Location, Location, Location

The locations project at WYAS Leeds has been running since January 2008.

Perhaps I should explain a bit of the background to the project. Like many archive offices across the country, we have finding aids which tell the staff where each collection is stored. For small collections which consist of just one box, or perhaps a couple of boxes, the finding aid will tell you exactly which shelf those boxes are on. However, large collections are often split over several shelves or, in some cases, several strong rooms or even buildings.

As nice at it would be, it is not always possible to store a collection in one place. Take the Harewood Estate collection for example. The bulk of the collection is stored in one of our strong rooms over a run of 70 neighbouring shelves but the large maps are stored separately on a map rack elsewhere and a number of accessions which came in much later than the original collection are kept in an out-store. If someone in our search room ordered a document from this collection our existing finding aid would tell us which building the documents are stored in and whether you should be looking at the map rack or the 70 neighbouring shelves. From there we would then need to look at the references written on each box in order to find the specific document we had been asked for. As you can imagine, the first time you try to find a document somewhere on those 70 shelves takes quite a while! Being such a popular collection you very quickly learn where records are but it would be much more efficient if our finding aids could tell us exactly which shelf a specific document is on.

So, what have we been doing during the Leeds ‘closed weeks’ I hear you ask…well, we’ve been standing in front of over 4000 linear metres of shelving with clipboards and pencils, writing down exactly what documents are on each shelf. Every box, loose volume, map cabinet and roll has been recorded on a spreadsheet – rather like a massive stock check I suppose.

We finally finished the shelf surveys in August 2009. Since then we have been typing up our hand written surveys into Excel so that we can import the data into our collections management database (called CALM).

By the end of the project we’ll have more comprehensive finding aids than ever before which means we’ll be able to locate and retrieve documents more quickly. The locations database is also paving the way for our barcoding project but I think that will have to be a blog for another day!

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