An Archivist without Archives

As you know Derbyshire Record Office is now closed to the public until further notice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  At the beginning of this week we had hoped that record office staff would still be able to go to work and be able to spend lots of time working on collections to improve access to them once we re-opened as normal.  Unfortunately, this has not proved to be possible and all staff are now working from home with no access to the collections.  Several staff have joined a rota so that someone is still regularly accessing the building to undertake essential maintenance tasks such as monitoring environmental conditions in the strong rooms to make sure we can keep the collections safe even though the building is empty for most of the time.

So, the question becomes if we don’t have access to the archives and local studies collections, how can we all still continue to work?  It is far from ideal, but there is actually a lot more we can do at home than you might imagine, and we will be keeping you updated about what we’re working via the blog.

I’m now on my third day working from home, and although I can’t give you a long list of things I have achieved, I’m going to take the risk of suggesting a long list of things I would like to achieve, and rely on our followers to keep me on track by seeing how I am getting on.

The first thing that will be a priority for us is answering email enquiries.  As we can’t access the collections, the hard copy indexes and some other systems that require you to be on site, we can’t answer all enquiries as fully as we would normally be able to.  However, we can still access a lot of information via the online catalogue and a couple of other backup systems.

That brings me on to the second thing, which is working through the collections information that is currently not available to the public via the online catalogue to make sure that it is – this includes a lot of work that several volunteers have been working on and can now be edited for publication. There is a lot of work to do on this front, and it is something all the staff are working on during the closure period.  For the time being, we can do the preparatory work but only publish the information online was we are back in the office because of the way the system works.

In terms of improving the catalogues, for a while we have discussing how we can make the collections more searchable and accessible through the use of indexing.  You may have noticed that the Local Studies items in the catalogue are indexed by name and place, and can link through to other items with that index term.  This is not currently the case for the archive items.  In particular, I hope we will be able to create detailed index files for all Derbyshire parishes so that where an item is indexed you can see full information about that place (e.g. which poor law union it was in, which local authority was responsible before 1974, etc.).  Actually indexing the catalogue entries is not something we can currently do at home, but the prep work will make it more useful when we do.

Similarly, we (though not me) will be looking to create similar index files for individuals, families and companies.  Such a task is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge as it will never end, but it would be great to start having some collections indexed by name.

Depending on how long we are working from home and the extent to which we can access the systems, I would really like to make lots of improvements to the catalogues that are published so it is clearer how much material is in a collection, what the covering dates are, whether there are any access restrictions to the material, identifying who the creator of the archive was (or is).

Having said we don’t have access to the collections, as we have taken in various digital records recently, I am able to access at least some of these without being at the record office, so I am hoping to spend some time developing our digital archive procedures further, to make the material more accessible and streamline our processes of taking receipt of the records.

Finally, I shall be spending some time developing our offer to schools and making more content available to them for when they need it.  Of course, there are still plenty of children and teachers at school as well as lots of parents home schooling, so I will be looking at what resources we can share with them sooner rather than later to support them in exploring new ways of learning.

What have I missed?  Lots, perhaps that’s enough to be getting on with for now, especially as we don’t know yet how long we will be closed for.  Of course, a lot of this would be easier with access to the collections, but we certainly have enough work to keep us busy and we hope you will see some positive changes to come out of this awful situation.

We all be sharing our experiences on the blog so at least you should have some relief from any boredom of being stuck at home.

Take care and stay safe everyone

Preservation volunteers are go!

Back in May I mentioned that we were looking for preservation volunteers to help us clean and package the Calke Abbey archive – I’m happy to report that we now have two very dedicated volunteers who come in every Thursday afternoon.

 

Our volunteers in action

Our volunteers in action

Linda recently retired and was looking for a volunteering opportunity that would suit her interests, when Derby Local Studies Library suggested us. The fact that our current project deals with the archive of Calke Abbey is an added bonus for her, as she lives near the house and knows it well. Jennifer joined in order to learn new skills and because she has a passion for history and genealogy; she’s very pleased she can now help preserve the past.

We’re extremely grateful to both for all the work they’ve already done and will do in the months (even years!) to come. As you can see, there’s enough room for two more volunteers to join the project, so if you think this is something you might be interested in, you can find more details here.

 

That 2039 rule in UK copyright law: a recent example (Or – What a 19th Century Feminist Looks Like)

We have been working with some new volunteer cataloguing assistants in the past few days.  One of them, Roger, listed what turned out to be a fascinating and eclectic assemblage of 18th to 20th century documents which were transferred here from Derby Local Studies Library in 2001.  Among them is a short essay by one Joseph Shepherd, entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Thoughts on their Position in Society”.  Continue reading