CAP Road-Trip to the Archives of Leeds and York

Our Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Adam James Smith, reports on our recent tour of archives in Leeds and York.

In July 2015 the Sheffield Centre for Archival Practices arranged two trips to our White Rose sister-cities, Leeds and York, to visit the University of Leeds Library Special Collections, the Marks and Spencer Company Archive, the Leeds branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Explore York Library and Archives and the York Minster Archive.

These trips helped to continue conversations which began at our launch event in May, building relationships with archives as external partners and exploring how best to facilitate collaboration. They also provided CAP members with an exciting opportunity to explore a range of very different archives, demonstrating very clearly that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all or “typical” archive.

** Leeds, 17 July 2015 **

A warm welcome from the University of Leeds Special Collections at the Brotherton Library.

A warm welcome from the University of Leeds Special Collections at the Brotherton Library.

Our journey began inside the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. This beautiful library was commissioned by Lord Brotherton in 1927 and designed in imitation of the British Museum reading room (although Lord Brotherton requested that his library be ever wider in diameter!).

Within the library dwells the University of Leeds Special Collections, by far one of the best-looking archives I’ve yet to visit. We were very warmly greeted by the Special Collections Manager, Joanne Fitton, and their Collection Engagement Librarian, Richard High. Joanne and Richard introduced us to the collections and highlighted some of their treasures. Joanne also discussed their current projects and future plans, highlighting a series of excellent open-access digitisation projects (such as Shakespeare’s First Folio) and a striking willingness to hold public-facing events and projects.

The stacks inside the Marks & Spencer Company Archive, Michael Marks Building, University of Leeds.

The stacks inside the Marks & Spencer Company Archive strong-room.

After a quick walk across the University of Leeds campus (during Graduation Week!) we stepped into a very different archive — that belonging to Marks and Spencer. Of all the archives that we visited this was the only one to boast a dedicated on-site museum, and we were very lucky to be been given a tour by Katie Entwhistle. We were taken upstairs and into their futuristic and temperature-controlled strong-room; here we saw their eclectic and ever-growing collections. Katie talked us through the archive’s role in the broader company and the extensive range of engagement activities that they offer to university students, schools and other local groups.

CAP members admire some of the collections in the West Yorkshire Joint Archive.

CAP members admire some of the collections held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Next stop was the Leeds branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, where we were once again treated to a very warm welcome (and tea and biscuits!). We were met by Fiona Marshall and Jo Fullman, who took us on a tour of the building, from the delivery point where new acquisitions arrive, through their extensive stacks, and up to the reading room where a number of exciting items were waiting for us. Before hitting the road once more we were able to have a look at historical play-bills, medieval manuscripts and 18th-century diaries — and this was just a glimpse of what this extraordinary archive has to offer!

** York, 21 July 2015 **

CAP members inside the archive at the Explore York Library.

CAP members inside the strong-room at Explore York Library and Archives.

On our second trip we were bound for York, beginning our day at Explore York Library and Archives. Here we were greeted by Victoria Hoyle, Sarah Tester and Laura Yeoman. After an introduction to the services on offer we were taken on a special tour of the recently refurbished facilities in this beautiful 1920s building (including another futuristic, temperature-controlled strong-room!).

Inside the stacks at the York Minster Archive.

Inside the stacks at the York Minster Archive.

After an hour of ‘free time’ (spent by most of us in some of York’s exquisite second-handbook shops) we finally arrived at the York Minster Archive. Co-managed by the University of York and York Minster itself, we again encountered a very different archive.

After a tour of the archive’s incredible stacks delivered by Special Collections Librarian, Sarah Griffin, we were escorted to the library — an astonishing room lined with thousands of old and rare books! Here Head of Collections, Vicky Harrison, delivered a fascinating presentation on the many issues that arise from managing and preserving an archive of this nature, detailing some of the dynamic and innovative plans for future years.

Inside the library at the York Minster Archive.

Inside the library at the York Minster Archive.

***

Though each archive was radically different, there were some commonalities. All are committed to opening their doors and increasing foot-fall, to collaborating with external partners and promoting public access. All are developing new solutions for managing, preserving and (again) accessing information.

***

CAP members with the wonderful Archivists at Explore York Library.

CAP members with the wonderful archivists at Explore York Library and Archives.

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