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.

IMG_2107

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.

20140905_161426

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!

20150716_110850

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!

IMG_1154

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

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.

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
DSCF5395

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!

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.

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

Old dog, new tricks

Hello all, it’s Justine again. I signed off at the end of last year as my role of project archivist was coming to an end, but a permanent vacancy came up  which I successfully applied for, so here I am again wearing my new 2014 hat, Archivist (Civic & Public Records)!

Our new Archivist for Civic and Public Records, yours truly. Sadly there isn't actually a hat...

Our new Archivist for Civic and Public Records, yours truly. Sadly there isn’t actually a hat…

I still have responsibility for finalising the civic archive catalogue to make sure its ready for our service reopening at the end of this year. If you’re on twitter you will have seen that the volunteers are progressing well with the physical processing and finding lots of interest. Next I’ll have the interfaces and collections guides to work on,  to make sure we have useful resources ready.

Eileen and John used a whole 100m roll of tape to wrap volumes one day last month.

Eileen and John got through an entire 100m roll of tape wrapping volumes one day last month.

These days however I’m no longer in my project bubble but have other duties around the service. My job is to make sure that the civic archive is accessible, that public records such as coroner’s records and court records are cared for according to Public Records legislation, and to support the front of house team with enquiries.

As well as preserving and improving access to the civic and public records we already have, I’ll also be making sure that we  acquire today’s council records to form the civic archive of the future. I’ve always really enjoyed capturing the continuity between records types and council functions over the centuries, and am very chuffed that I get to keep working with these records of local life and democracy.

This is what CYC does today, and we need to capture for the sake of history

This is what CYC does today, and which we need to capture for posterity.

I’m also going to be doing more communications work this year, I will be speaking at a number of professional events for archivists including the ARA 2014 conference in Newcastle, which I’m very excited about as it’s the major UK national conference for archivists.

Disseminating the lessons of the City Making History project was always our intention, so it’s great that we can share our insights with other archive services. Hopefully it shows that theoretical approaches and ambition don’t just come from major archives, but any repository can contribute creatively to the bigger field.

So expect to hear more from me on civic and public records, now that I’m up to speed on my new job. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts by Sarah, the new Community Collections and Outreach Archivist, and by Victoria, 2/5ths of the City Archivist. On Monday our new Public Services Manager starts, so we’ll get her to introduce herself once she’s settled in a bit.

We have a lot of behind the scenes work to do this year, so come along and stay in touch with both the obvious and the not so obvious.