Taking Stock of ‘A City Making History’

Phase 1 not included as it was the recruitment phase before I got here
Phase 1 not included as it was the recruitment phase before I got here

It’s now week 33 of this project, and I thought it would be a good time to take a step back and look at what I’ve done so far. I’m going to give a recap of Phases 2-4 of the project and then talk about what I’m doing for Phase 5 over the next four weeks. Obviously the work below only represents a portion of what I do in any given week as I have communications responsibilities too, but these fit around the core cataloguing project which drives the timetable.

(Phase 1 was the recruitment phase before I got here, so is not part of my remit!)

Phase 2 – Orientation and Research (8 weeks) 

This was where I arrived and got up to speed on the history of York and the archive. It was a very useful phase that is sometimes overlooked in archive projects but has paid off many times since, as it gave me a solid grounding in the knowledge and resources that are available and that I need to be able to do my job.

Phase 3 – Sub-Fonds and Structure (10 weeks) 

Having got the gist, I then spent time working out what records I could expect to find by looking at the council, not the records. I chose to use a functional structure, instead of an organisational one, and divided the civic archive fonds into 13 sections, sub-fonds. This created the big picture overview of the whole collection.

Phase 4 – Authority files (12 weeks (+ Christmas hol))

This was not part of the original project plan because the importance of the authority files only emerged after we started. As a functional structure was chosen, another way of capturing context and provenance was required so I researched and constructeda web of interconnected authority files in our CALM database.

Phase 5 – Move and Cataloguing Prep

That’s taken us up to now, Phase 5, which is going to be a short (4 week) but vital phase to initiate the switch between the intellectual and theoretical work, and the physical cataloguing. Processing 210 cubic metres of archives would be challenging enough if it was business as usual here at the archive, but due to the art gallery refurbishment and the success of our HLF lottery bid we have to completely evacuate this building in a few months time. Eek.

So what happens to me and the civic archive? I am going to be moved, along with part of the material, to a local storage facility. Some of the collection is going further afield to conservation-grade archival storage for the rest of the year and so will be inaccessible for the duration of my project.

So what I need to do in the next 4 weeks is spend time in the strong rooms assessing the archive and carving it up into blocks of material. I also need to decide what to do to each block of material and when. A key aspect of MPLP is not cataloguing everything to the same level of detail without any thought, but instead evaluating what is actually needed in each case for better public access. Some parts of the archive (like the minute books) are relatively straightforward so can be processed first and put into storage. Other bits such as the Town Clerks series are very chaotic and will need to come with me to I can physically work on them.

Quite a challenge then, but an exciting phase as I get stuck into working in the strongrooms, applying my understanding of the council’s functions and recordkeeping systems to the physical task of evaluating and sorting material. Having a time pressure does make it more stressful, but should help me to keep on track. There will be upsets and surprises no doubt, but by this stage I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes up. Bring it on!

If you’d like to come and see the old archives in Exhibition Square before the move, we have some afternoon spaces left on our Residents Festival tours this Saturday. Tours are free and last half an hour, they just need booking in advance at any library.

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