Barnsley Archives moving with the times

Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, based in the Discovery Centre alongside the Experience Barnsley Museum, have had a busy year. Not only did we achieve a long-term ambition – of bringing all of our collections under one roof for the first time, but we also achieved it during a global pandemic. David Blunden, Local Studies Librarian, tells us more.

Having all the collections together had been a long-term goal since the service was formed in 1987. The then newly formed Barnsley Archives team inherited collections that were stored in numerous council offices and libraries across the borough, partly due to the legacies of local government reorganisation in 1974, which created Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council. This was never going to be an ideal long-term solution to the preservation and care of the records, due to the risks associated with having documents in multiple buildings and not having specialist staff on-site to monitor conditions. This was sadly highlighted in 1991 when a fire at Goldthorpe Library damaged many of the archive documents that were stored there.

Goldthorpe Library after fire. Outside of building with blackened walls. Firefighter standing next to the building with ladder to first floor and fire hoses on the ground.
Records were salvaged by the archivist after the Goldthorpe Library fire in 1991

Slowly, over the next 20 years, the number of storage areas was reduced and the remaining stores were fitted with appropriate shelving and access permissions. A regular programme of preservation and sorting by staff was also introduced. This allowed collections to be identified and boxed using archival quality boxes. These would withstand fire and water damage for a limited time, to protect the records in the event of an incident. Until 2012, the Archives and Local Studies team were based in the old Central Library in Shambles Street, but despite having a large searchroom for the customers, the storage areas for archives were unsuitable and full to capacity.

Former Council Offices at Brierley, large historic building with gardens in front.
The former Council Offices at Brierley – partly used as an archives store until the late 1990s

A major advancement in collection storage and customer service was achieved in 2013 when new stores were created in the basement of Barnsley Town Hall, as part of the opening of Experience Barnsley Museum and Discovery Centre. These were the first state-of-the-art stores for Barnsley Archives, and included fire and water leak detection systems and air-conditioning which maintained a consistent temperature and humidity recommended by British Standards. Due to the improved standard of the new accommodation, we were awarded Place of Deposit status (which allows us to hold official public records such as court and hospital archives) and Accredited Archive status from The National Archives. The new store also more than tripled the amount of collections that customers could request immediately, in person, and also enabled Barnsley to bring back local documents that had been held by Sheffield Archives since the demise of the South Yorkshire County Archives Service in 1986.

As a result of the project, we were able to reduce the number of external stores across the borough down to two, and then to one following the creation of a temporary store in central Barnsley in 2018. Archives staff then started work on preparing the collections for their final move, which was due to take place in early 2021.

Preparing for the move

Planning for the final move took place from late 2019. With well over 10,000 boxes and volumes, it was vital that a collection scoping exercise was undertaken before the move took place. Staff were therefore required to painstakingly survey and label every item to reacquaint themselves with collections that had been in storage and uncatalogued for many years. Unfortunately, 2020 turned out to be a year which no one would have imagined, and this exercise had to be temporarily paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the lockdown, staff continued working on other aspects of the project, including the logistics of the move. The fit-out of the new strongroom was completed in October 2020 and the collections were finally moved to the Town Hall in January 2021.

Shelves full of documents and boxes, all with labels, ready to be moved.
Records were labelled before the final move to the Town Hall in 2021

Looking towards an exciting future

We’re really looking forward to the future. Now that all the collections are stored in the Town Hall, staff can work on collections that they have never had chance to focus on in the past. This will include sorting, re-boxing and cataloguing collections, and selecting items for conservation. We will also be able to better support funded projects such as the Eldon Street High Street Heritage Action Zone. For customers, it means that there is a greater choice of collections to view, a faster, more efficient service and more collections being made available on our online catalogue. We look forward to discovering some fascinating items in the future and sharing them with you in person and on social media!

New archives store, with hundreds of boxes neatly labelled on shelves.
The new strongroom has shelving for boxes and large items
Find out more about Barnsley Archives, including our opening times and how to get in touch with us on the Barnsley Museums website. 

You can also keep up to date with the work we're doing on the Barnsley Archives and Local Studies Facebook page.
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