Wednesday, 7 October 2015

City archive set to move to state-of-the-art facility

Cambridge City archive, which includes records of Cambridge City Council and its predecessors dating back to the 13th century, is set to move to Ely alongside the county archive.

A report published ahead of the city council’s Strategy and Resources Committee on 12 October, recommends agreeing to the county council’s plan to move the city archive with the county archive from Shire Hall in 2016.

If this is confirmed by the county council’s General Purposes Committee when it meets on 20 October, the archives collections held in Shire Hall would move to the new Ely centre, while the Cambridgeshire Collection (library materials of local interest) would remain in Cambridge Central Library.

If city councillors agree to the recommendation in the report, the two sets of archives would remain together, as they have been since 1975, in an accessible, climate-controlled storage facility near to Ely train station.

It would be the first time that the city archive has left Cambridge. The council’s original decision in 1975 to deposit the city archive with the county archive included a proviso that the city records should not leave Cambridge.

County councillors discussed the move to Ely last December leaving the city council with a choice: to keep the archives together or find a new home in Cambridge for the city archive, potentially at significant cost to the taxpayer.

The county council reviewed the detail of the project at its own Health and Community Infrastructure Committee today.

The city officers’ report highlights the benefits of keeping the archives together which include making research easier for family historians and other researchers and a commitment by the county council to continue carrying out digital cataloguing and management tasks.

With records occupying some 300 metres of shelving, finding an alternative home for the city archive is not a straightforward option, not least because the county council has spent a considerable amount of time trying to find somewhere suitable over a number of years without success.

Any facility would need to be properly managed, accessible to the public, climate-controlled and it would need to meet other standards too. Estimates suggest that it could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to set up and potentially another £50,000 per year in running costs.

In 2014, 104 visitors went to the city archive in person and of these just 42 were from Cambridge.

Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of the Council, said: “We don’t want to ride roughshod over decisions made by our predecessors about the location of the city archive, nor do we want to see the city archive leave Cambridge.

“However, we have to be realistic and think about the costs involved in setting up a separate city facility. Most researchers also want to visit our records at the same time as the county records which are set to move to Ely, so they will benefit from co-location.

“There are no obvious alternatives in the city and the option being put forward by the county council makes sense financially because it’s accessible and the store there will be specially adapted to conserving documents.

“Increasingly the records will be available online, so that residents and others will be able to access them or browse the catalogue and request physical copies from wherever they live.

“For the city council to replicate all of that for the city archive, in order to keep it in Cambridge, would be very costly.

“I feel sure that the great majority of residents would expect us to take a pragmatic approach to this, particularly at a time when we are facing major financial challenges.”

Cllr Herbert will make a decision on the recommendations in the report at Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 12 October.