Restricted Access Update

As of today our research service has now been temporarily suspended and, whilst e-mail enquiries remain open at [email protected], our ability to answer new queries will depend on the accessibility of any related material. For more on the reasons why these changes to our service are necessary we'd recommend our recent "Getting Our Docs in a Row" blog post, which covers the changes taking place in our stores.

Posted on 27th November, 2023

Store Tours: The Clone Tours - Store E

It's been about ten months since we released our series of "Store Tours" videos here on the blog, each one providing a behind-the-scenes look at our strongrooms and other secure areas just as we were about to embark on the major move tasks that have been keeping us busy ever since. All that work means a lot has changed, and so we thought it was time to revisit some of these spaces for an update, starting (a little out of sequence, due to some ongoing organisational work in our basement strongrooms!) with a return trip round Store E. In the vlog below we've included a small, retimed version of the original store tour in the top corner so you can easily see the differences, but the original is also only a click away, should you like to see the changes in a back-to-back style instead. However you compare them, it's great to see the progress made 😊

Posted on 20th November, 2023

Upcoming Changes to our Remote Services

In a few weeks' time the scope of our research and enquiry services will be changing. Our last blog post showed how we've started organising our collections to make the upcoming move go as smoothly as possible, but all this movement of material between our stores means accessing items for research and enquiries is becoming more difficult. With this in mind, from the week beginning Monday 27th November 2023 our research service will be temporarily suspended, and our ability to answer enquiries will depend on the accessibility of any related material.

Posted on 10th November, 2023

Getting Our Docs in a Row

With our packaging work forging ahead (more on that in a future post) we're now able to begin organising our collections for the smoothest move possible in the new year. As viewers of our Store Tours series will know, some of our collections are spread across multiple strongrooms in order to make best use of the space available, but in our new store at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery we'll be able to have everything laid out together and in reference number sequence too - lovely stuff! However, to avoid both re-locating and re-organising our archive material at the same time (🤯) we've decided to use the modern racking in our basement strongrooms to help get everything in order in advance.

Our first task has been to create a buffer of clear space in store "B" so that we can rearrange the shelves to mimic the storage setup we'll be moving into. This has involved temporarily relocating some archive material into the adjacent store "C", but as this strongroom is also pretty full we've utilised some of the pallets left over from our many archive box deliveries as a temporary storage platform - from empty boxes to full ones! Having made this space, the plan is to now fill the shelves in "B" in sequence, slotting items in from our other strongrooms where necessary. All this work helps bring our archive material together, primes it for the move across to the museum, and means we can further rationalise our collections storage to save even more space... perfect for all the new accessions we're looking forward to receiving in the future!

All this movement of material - temporarily between our two basement stores and more permanently from our third floor strongroom to our new shelving sequence - will make accessing certain collections in the lead up to the move very difficult, and the material affected will also change on a regular basis too. Although we'll be keeping track of all these changes we'd rather not disturb things any more than is necessary, so in the very near future we'll also be announcing a small change to our current status which will narrow the scope of our remote enquiry service slightly.

Posted on 1st November, 2023

Last Accessions to the Library

Back in February of this year we processed the last major collection to be accessioned here at our City Central Library location. SD 2012, as it's now known, is a collection of 77 Methodist baptism and marriage registers from churches in the north of the city - including Baddeley Edge, Fegg Hayes, and Smallthorne, for example - and we couldn't let it slip into the safety of our strongrooms without capturing the moment for posterity.

Of course, we were still very much aware that interesting items wouldn't stop being offered to us simply because our move preparation tasks had begun, and in a few exceptional circumstances this has meant taking in items which the depositors were unable to keep for us until our 2024 re-opening. Wherever possible however, we've worked with anyone who's approached us with a view to donating or depositing material to place these accessions on hold until the move is complete - and this has included requests from within the City Council too. One such example, which we received a few months ago, related to items held in Hanley Town Hall, a building only a few streets away from the City Archives. Because of this close proximity we were able to organise a quick in-person visit, where we helped pick out the volumes and papers of interest to us here at the Archives. These are now awaiting the completion of our move when they'll be transferred to us and, along with the items from the rest of our on-hold approaches, will be part of the first batch of material to be accessioned in our new location at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery!

Posted on 10th October, 2023

Coming Soon to a Museum Near You

If you're visiting The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery over the next few months you might spot the freshly screened-off area down on the lower ground floor, just behind the temporary exhibition gallery and close to one of the entrances to Violet's Cafe. Behind these panels our new Reading Room is currently under construction and, as it's the most visible part of the work to bring the City Archives into the museum building, we thought it would be good to use this temporary wall space to let passers-by know we're moving in, and where to get more details about our arrival.

With help from our contractor we've been able to add a series of colourful information panels which help explain why the area is currently sealed off, what visitors can expect to find here when the space reopens, and to provide links to the microsite where all the latest information on the move is published. You can also peek past the QR code displayed in the door's window to get a behind-the-scenes look into how things are progressing!

Posted on 23rd August, 2023

A Timeline of the Move Update

We're very excited to share the news that construction work on our new archive store and reading room commences this week. As a result we now expect to move the archive collections in January 2024 and reopen as early as we can in 2024. This means our original homepage timeline needs updating, something we thought we'd flag up here on the blog along with a quick explanation as to why this shift has occurred.

While the Archive Service team has been busy packing up our collections the wider project team has been doing all the necessary preparatory work to make the move possible, including appointing a contractor to undertake the construction of our two new spaces and a racking supplier to install our specialist archival storage. Having completed their important assessment of the new strongroom location and after liaising with both the Archive Service team and the National Archives, the contractor has recommended that the current space be damp proofed, an additional process which affects the timing of the move. As you can imagine we've always been keen to reopen as soon as possible, but preserving our archives safely for future generations is our absolute priority and this recommendation comes from the contractor's understanding of the value of our collections and the importance and scale of the work being embarked upon. For the time being this extension will not affect our remote enquiry service, which we'll continue to offer for as long as is practical to do so, but we'll update our current status and the blog whenever this is about to change.

Our Updated Timeline

  • November
    Reading Room is open for bookings
  • December
    Some access restrictions apply
  • June
    Construction begins at PMAG
  • January
    Disruption likely as the archive moves
  • Spring
    The relocated Reading Room opens

This longer period of restricted access also gives us an amazing opportunity to expand our previous strongroom survey work into a once-in-a-lifetime "stock take" - the first full reappraisal since the archives opened in 1998 and, for our local studies and pottery libraries, since the City Central Library opened in 1970. This will involve addressing preservation needs, sorting and preparing uncatalogued collections, catching up with backlogs in both our library and archive collections, finding more appropriate homes for objects and publications with no relevance to the City and North Staffordshire, and better familiarising ourselves with our many collections.

In short, we'll be making the most of the extra time we've been given, and as a result there'll be more collections added to our online catalogue and, after the move, more collections ready for researchers to consult in our re-opened reading room!

Posted on 30th June, 2023

Our Strongroom Survey Says...

Back in August 2022, when the archive service and Reading Room were still operating as normal and before this microsite even existed, work on the move had already begun with a series of store surveys - one for each of the secure areas we would later cover in our Store Tours vlogs. The purpose of these surveys, undertaken by a few members of the team as an extra task on top of their everyday work, was to generate a comprehensive snapshot of the move-readiness of our collections, building on our existing strongroom management spreadsheets which document every collection we hold, its extent (how much room it takes up on our shelves), and where it is currently located.

Starting these surveys so early on gave us an important time advantage that's been key to much of our subsequent work, most obviously in how much groundwork could be laid before the period of Restricted Access began and the rest of the team were released from their usual workloads. Starting as soon as possible also allowed precious extra time to analyse the data and, even more importantly, to properly plan each of the subsequent move-related tasks. Making a little bit of breathing room for ideas and solutions to bubble up to the surface is always going to be a good thing, and combined with the survey's overarching view we've been able to apply these to multiple collections at once. Having completed these surveys and digested the findings, the resulting decisions and actions are now making a big impact on our move preparations.

On a practical level, the survey's assessment of each collection's current storage state has allowed us to pick out any packaging in need of a transportation-ready upgrade. If you watched our very first Store Tours vlog you might remember that we touched on how the packaging requirements for regular strongroom storage differ from those needed for safe transportation, and over the last few months items within each of our stores have undergone these improvements in preparation for the move - improvements that will also make the material in our collections even better protected once they're shelved in our new facility. (A rather neat added benefit!)

As well as making things move ready, the shift to standardised shapes and sizes of archival box has allowed us to safely store our individual collections more efficiently and to utilise our current shelving more effectively, giving us some much-needed temporary space in which to order and arrange our collections in advance of the move (and no doubt benefiting our future strongroom space too!). This packaging and repackaging of our collections - all directly informed by the surveys - has also made it possible for us to bring together parts of larger collections that, for reasons related to size and space, had previously been spread across multiple strongrooms. The most obvious example is The Minton Archive collection, which despite its name actually comprises material from over twenty different companies, Minton and Royal Doulton being the two largest by physical size. Through our consolidation work all of these companies' records - including the Minton pattern books we featured in a recent post - are being brought together into a run of newly-cleared shelves in basement store "C".

For our archivist the strongroom surveys have made it easy to ensure that all our collections are correctly and clearly labelled, and to zero in on any of our older accessions in need of a bit of extra identification to bring them up to modern standards. Also captured as part of the surveys was our historic accession backlog, much of which has been formally added to our list of collections and, most importantly, is now ready to move. 🥳

Posted on 18th May, 2023

We Built This City (Central Library)

During our recent pamphlet packaging-up work - which, incidentally, got a mention in both the Store E and Solon Room Store Tours - our volunteers discovered a wonderful booklet produced by Stoke-on-Trent City Council to mark the opening of the City Central Library on the 10th December 1970. Although there's naturally no mention of the Archive Service - long-time readers will recall we opened our doors here in 1998 - a reference to the "local studies department", where this publication would've originally been located, appears in the opening pages. Nice!

Despite being relatively slim there's plenty of information packed inside, beginning with an explanation as to why a new, modern, central library is needed and giving some useful facts about the new facility. There's a comprehensive breakdown of what can be found on each of the six floors, photographs of stand-out areas, and a fantastic inclination to get into the nitty gritty details. Thanks to this booklet we know exactly the type of cladding used on the exterior (Westmorland slate on the long elevations), how the building is heated (hot water coils embedded within the floor slabs), and even what types of lighting can be found inside (How futuristic do "reflectorlite fluorescents" sound?!). There turned out to be so many snippets of interesting information like this that we couldn't possibly have covered them all in a single blog post, so we've gone the whole hog and digitised the booklet in its entirety instead. Hit the button below to download a copy and check it out for yourselves!

Mention of the library's construction also jogged our memory back to the Bentley Slide Collection and a quick search turned up a pair of photographs taken in April 1968, two years before the official opening. In the first, taken looking roughly north-west, you can see the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (then known as the City Museum & Art Gallery and much smaller than it is today) in the background and in both images the mass of reinforcing bars waiting to be cast within the concrete foundations of the new building are clearly visible.

And that's not all! As luck would have it, around the same time as our volunteers were working through the pamphlet packaging the local Sentinel newspaper happened to illustrate one of their articles with a photograph of books being delivered to the new library building. With their kind permission we can include it here on the blog along with another two photographs taken during the build process, one showing the semi-completed structure clothed in scaffolding and the other a close-up of the front entrance under construction. Thanks again to The Sentinel for these!

Posted on 14th April, 2023

How To Make a Custom Phase Box in Less Than 3 Minutes*

In our last blog post we finished up by writing about our recent box making training, and where we'd be putting this new-found skill to the test first. With a couple of shelves of Minton pattern books now complete and our designated box makers fully limbered up, we thought it would be fun to film the creation of a custom phase box and share it with you all. As the process takes a good amount of time - usually between fifteen and twenty minutes - we've sped things up a little, but not so much that you shouldn't be able to make out the various stages of its construction.

* Of course, the only way to make a custom phase box this quickly is through the magic of video editing: this particular box took exactly 16 minutes and 3 seconds to build in real time (plus a bit extra to cut the large archival board down to size, and to label up the completed item afterwards). There's no rushing to be seen here, just the care and attention required to create a safe, secure, long-term enclosure for each volume.

Posted on 29th March, 2023

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Check out the The Moving Blog Archive where you'll find all of our Moving Blog posts in one handy list.