Working behind the scenes
To give a little flavour of the work that goes on behind the scenes at Shropshire Archives, we asked Kevin who is in charge of production of documents from the stores (as well as being our caretaker, driver and cleaner) to describe some of his day’s work. He writes….
“I am Kevin and for the most part I work behind the scenes at Shropshire Archives.
My days start early as I arrive at 7:30am to open up. This involves deactivating the alarm and opening the many locked doors on all four levels of our building. I arrive at this time as it gives me a clear hour before any other staff members arrive and I am much more efficient in working alone first thing.
I have to manage the cleaning of our building and, in these current Covid 19 times, this requires a lot more effort ensuring that all touch surfaces are disinfected to protect all staff members as much as is possible. All public access areas are thoroughly cleaned at this time also.
I am also responsible for a lot of the maintenance of the building so this involves taking meter readings, testing fire alarms/sprinkler systems/emergency lighting etc.
That completed I look at my `to do list ` – this can vary between maintenance tasks /repairs other staff members have noted, to contacting contractors to sort specific tasks. At this time I will also begin checking items required for production , these vary from online orders from customers to written requests from other staff members either for their search requests or customer requests via email.
We have three stores, with the capacity of 9km (5 miles ) of document packages/boxes. For the most part our documents are well organised on the shelves. Requests for these items are fairly straightforward, however not all of our documents can fit within small 10.5” x 14.5” boxes .
If an item is catalogued along with similar documents but does not fit within our standard archive box then it has to live somewhere else. It would be lovely to think it could just sit on the next shelf down, however this would not make the best use of our storage capacity and we would need much bigger stores. So these `outsize ` items can live in a variety of different locations dependant on how outsize they are. This is where intimate knowledge of all three stores is vital. Yes, we have guides and pointers for these outsize items but sometimes it comes down to pure simple searching of multiple locations until the illusive item is located . This is all pre-supposing it actually made it back to its original location and has not been sent to conservation for a repair or to reprographics for digitising, (information you glean when you find an appropriate note when you finally track its illusive storage place.) A fully barcoded system will make the search process much easier but this process will have a cost attached as well as the physical task of coding each of five miles of documents !
All production items are loaded on to that particular day’s trolley and set ready for transfer upstairs to the search room. Sometimes requests can take up several trolleys and you will understand why we have to restrict to six items at a time …we would run out of trolley space otherwise !
It can sometimes take considerable time to complete one days worth of requests and then it is time to put them away and start over again. Of course in the current covid 19 situation, all documents need to be quarantined for three days to protect other customers , so this adds to logistics issues a little.
And of course I do not do production alone , I am very lucky to work alongside an extremely hardworking/knowledgeable /enthusiastic colleague and we frequently help each other on particularly tricky requests …as well as some of the huge maps that one person cannot handle ! Oh …and if the both of us get really stuck on a location of an item …we call upon one of our Archivists who with 20 years of experience at the archives pretty much knows all the secret locations of items …she is rather good at describing the actual boxes some things are in.”
We hope you enjoyed reading about some of the work that goes on to ensure we look store, issue and return documents safely. Kevin has also noted that saying we have three stores is a little inaccurate …we actually have another 4th outstore, but that is in a different building in different location so that is an entirely different blog! Watch this space for more.