Bees round a honeypot

The HiveAt a time when archives and libraries are feeling the pinch, it’s a delight to find one that’s been given a brand new purpose-built repository with all mod cons, and bells and whistles to boot. The Hive  in Worcester was opened by the Queen last month and is a joint venture between the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council. The building houses the former Worcester Record Office, History Centre, library and archaeology service, and is a godsend for researchers who now have all their resources under one roof.

The building is light and spacious with a wide central staircase rising through the middle, and is fully equipped with computers, wireless and high speed internet access. There are plenty of places to work, comfortable armchairs, newspapers and magazines, plus a great café. All this is open for over 12 hours a day. The windows open so there is good air circulation and none of that ‘new building’ feeling.

The archive area is called Explore the Past and is in two sections. One is a self-service area of microfilms and readers containing commonly accessed materials such as parish registers, old newspapers, electoral registers, etc and which also has the local studies library. The other is a restricted area reserved for people looking at original documents for which a reader’s ticket is required.

The archive staff are fantastic and give new visitors an induction tour of the facilities and are on hand to ask if you need help. There are lots of nice touches in the original documents area: good-sized plastic trays are available to keep your laptop, papers, and other personal possessions together, with plenty of power sockets, and lamps on every table. There are designated tables for examining the catalogue indexes with handy ledges above if you just want to dip into a volume. Document retrieval from the storerooms is efficient and orders are delivered to your table. One major benefit in the self-service area is the ability to use a memory stick to transfer saved microfilm images directly to your laptop.

There are a few niggles: it can get quite noisy when there are a lot of people and while it’s lovely to see children in a library enjoying themselves, certain levels of over-exuberance can disturb serious study although it isn’t a major issue. There is no barrier to entering the original document area and staff are constantly having to tell people wandering in that it is a restricted area. A simple gate and some signs would do the trick.

Overall though, it’s a fantastic resource. No wonder it’s humming.

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5 Responses to Bees round a honeypot

  1. Helen says:

    Sounds fantastic, I’m now wishing I had some Worcester ancestors! Very jealous.

  2. Alex Woodward says:

    Nice review and mostly accurate. I think you understate the noise and disturbance. When children run up and down the main staircase it can be very disturbing and there is a constant background noise resulting from the mistaken concept that an open plan archive is compatible with a public building containing a range of functions. I am not used to trying to read a document and blocking out conversation drifting from the floor below or the staircase as people go up and down. This is not the fault of the archives team, but if those further up the chain had thought about it properly they would have placed the archives above the library and enclosed the archives. More thought was needed for essential details like this, rather than peripheral gimmicks like the name of the building, the naming of the floors and game consoles. The archives team are as strong as ever, but to a degree they are let down by their new setting, which is unfair as it is beyond their control. This may be me being really picky, but a reception desk is desperately needed in the entrance area of the building.

    • Jill says:

      Thanks for your comments Alex. I completely agree it would have been much better to put the archives above the library. That would have cut out a lot of noise and enabled the search room to be separated much more easily. I really think they will have to put some kind of gate at the entrance to the original document area soon as they effectively have to use a trained archive assistant to police it which is a waste of their time and talents.

      • Chris says:

        As I understand it, barriers will not be used because the all-knowing powers that be, who do not do any of the hard work in the visitor services area, have declared that such things will discourage people from using archives and they have a flaky unsubstantiated notion of inclusiveness. If a portable waist high tape barrier system is enough to scare people away from the archive, then Worcestershire Archives have a bigger problem on their hands then they realise. It is typical of the county council. They have no clear evidence to support their claims, but will still act upon them rather than deal with the important issues like staff shortages. In their mean time the few staff available have this extra problem to deal with and users are distracted.

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