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.
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.
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 **
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!).
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.
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.