York opens flagship library and archives following a seven-month £2m refurbishment

The £2,091,127 project has transformed the internationally important archive from its overcrowded and damp previous set-up into a warm and welcoming store and reading room for the Archive, and has allowed the Local History library and Family History centre to be refurbished.

The building has also undergone essential repairs and conservation to its original parquet floor and slate roof, as well as getting a much-needed heating upgrade and new toilets.

The previous conditions placed historic documents, including the city’s first charter dated 1155 and its letter of condolence after the death of Richard III, at risk. Space for visitors was very limited, with staff, volunteers and researchers confined to a single room while school visits and other events were almost impossible.

Fiona Spiers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players the future of one of the UK’s most important city archives has been secured and its new home means even more people can access over 800 centuries of information about York and the people who live here. We are proud to support this project.”

The 802-year-old City of York Charter

Coun Sonja Crisp, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: “Now the Archive has the city centre home that it deserves, thanks to £1,574,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a further £516,927 from City of York Council.

“It makes such a difference! The modern store holds a mile and a half of historic documents in a precisely controlled climate on electronic shelving. The documents have been catalogued, packed into acid-free boxes or tissue and relabelled to make them easier to find and use.”

Not all of the city’s 300 cubic metres of archives will be available to view straight away as work to catalogue and preserve the material continues throughout 2015 and subsequent years. However, the city’s core civic documents and community collections have been prepared in advance. You can find out what is available and when on Explore’s website.

Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist said: “This is a fabulous new beginning for the Archives. The grant from the HLF and ongoing support from the council have allowed us to create these new facilities, which give us the capacity to vastly increase the number of people who can discover and enjoy York’s history while also preserving the collections for future generations.”

The Archive reading room seats 12 researchers and can also be used for family history classes, school visits and volunteer projects. Both it and the Local History library are equipped with new state-of-the-art scanners so that visitors can instantly save copies of documents or books that interest them.

Justine Winstanley-Brown, Project Archivist: A City Making History

More than 6,000 printed books and maps about the history of York and surrounding area have also been catalogued and can be browsed online and onsite for the first time. They used to be stored in a ‘stack’ – now converted into the Family History centre – and could only be found using a card catalogue index. Now they are on display for everyone to explore.

Family historians will still be able to search through microfilms of local newspapers, burial registers and workhouse records, but now they will use touch-screen digital microfilm readers and save their results to a memory stick. Ancestry.com and the British Newspaper Archive are also available to use for free on library computers or using WiFi.

The Local History library and Family History centre will be open seven days a week at the same times as the library, while anyone can visit to look at original documents Monday-Wednesday 9.30am-5.00pm and Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm.

As well as undergoing essential repairs to the structure during the closure, the cafe has been refurbished and refreshed, providing more tables. The children’s library is bigger and the non-fiction and reference stock has been moved around to create more quiet spaces.

The York: Gateway to History project continues throughout 2015 with a programme of events and activities to encourage as many people as possible to experience the new Archive.