Bradford's New Archivist:
an interview with Andrew George
(First published in 1999 in volume7,pp.16-18, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the BradfordHistoricalandAntiquarianSociety.)
Easter 1999: Andrew George arrives in Bradford to be Bradford's archivist- a post vacated on the departure of Ian Mason who took up a post in Beverley. Andrew comes to us from York via Trinity College (Cambridge), a post-graduate course in Archives at Liverpool, and posts in Kingston-upon-Thames, East Sussex C.C. (Lewes) , Derbyshire C.C. (Matlock) and Southampton City Council, where he had been since 1990.
First impressions, how do archives in Bradford differ from other places?
Parts of the collection are quite different. There are some large textile collections which take a bit getting used to, though less medievel material. Many things are much the same wherever you go- council documentation, family papers and so on. Likewise the problems of managing collections, though sample books are new to me! The overall political management of the Archive Service is also something that will take a little getting used to. Bradford is less parochial than I thought it would be. This is no inward looking mill town resentful of its lost prosperity, it is a remarkably lively outward-looking place. The rich mix of populations must help. The need to collect archives from these communities will be a challenge- one that our lottery-funded Cosmos project is designed to address.
Any surprises- nice or nasty?
I do Miss not having Ordnance Survey maps here, but finding out who has what, and where, is all part of familiarisation. Most of the surprises are pleasant ones though. I was relieved not to find mountains of unlisted archives. I know there is still a lot of work to do, but staff do have a pretty good idea of what is in the collections. I'm fortunate to inherit some very knowledgeable and long-serving staff, some of whom were in at the beginning of Bradford's archive service back in 1974. This is a huge bonus and means I start from a position of strength. That was a nice surprise! Though having moved between different archive services I know how important it is not to rely on people's personal knowledge and to get information recorded and catalogued. Maybe it is the strength of the ignorant outsider to realize what is taken for granted and what the newcomer needs to know. A fresh look if you like.
Some places operate an integrated archives/local history/museums type service. What are your views on this?
There are obvious advantages in bringing things together under one roof, but its not all straightforward. In archives we tend to operate more of a one-to-one service with our users. We need to inquire quite closely into their needs and ask the right questions since most material is in stores, more so, I suspect, than in libraries. Likewise the nature of the material is very different, it is unique, and often requires specialist handling. We also need to be on hand to help, while constant supervision of the use of the material is needed. It is not easy for us to cope with large numbers of users at once, something that libraries and museums do well. And now that more material and information is becoming available in microform and electronically, the need to go to a specific place is becoming less necessary.
Ah, Computers! Where are archives in the world of virtual reality?
You've made a good start in West Yorkshire. We have printed guides to our collections and many of our indexes are networked electronically. And there is now the Heritage Lottery-funded Archive Listing Access Project. This is a plan to improve public access to information about our collections. One aspect of this is to put many of our indexes on the Internet, and to follow this up by providing detailed entries of selected collections of regional importance. The collected manuscripts of the Bradford Deed Boxes is our particular local archive to feature. We have also put in a bid with the Arts, Museums and Library service for Image Bank for photographs. Obviously people will still need to visit us for a long time yet, but the more information we can make available on Internet, the more people can prepare in advance and some people may be able to get what they need 'On the Net' without coming here at all.
Yes, I was going to ask about your opening hours. Do you still require advance notice of visits?
Yes. I'm not saying we will refuse people without an appointment, but it does enable us to make the best use of our limited staff resources, and to give a better service to the user when they come.
Do you have any particular interests within archives?
Not particularly. I regard myself pretty much as a generalist. I'm aware that one of my predecessors here, David James, contributed greatly to local history in his books and articles, but I expect it will take a while before I determine what direction, if any, my particular contribution will be. I will certainly be out and about giving talks … and talking! and listening!!
What plans do you have?
Well, my wife, also an archivist, has got a job here, so that's one priority achieved. The next is to find a house. Looking around the area I'm pleased so see so many cricket grounds. My wife thought I might have to give up cricket but I think she may be disappointed on that score! On the work side, having worked under seven bosses, all with their different styles, I'm determined not to be too autocratic; I want staff to use their initiative. I've already visited the Central Library, the University and Bradford College, and I plan to visit many more people and places. And then there are plans to change the overall way that the West Yorkshire Archive Service is run. Nothing definite yet but I imagine I will be busy briefing councillors and others about what we are about and what we need.
Any particular problems?
Well we are not quite full up yet, but yes, car parking. Most users come by car and parking is a problem. A site off the motorway has been suggested, but one can get too faraway from other amenities. We do, after all, have good rail links and even several trains direct from London that terminate barely two hundred yards away. We are looking at whether to change our late opening day to fall in line with the other local offices- no decision yet though. What do you think?
No views, but is there anything you want from us?
To use archives and make our work worthwhile! Seriously, I want to make it known that we are here, not just as a repository, but we are here to give advice. Advice on storing archives of course, but more than that, advice on how to organise records and even what to throwaway! In this way, not only do we pass on our expertise, but we learn what there is 'out there'.
Bob Duckett is Bradford's Reference Librarian and Editor of The Bradford Antiquary.
NOTE. The hours of opening at the Bradford Archives Office are currently (1999): Monday-Thursday 9.30-1.00, 2.00-5.00, staying open till 8.00 on alternative Thursdays. Closed on Fridays.
From the New Year (2000), the revised opening hours are likely to be: Monday, Tuesday and Friday 9.30-1.00, 2.00-5.00 Thursday 9.30-1.00, 2.00-8.00. Closed on Wednesdays.
©1999, Bob Duckett and The Bradford Antiquary