Farewell from your Community Collections & Outreach Archivist

The time has come to reflect and officially bring to a close the York: Gateway to History project. It has been an incredible two years and we at Explore have come together as one Library and Archive service.

My role on the project is also coming to an end this week and I can’t believe how far we have travelled since that first week. So here is my personal journey on the project. Enjoy!Sarah with HLF project plan

January 2014 – The activity plan strand of the project gets underway when I started as Community Collections & Outreach Archivist. I was daunted by the challenge but excited to get started!

February 2014 – We got straight in and worked with Lord Deramore’s Primary School in Heslington to unlock the history of the school and discover it’s place in the local community. We worked with three fantastic volunteers who wrote a whopping 17,000 word resource and presented it to the school.

Our three experienced and dedicated volunteers hard at work at the school. From left, Alan Bollington, Phil Batman and Roger Barham

June 2014 – By now I’m travelling all over the city by bus, car and on foot to meet all kinds of different community groups. By the end of 2015 we had created a network of 170 individuals from 78 different community groups. You can see where I went during the project on this handy map!

We also started working with the York Normandy Veterans Association on a project to record their memories and preserve their archives for future generations. In 2015 we hosted a celebration evening for the Veterans and created a special short film about the project.

July 2014 – To help manage over 400 community archives and to support outreach activities in 2015, Georgie and Francesca came onboard as Community Collection Assistants!

CCA staff

October 2014 – We launched the Poppleton History Society archive in Poppleton Library with an event to showcase the collection and network with members of the local community.

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November 2014 – To support First World War commemorations we worked with York’s Alternative History Society to launch our pop-up banner exhibition. The banners went on display at York City Screen Cinema before being toured across all our libraries during 2015.

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January 2015 – We opened our brand new Archives & Local History service at York Explore! During 2015 we welcomed a grand total of 94,858 visitors to the service who came to look at archives, browse our local history books and research their family histories.

Archive Reading Room

February 2015 – We hosted the first of our Gateway to Your Archives workshops. In total 98 representatives from 52 different community groups attended a workshop in 2015 and 98% said they felt more supported by Explore as a result.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops in progress!

If you are interested in learning about how to manage your community archive, all new resources will be launched onto the Explore website next month. Included in this will be our new training films, on YouTube now!

March 2015 – Alongside the Workshops came the Archives Roadshow. We toured all 17 of Explore’s libraries and asked people ‘What Should York Remember?’.

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

We gathered 600 responses to the question and even created a vox-pop short film featuring local peoples thoughts!

May 2015 – We said goodbye to Francesca and hello to Jenny as Community Collections Assistant. Jenny took over responsibility for cataloguing and supporting our outreach activities.

 

June 2015 – To help us catalogue our community archives we set up a Community Collections volunteer project. We got 8 volunteers in total who worked to catalogue 5 large collections adding up to 99 boxes, 203 volumes and 32 rolls!

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The volunteers also worked to create content for the Voices of the Archives booklet and pop-up banner exhibition. They provided quotes and unique insights into our community collections along with our community partners and researchers.

combined booklet and banner image

Group with cake_1August 2015 – We worked with York Learning throughout the project to help adult learners explore the archives and use them as a starting point for art and creative writing. Learners on an art project explored the local history of Acomb to create a piece of public art in Lidgett Grove Church and we were invited along to the launch. A local resident even made a special cake!

September 2015 – We commissioned artist Emily Harvey to interpret the 600 responses from our ‘What Should York Remember?’ activity. She created York Panorama: What York Means to Us which is a tactile representation of how York’s residents and visitors view the history and culture of the City.

Emily busy creating the panels in her studio!

It’s a permanent legacy to the project and is available on the 1st floor at York Explore Library and Archive!

...and watching people enjoy the artwork at York Explore!

November 2015 – We finished off the project by hosting a celebration event at York Explore. City Archivist Victoria Hoyle and HLF Board Member Sue Mendus gave inspirational talks to our community partners and we all shared a drink to celebrate our success!

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So here we are in March 2016 and we have completed our evaluation report and submitted it to the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was a chance to reflect on everything we have done and think about the future.

Sarah in her final week at Explore with the completed evaluation report

Sarah in her final week at Explore with the completed evaluation report

All that is left to say is thank you to everyone that has come on this journey with us! It has been incredible and we couldn’t have done any of this without your support and dedication. We at Explore have an exciting future with new projects, partnerships and catalogued collections. You can take a look at our ambitious plans in our Access Plan. If you have any questions or comments about the project please do get in touch at archives@exploreyork.org.uk

The archives team at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

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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.

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.

A new opportunity: transforming the card catalogue

Today marks the start of our exciting new volunteer project to transfer the contents of our local history card index onto the library catalogue. The card index was created between the 1960s and 2008 and contains details of all the books, pamphlets and journal articles in the local history collection – and a lot more besides. Whilst the catalogue itself is incredibly useful, up until now it could only be accessed by people visiting York Explore. By transferring the information to the library catalogue we will make the information about our local history collection available to a much wider audience for the first time.

Piles of cards

Some of the cards after they have been sorted.

The project has taken quite a bit of planning, and given the size of the index (we think it contains around 150,000 cards!) I decided early on in the process that the best way to tackle it was by dividing it up into categories depending on the type of material the cards relate to. As our main priority is to have the local history book stock on open access when York Explore reopens, I decided that the first phase of the cataloguing project would concentrate on the cards relating to books. The work to sort the index began at Tang Hall Library last week, and is being carried out by staff as they have extensive knowledge of what the index contains.

 
Once a batch of cards has been sorted at Tang Hall, they are being transferred to Sycamore House Reading Cafe in central York for the cataloguing work to commence. Volunteers are adding the information from the cards to our library management system, Workflows, under the watchful eyes of our apprentices, Kelly and Alice, who are supervising the project on my behalf.

Volunteer working at computer.

One of our volunteers inputting details from the cards onto the library catalogue.

The great thing about working from the cards is that we don’t have to move large numbers of books around whilst York is closed – we can just match up the books with their catalogue entries when we come to re-shelve the collection later in the year. As a result, all the entries we are creating at the moment are ‘shadow entries’, and each one will only be made live once the book is ready to go back on the shelf.

Local History book stock

Some of our Local History book stock.

Today is the first of many we’ll have to commit to this work, and it will take us a significant amount of time to complete the transfer, however the end result will be a collection with much greater accessibility that there has been in the past.

 
We are looking to put together a dynamic team of volunteers to work on this project over the summer at Sycamore House, so if you are interested in helping us make our local history collections accessible to the public please let me know (Laura.Yeoman@exploreyork.org.uk). Full details of the role can also be found on our website.

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.

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.

Delving into 150 years of local Primary School history

The Gateway to History project has launched its first pilot volunteer led community research project. We’re working with Lord Deramore’s Primary School in Heslington to help them understand their history so it can be interpreted for pupils in the classroom as part of the 2014-15 curriculum.

Selected items from Lord Deramore's School Archive including a local history publication for Heslington

Selected items from Lord Deramore’s School Archive including a local history publication for Heslington

Lord Deramore’s Primary School is the one of the oldest state primary schools in York and opened in 1856. For over 150 years the school have maintained their own archive based in the original grade 2 listed building. Sadly the building is no longer suitable for the school’s requirements and the school is set to be moved to a new building on the same site. Although this move has not taken place yet, building work is underway. The original building will remain in place and its future use is currently being discussed.

The school’s head teacher, Mrs Sheena Powley, got in touch with the City Archives to get some support with the research into the history of the school to help bring it to life for the school children and local community. Gateway to History is all about engaging with all local communities and this project is a chance to work with schools and encourage children to explore their local heritage and engage with their community.

Our three experienced and dedicated volunteers hard at work at the school. From left,  Alan Bollington, Phil Batman and Roger Barham

Our three experienced and dedicated volunteers hard at work at the school. From left, Alan Bollington, Phil Batman and Roger Barham

Myself and our three volunteers went along to an initial meeting at the school in February and we were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. Since then our volunteers have been meeting every Friday at the school to create a fascinating chronology of the school’s history, packed full of unique stories ready to be transformed into classroom activities!

The volunteers have been discovering some fascinating facts about the school, including how the staff and pupils responded to local, national and international events. Between them they are all working on slightly different aspects of the school’s history and here’s a little taster of how they are getting on!

“The school logbook for 1914-1918 shows that the Great War was clearly much in the minds of the teachers and the children, with references to a Zeppelin air raid, fear of spies, food shortages and the gathering influenza pandemic. The logbook is also a work of art, written in beautiful clear ink handwriting, with delightful grammatical accuracy including the entirely appropriate use of the endangered apostrophe!” – Phil Batman

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“I’ve been working on life at Lord Deramore’s during the headship of Mr Percy Bostwick including the Second World War years. Some of the material gives you quite a dramatic insight into the context of the times. For example during the war Mr Bostwick was unable to continue working at the school because he couldn’t find accommodation for his family, which brings home what the national housing shortage meant locally. The little details all combine to make a fascinating picture.” – Roger Barham

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“It’s fascinating to see the changes in outlook through the years; earlier times being concerned with absences due to harvests, bad weather and contagious diseases, to more recent entries like in 1962; “Children excited today, American spaceship in orbit” a reference to John Glenn.” – Alan Bollington

The headteacher is thrilled with the results so far and is going to be using the First World War information to inspire her staff at the next school training day. She’s planning to transform one of the school’s classrooms into how it would have looked during the war complete with desks and costumes! The information about the school will help to teach about life during the war, and children will be contacting local people to learn more about how their school has changed through time.

Our volunteers have also been approached by several local people in Heslington who are keen to get involved with the project and share their memories of the school. Over the coming months our volunteers will be recording some of their memories and using the information to supplement the facts they’ve found in the archives. If you have anything you’d like to share with the team we’d love to hear from you!

Everyone is welcome to post their memories as a comment on this blog or feel free to send us an email at  sarah.tester@york.gov.uk.

We’ve already had some local press coverage of this project. Read the article here.