Yesterday, I attended the second meeting of Kent Special Collections, Local Area Studies and Archive Forum, which was held at The Historic Dockyard in Chatham. The meeting was preceded by a tour round the new galleries at the dockyard – Command of the Ocean, about the glory days of the British Navy and the ships that made these possible, including a ship whose remains were found buried underneath a floor at the dockyard. It was amazing to see those massive beams of wood lying there after all this time and to think about what adventures they must have seen and experienced as part of the ship. We then walked almost the length of the dockyard (quite a long way) to our meeting.
This was my first time meeting most of the people present – there were representatives from the Drill Hall Library at the Universities at Medway campus, Medway Council Archives and Local Studies Centre, and the Historic Dockyard. It was really interesting to hear about what’s happening at other archives/special collections in the area, and useful to be able to talk about our struggles at [my place of work] because it turned out that some of the problems we experience are shared by other places. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised! One particular ‘problem shared’ is that we would like to promote and increase usage of our archives and special collections but at the moment they are not properly housed or cared for (we don’t have the resources in terms of place, human beings or expertise) so we are not really in a position to have people using them on a regular basis. I’m hoping that we will be able to at least try to tackle this problem in the near(ish) future, but it is a bit of a long-term goal at the moment.
Norma from Medway Council shared information about projects going on there: the archives and local studies collections are due to move next spring so they are in a bit of state of limbo at the moment, but they are still putting on exhibitions – the next one starts on 30th June and is about the ‘Men of the Medway Towns in World War One’, focussing on events that took place in 1916 – the Battles of Jutland and the Somme.
The meeting was an excellent way to get to know about other archives and special collections in the area, and we decided that it would be a good idea to perpetuate this knowledge by gathering together information about our archives and special collections into some sort of document, preferably one that be accessed online. Amelia from the Drill Hall Library is going to try to collate this information together and make it available. In addition, we all agreed that it would be good to share projects – if we all happen to be working on the same topic we can try to work together and share resources so that we’re not duplicating ourselves.
The meeting was followed by a visit to the Dockyard’s archives and library and reading room, which was a lot bigger than I expected! It was a very interesting afternoon and really good to meet fellow special collections people. We are not alone!