Monday, 19 March 2018

Explore the Past - Worcestershire County Council & Archives

Explore the Past - Worcestershire County Council
Archives and libraries struggle to reach their customers in an effective way with enough information that describes their holdings while not being altogether overwhelming.

Preparing to visit an archive or library can be an arduous task. There are so many things to consider: open times, how to register, how to get there, where to park, where to eat or where to stay. This review ties in to my future article '5 Steps to Plan Your (Overseas) Genealogy Research Trip' Coming Soon!

To help plan your visit to the UK, the Worcestershire County Council have gone one step further, creating a comprehensive tool / information kit, especially for those from a distance. They have produced a small booklet which goes into quite a bit of detail about their collections which includes offering a limited research service for a fee. The content in the guide also gives a glimpse into how to use this information for a visit to any other archive - in the UK or elsewhere.

     'This guide is intended primarily as a resource for those unable to make the long journey to visit us, outlining the various services we offer to help get the resources to you.'

Their research library holds over 20,000 books, 12 miles of collections that cover the 12th century to the 21st century. The collections include specific histories of Worcestershire the place, and it's people.

The booklet has 14 sections including: Maps and Plans; Local Studies; Evidence of Archaeology and Historic Buildings and standard genealogical tools such as trade directories, electoral registers, census and newspapers. In addition to Church of England records there is a collection of School Records and Electoral Registers. One collection that stands out is Records of the Court of the Quarter Session, Personally I'm curious about Section 7: Photographs, prints and engravings.

Congrats
The publication is well laid out and visually appealing.  Although the booklet showed 73 pages when viewed on my phone, it is important to mention that the pages are not packed with text but well balanced with images and large enough font size for comfortable reading.

The headings are large and each section is divided by a single title page. Also, I think they have done a great job with the non-technical jargon which sometimes confuses those of us who don't work in the heritage industry.

Thoughtful use of images and content, obvious collaboration between the archives staff and publisher. Even though it seems a massive publication it is a very easy read and comprehensive.

Criticisms
I used my mobile phone to go through the pages and it would be really useful to have the ability to jump to a particular section that I want to investigate instead of having to endlessly scroll.

A section that can often be overlooked (but is quite important) is an explanation of copyright and how it affects your research. Personally I felt that more could have been said with an emphasis on the legal responsibility of the user and how some collections have a caveat that the material is for research purposes only.

Where's the online content? Although I understand that this guide is meant to open up access to records that are not online, it is a well known fact that many genealogists nowadays want to see online content. Are there any specific Worcestershire records on Ancestry, for example? Are there any special indexing projects or a special emphasis on unique collections? What are their future plans for digitisation?

Any connections to the local community? Have any efforts been made to work with the local family history society or a special interest group? The website highlights 'Community Engagement and Advice' but I did not see a specific mention of either of my above points.

Perhaps a little thing that I forgot to mention is that there is a charge to download the publication, but £6.00 is not really a formidable cost, and I would like to think that spending this amount is going back into the archives somehow and not into a great big council pot.

Last page says simply 'Thank You' which is a nice touch, but adding a little more of an invitation would be more welcoming. Perhaps something like 'looking forward to meeting you' or a similar positive message.

Conclusion
It is highly recommended that any plan to visit an archive should first involve taking a look at the archive help pages, guides to collections and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). How many times have you showed up to an archive and there is a sign on the door that says they are closed? Frustrating.

This publication is very helpful as it does complement the information found on the website. Navigating to find various help guides on archive websites can be very tedious, as it seems there is no standardization from county to county, or indeed archive to archive, so this is a great introduction to the collections at the Worcestershire County Council Archives. It is obvious that a lot of work and thoughtful discussions have taken place between the archives, marketing team and the county council.

One of the things that surprised me is that Worcestershire offers a 'commercial' service to other archives including:  Cataloguing; Digitisation; Conservation; Archive Storage and Deposit services. This effort definitely shows support for the continuance and long term preservation of records in local collections. Is this the way of the future of archives management?

Lastly, I would hope that archives and county administration would take a serious look at the efforts by Worcestershire to provide the genealogy public another valuable resource to enhance their research. Do take a look!

Some archives mentioned in my blog posts:
Maritime Archives and Libraries in the UK such as: Gosport + Portsmouth, Liverpool
Hudson's Bay Company Archives - mentioned in : Hudson's Bay Company Family History

3 comments:

  1. An update from the Archives at Worcestershire:

    Our school admission registers (to 1914) are available to search and view on www.findmypast.co.uk. We would like to make more of our collections available online, and we are actively working on this – so watch this space!

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  3. In the meantime, a number of indexes to the collections are available at http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/info/20189/search_our_records
    These include a list of maps, school records, photographs, Quarter Sessions documents, absent voter indexes, apprenticeship indentures and much more. We have a very dedicated group of volunteers who work on the indexes, and we regularly add to this area of the website. Thanks!

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