During all of the seven years that I’ve wandered the corridors of County Hall I have never visited the County Records Office. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it is because it is somewhere the public go rather than being just an office, or maybe I just have not found an excuse. As if I need one!
Carpe diem, as they say around our way, and so I stuck my head in the door and explained how it was my first time there. Normally in such situations I am met with something between intrigue and mild disinterest but Gill was delighted to see me. She took my visit as an opportunity to explain what they did down there, in what I have always known as the Archive. Just like ICT they are located in the basement. She saw in me a future advocate and it was as Stephen Covey would say, a win win situation.
She showed me the public areas with the map reading tables and microfiche viewers. We then went to some of the more restricted areas where things of real value were conserved, old books rebound and material digitised.
I must admit I do not get hung up over the digital versus physical archiving argument. Digital formats have not been around long enough to know that they will survive. Somethings are better kept on paper, or vellum.
Gill then took me to some of the strong rooms, which were temperature and humidity regulated and where some of the really old stuff is kept. I got to handle a book from 1652, a parish register, yet the oldest document in the collection is from 1122 around the time that the cathedral was built. In total there are five miles of shelving in this cornucopia. You could spend several lifetimes and not run out of interesting things to look at.
I never knew there was so much down there. It is clearly a valuable and valued information source. Gill went on to tell me about the work they did supporting other parts of the organisation and its partners. It was a fascinating visit.
I’m so glad I stuck my head through the door.