yesterday I put on my hard hat and high vis jacket and took my camera to York Explore to give you a virtual tour of the new public spaces instead…

You are now entering the world of Archives and Local History…
When you arrive on the first floor landing at York Explore, you’ll see we’ve cleaned and re-grouted the floor tiles, and installed a new SmartTV screen next to the entrance to Archives and Local History, which we will use to provide useful information about our services and to advertise events. We have a similar screen on the other side of the landing for people using the lift.

First floor landing

We have cleaned the landing and installed new benches to make it a more welcoming space.

Stop 1…Local History
This is the first room you come to in the new service, and as well as housing our Local History collections it is also the Quiet Study space for the library. We’ve installed a new staff desk, refurbished the bookcases, the parquet floor and some of the existing tables and chairs and laid a new carpet. There’s also new lighting, and behind the scenes we have installed a new ventilation system to regulate the temperature better. We are currently awaiting the delivery of six new height-adjustable desks, chairs and some additional bookcases, so when it’s finished the room will have space for 32 people, including four using public network PCs. The room will also be equipped with two computers for searching the library and archives catalogues, a SmartTV screen and a walk-up book scanner. The bookcases are currently empty, but I promise we will have the books on the shelves by 5th January!

Reception desk

The new staff reception desk in Local History

Local History

Not all the furniture has arrived yet but it is already looking great!

…and on your left
The new Archives Reading Room is located to the left of the staff desk as you enter Archives and Local History, and is now complete with a stunning glass door for security. The room will accommodate 12 archives users at once, and also has a new staff desk. By the time we open it will also have a SmartTV screen, book scanner and a height-adjustable digitisation table with a tripod for people wanting to photograph archives. We have managed to get the periodicals back on the shelves in this space already, and we will also have some council minutes, accounts and early electoral registers on open access for the first time.

Reading Room Door

Entry to the Archives Reading Room is through our new glass door.

Archives Reading Room

Part of the Archives Reading Room.

Through to…Family History
Our new Family History room is at the other end of Local History, in a space which was previously closed to the public. It’s also the room that has undergone the biggest transformation, as we have removed the old shelving and installed a mezzanine level which will hold a large table and chairs. It’s not the easiest space to photograph given its height, so rather than relying on my photography you might need to visit it for yourselves to see what a great room it is! The Family History room will also have three public network PCs, three new digital microfilm readers and a SmartTV, plus some comfortable chairs and tables for anyone wanting to use their own laptop or tablet to access the library Wifi.


The new mezzanine structure – it’s a feat of engineering!

PC tables

Our new desks awaiting their PC’s and microfilm readers

…and finally…
Our final port of call on this whistle-stop tour is most likely the one you have all been waiting for…the inside of the ‘gold box’. I can confirm that the new mobile shelving has been installed and we are waiting for our first batch of archives to come back (which we are very excited about!).


One of our new runs of shelving – it won’t be this empty for long!

And that concludes our virtual tour of the new service! I hope that it gives you an idea of some of the work we have done over the summer, and I look forward to seeing you all in the new service January! As I mentioned earlier this year’s Explore Your Archive campaign is running at the moment, so if you want to find out more about events in your area visit their website.

If you do have any first impressions on the new service, please let us know, either by commenting here or by emailing me direct (

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.


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!

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 . 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!