30 years on!
This month, our Archives Manager, Mary McKenzie, looks back on changes to the archive service over the last 3 decades. She writes…
“It is 30 years since I joined Shropshire County Council as the Senior Archivist, Modern Records in September 1990. The archive service was then called Shropshire Records and Research and included Shropshire Record Office based at Shirehall, the Local Studies Library in the main Shrewsbury library building off Castle Gates, and the Shropshire Victoria County History team who were also based at Shirehall.
My remit was to build on the work undertaken by my predecessor Ruth Bagley, who had become the Head of Records and Research, to survey the records held by Shropshire County Council and prepare for the establishment of a Records Management service. I also acted as Senior Archivist supporting the two other Archivist posts who managed the public service and searchroom.
Our accommodation at Shirehall was far from ideal with a very small searchroom accommodating just 12 people. If people wanted to see large maps they saw them in the work room surrounded by new accessions. Although the basement store had a reasonable environment for records, the upper store had windows each side with only thin blinds to keep out the light and heat, so the temperature and humidity varied immensely. Andrew, the conservator at the time, said the space was more appropriate for growing tomatoes than storing archives!
In terms of technology we had two shared word processors/computers which worked with very complicated DOS based software. This was before the launch of Windows based software, and most catalogues and letters were still typed up by a typist and then checked.
By the time I joined the service, it was recognised that a new site for the archives was needed and plans came together quite soon to develop the site off Castle Gates where we are now. In preparation for the move, I remember spending a lot of time sorting through records of Shropshire Council teams with a large proportion going for destruction. We also took the opportunity to re-locate everything in a more logical order than it had been shelved at the Shirehall, partly due to lack of space. Even then, we had a small band of dedicated volunteers who were very important in helping us prepare for the move.
The new building was opened in 1995. I then took on the role of Cataloguing Services Manager and we set up a Records Management service in Shirehall in the accommodation we had vacated. When Ruth Bagley left in 1997 to take on a senior role in local government in the south west, I became Head of Records and Research. The service was renamed Shropshire Archives in 2004.
Looking back, it does make me realise how far the service has developed over the years – technology is perhaps the most obvious change, but I think we have also changed in how we respond to customers in a more welcoming and inclusive way. When I moved to Shropshire, I never imagined I would be here for 30 years, but I am very pleased that I was able to make my home in such a historic and beautiful county, and work with such amazing collections and a great team of colleagues.”