Sometimes archives may appear to be inaccessible, or people aren’t sure how (or why!) to visit them. Many are familiar with going to a library where one is free to browse and select books in their own time. All of the books are readily accessible and users are encouraged to be as self sufficient as possible.
Visitors to historic archives are always welcomed. As Archive Assistants and Collections Managers we want everyone to explore and engage with the records and objects we care for. However, unlike a library everything we have is hidden away. This can make it hard for people to understand how to look at material.
There are many reasons for this difference. Mainly it is a question of protection and it is the job of archive staff to manage access in such a way that protects each individual document and artefact. We need to make sure that books are handled with care, and ensure that documents survive for years to come.
We don’t anticipate that researchers and volunteers are careless with our archives. It has more to do with the fact that we often hold ‘one of kind’ documents that would be impossible to replace. And we want these documents to last for hundreds of years.
Often, our documents and bound volumes might come to us after a lifetime of use on cable ships or cable stations from around the world. They might already be damaged naturally through years of wear and tear. It is therefore our job to care for and protect these important records and unique collections for generations to come.
So what is the perfect recipe for seeing what we have in the archive?
It starts with getting in touch. We can advise you on the types of information we hold, when you can come in and how to get here. We can explain what services we offer and what facilities we have to make your visit more comfortable and enjoyable.
Next we have a searchable database in the archive search room so you can narrow your enquiry to a name, place or subject title.
Once you’ve visited the archive search room you will be familiar with the protocols; such as no eating or drinking, and no pens; and you will be introduced to the ways in which you request to see items from the collection.
It’s not quite the same as visiting your local library but I think it can be even more enjoyable as you can meet other people with knowledge of the collections. You also get one-to-one support as you explore what information our vast archive holds.
We have visitors from all over the world, and many from just up the road. Some might be in the middle of PHDs and large research projects, whilst others might be enquiring about the layout of the valley or a relative who used to work for the company. Our Archive Volunteers are often found in the Search-room and are happy to talk to members of the public about their projects and their knowledge of the collections.
Our staff are friendly and happy to help if you are new to using an archive search room. You do need to book in advance before coming in, but feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the Collections Team on 01736 811 918.