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

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Everyone knows that moves require boxes, but moving a whole Archive Service requires a lot of boxes, and of specific types too. In our very first Store Tours vlog we pointed out the stacks of newly-arrived boxes from our first big order, but since then we've had more deliveries, the contents of which are now being put to work in boxing-up (and reboxing!) exercises across our various strongrooms. These archive standard boxes aren't a temporary transportation measure either - each will be placed as-is into our new dedicated facility, which is why we're taking such care in picking the right packaging solutions for the long term protection and happiness of our collections.

That first delivery of 1000 archive boxes took a morning's work to unpack and stow safely away in the City Central Library & Archives building, and since then we've been back and forwards taking trolleys of boxes whenever and wherever they're needed. The first sizeable chunk was moved to Store E so that our volunteers could begin boxing up the pamphlets there (a work in progress when we filmed that particular Store Tour) and further batches have already been used to rebox archive material in stores B & C as well.

Recently another 16 pallet box delivery arrived, this time containing multiple sizes of boxes to help with the packaging of archive volumes. Barely was the plastic wrap off these monolithic stacks before some were whisked up to Store E to be put to work packaging up the Minton Archive's volume shelves (again mentioned in the Store Tour vlog), something we'll hopefully cover in more detail in a future post.

Thankfully not all our box deliveries are measured by the pallet, though this doesn't make them any less important. One smaller delivery, from a specialist preservation equipment company, included a tower of archival ringbinder boxes - plus matching slide storage sleeves - alongside reels of tying tape and a whole smorgasbord of weights and cushion rests that will be used to look after archive material in our new Reading Room.

Best of all, thanks to the Archive Service's conservator we also have the knowledge to make our own boxes when the need arises! At the end of a recent volunteer manual handling training session we were taken through the process of turning some flat archival board into a custom-made phase box. These types of boxes are individually crafted for each item and, ever up for a challenge, our first application of this newly-acquired skill is to give each of the Minton pattern books their own made-to-measure enclosure... that's in excess of 500 volumes if you're wondering! 😅

Posted on 3rd March, 2023

Store Tours: Episode IV - The Solon Room

Our latest Store Tours episode is also the last in the series, as we head back down to the basement level to explore the Solon Room store. Named after Minton artist Marc Louis Solon and his personal reference library - the first collection to be permanently housed in this space - it's a small but important piece of the City Archives' storeroom puzzle here in the City Central Library & Archives building. It was designed as purpose-built library and archive storage and, as you'll see in the video, this makes it a perfect fit for the octavo, quarto, and oversize items of the Solon (and Minton company) libraries. We hope you've enjoyed watching this Store Tours series as much as we have making it for you - there'll no doubt be more vlogs in the future but right now we're going to swap camera for keyboard and get stuck back in to some old school blogging 🤓

Posted on 15th February, 2023

Store Tours: Episode III - The Balcony

After taking a moment out of our Store Tours schedule to show you the City Archives' Reading Room we're getting back down to business with a circuit round the balcony area. Situated on floor three of the City Central Library & Archives building - just next to the aforementioned Reading Room and only a couple of doors away from the Store E strongroom - the balcony houses our local studies and pottery libraries as well as part of our local maps collection. As we filmed this vlog we were actually in the midst of some survey and organisation work, so you might spot the odd temporary label or even an empty shelf or two in the video, but it's all part and parcel (pun intended!) of our prep work for the move.

Posted on 8th February, 2023

The Reading Room: A Store Tours Story

We're back with another vlog, but this time we're taking a slight detour from our established Store Tours series to focus on our Reading Room instead. Some of you may have used this dedicated space in the City Central Library & Archives building to access our local studies or archive material in the past, but as of January 2023 its now closed as our move preparation ramps up further. Although we've already started repurposing the space - see the video for evidence of that! - we thought a quick virtual tour, embedded below, would be a good way to take a very last look at what we hope was a friendly and useful place to those who visited it over the years.

Posted on 1st February, 2023

Store Tours: Episode II - Store E

In our last post we unveiled our Store Tours vlog series and then took you on a virtual wander through our two basement strongrooms, "B" & "C". Today we'll be doing the same for another of our strongrooms, Store "E", which you'll find tucked behind our Reading Room on the third floor of the City Central Library & Archives building. This is the original archive store and as such has a very different feel to that of "B" & "C", with a much wider variety of shapes, sizes, and types of material found inside - there are volumes on shelves, pamphlets in folders, maps in drawers and much more besides! Come for a walk round in our latest vlog and see what we mean - it's available at the link and embedded below.

Posted on 25th January, 2023

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