An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950

Nearly 40 years ago, the record office purchased a small bundle of letters primarily sent to Charles Kay Ogden, the founder of the Orthological Institute which was concerned chiefly with the development of Basic English. 

Cataloguing volunteer, Roger Jennens, has recently listed all the letters and here he writes of the rich observations they contain from a librarian working at in north Derbyshire around 1950 . 

The writer of the letters, Dora Axon of Buxton, returned to work in 1948 following the death of her husband.  A qualified librarian who had previously worked in Manchester, she had not been in paid employment during the fifteen years of her marriage.  She was appointed to a post at Whaley Bridge library but in the interval before that library was ready to be opened she was asked at short notice to assist at the library at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  At the time this was a busy centre for library provision in north Derbyshire, including a mobile library.  Dora Axon records her enjoyment of the work: she found every one of the staff welcoming.  Perhaps her assessment of the library users has a hint of condescension:

The borrowers are not bad – all kinds, but extremely friendly with just two or three intelligent ones. The library is a meeting ground for all the villagers and there appears to be no rule against talking, which everyone does, out loud. We never “shush” then as we used to do in Manchester; it’s awfully funny and delightful.”

Dora Axon was impressed by the mobile library service:

Extract of letter from Dora, 28 Sep 1948. Ref: D2313/2/58

She was, however, hopeful that she would not be required to go out on a round:

Some rounds are terribly hard going: the issues reaching 700 a day and  a handful of special requests that all need looking up and securing for the next call.

Early in 1949 a branch library was opened in the windowless basement of council offices in Whaley Bridge.  The library was open from 2pm to 8pm daily, with a half-hour closure at 4.30pm. The new provision soon proved popular: the initial book stock of 5,000 volumes was soon increased to 6,000. In the first few weeks 800 readers were registered:

They clatter down the stairs at 2pm prompt and only reluctantly do they clatter up at 4.30pm and 8pm. …  They are a nice public, the “Whaleys” from labourers to professional men, from country women who call me “luv” to nice middle-class “ladies” and from nice laddies of 14, (we don’t cater for younger), to university and college students. 

Dora Axon was kept busy, particular on days when no assistance was forthcoming from another library:

All my nice borrowers apologise for troubling me and some offer to help.  360-500 issues a day; new readers to enrol and help; a postal service to attend to and all the ordinary routine work – it would keep 3 staff occupied at all times and it’s all supposed to be done by one!

Before long, mindful of the potential impact of winter weather on her daily bus journeys between Buxton and Whaley Bridge, and reluctant to remain working in a basement Dora Axon applied for a post at the library in Buxton.

Whaley population has lapped me up and will, I know, be sorry to lose me.  And I shall never again have such congenial borrowers, nor such  a splendid collection of books, every one asking to be read.

Next time: Dora describes her experience in Buxton.

See the new catalogue in full under reference D2313.

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