Over the last few weeks myself, Sean and Emma have visited a number of college Archives and had a good nose around. The main aim of the visits was to experience how other archives operate and how they compare to our Archives. There were some big differences and similarities between the college archives themselves, and the University Archives. Below I have given a brief summery of the College Archives.
At Oriel College the Archivist, Rob Petre, is given the same status as the head Librarian and has a good working relationship with the Library staff, the administrative staff and the Bursar. Oriel Archives hold some very precious records (with a high monetary value if the College ever finds itself short of funds!) and documents which prove the College owns land, has certain rights and holds evidence of other legal precedents. The storage room at Oriel was purpose built a few years ago and is temperature and humidity controlled and well as only accessible when either the Archivist or Head Librarian is present. Student records are well maintained.
Keble College has not yet seen the importance of maintaining a comprehensive Archive. Unlike Oriel (and many of the other colleges) Keble has extremely patchy modern student records (1970-90’s). When these modern records were destroyed the Archivist (the only trained record manager at the College!) was not consulted. As a result, many former students and future family historians are going to be very disappointed when they contact Keble College for information. The Archive has been placed within the Library and the Archivist (Rob Petre) has to report directly to the Head Librarian. The storage area for the whole of Keble Archives is 20 shelves (four bays). I think that shows how many important records Keble could be throwing away without thinking!
Merton College and Corpus Christi College, like OUA are based in an old stone tower. This is good on one hand because the records are protected from fire and flood, but not so good on the other as the temperature and humidity are hard to control – which usually also means bad for the Archivist as well as it is really cold! A quick insight into the misunderstanding of the role of an Archive by administrative staff can be seen in an example from Merton Archives. The Archivist at Merton (and Corpus), Julian Reid, was puzzled when he kept finding new records in draws that he had already been through and catalogued. This was until he realised that the administrative staff had a key to the Archive and were freely depositing new records and extracting old ones without any communication with him. This resulted in records being catalogued more than once, or not at all, and eventually would make the catalogue system unusable if it was not stopped. It also means the records, which often contain legal and confidential information, are not held securely. Julian will soon be moving to a new purpose built archive but unfortunately is still having trouble ensuring that he is the only member of staff with a key!
St John’s College, one of the richest colleges in Oxford, have just finished building a new library/gym/halls/archive extravaganza. This includes a state-of-the-art store room (with futuristic electronic moving stacks) and a purpose built reading room and office. Michael Riordan, the Archivist at St John’s, has been involved in the design and layout of the Archive, which has been fitted with fire and flood prevention systems. The concern of the Archive being near water pipes is especially important for Michael, as his old archive storage room at St John’s had two water pipes running overhead. These bust in the cold weather at the end of 2010, but luckily the College had taken out emergency insurance for the Archives, and the wet documents were quickly frozen and slowly dried in a vacuum meaning none were lost in the accident. The new reading room is also great for PR as College Archivist and Archives are often the only point of contact local and family historians (and general members of the public) have with the College.
The only thing that really stands out in my mind about Queens College Archives is that nothing is catalogued (where it is catalogued at all) to Archiving standards. If the Archivist (Michael Riordan again) stop coming into work tomorrow I think it would take his replacement years to fully understand the records they were in charge of! And there is no space for new records (student files are currently piling up in Michael’s office making the task of cataloguing the collections even more difficult!) A new Library, with a specific area for the Archives has been promised, but Michael and the Library staff are still waiting.
So there is a brief introduction to the college Archives I’ve visited. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer them.