Thursday 23 September 2021

Changes to our Service

Written by Gary Brannan, Keeper of Archives

As the autumn rolls in, it’s time for a new academic year here at the University of York. We’re pleased to say that we’re able to make the following changes to our opening times and services here at the Borthwick, as of the 27th September:

  • Onsite access to archives and microfilm resources remains Monday to Wednesday (9.30 - 4.30); but with extra researcher space, longer appointments, & improved document and resource access.

  • Introducing morning and afternoon appointment booking slots.

  • Additional microfilm research space and the reintroduction of self-service microfilm retrieval, plus self-service access to hard-copy searchroom documents.

  • Bookable access to the ESRC Safepod.

  • Resumption of paid research services, including elements of previous transcription and translation services, as part of a wider suite of services aimed at serving our remote research community. This will also involve new virtual consultations to solidify dedicated service for researchers who might never visit the Borthwick.

The pandemic has touched all of our lives in different ways, and we at the Borthwick are no exception. From our enforced onsite closure in March 2020, to the development of the York COVID-19 archive; to the various openings/closings through late 2020/early 2021, we have had to adapt to the pandemic’s impacts repeatedly over the last 18 months. 

The above changes have significant impacts - they more than double our daily onsite researcher capacity based on our pandemic-era occupancy, and means you can see the same number of documents each day as you could pre-pandemic, too. Changes in national guidance related to document quarantine mean we can now be more responsive and produce documents more frequently; and also reintroduce self-service for our microfilm resources and open access to our lists, indexes and onsite library resources.  

So - why aren’t we resuming our former five-day service? That’s a good question, and we wanted to be totally open with you about why that may be, as our experience is very common over the whole of the archives and special collections sector. 

Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a marked and sustained increase in remote researcher demand and onsite demand for resources for teaching. In terms of remote researchers, this has led to long turnaround times for enquiries and reprographics, with our searchroom team becoming stretched to deliver services. We’re committed to taking a data-led approach to our planning, and so we thought we would share some of this with you.

Over the last quarter of 2020-21 

  • 227 onsite research visits (91% of our COVID-capacity); but 22,631 virtual visits to our online resources, leading to 401 income generating requests and 1,661 enquiries to the searchroom team. 

  • enquiries increased by 47% on the previous quarter,  77% increase on the same reporting period 2019/20, and 38% increase on the same reporting period 2018/19.

  • Most of these enquiries are about our remote services such as document copying, as opposed to visiting us here onsite. 

We also know from our data that on average 38% of our weekly researcher spaces were used pre-pandemic. Our offering at 3 days per week still provides more onsite research spaces per week than we needed pre-pandemic, while allowing us to ramp up our services for our global offsite audiences who may never be able to visit us here in York.

How big is the global Borthwick user community? We know from our web data that it has increased by over 50% since March 2020, with just short of 30,000 users in well over 150 countries around the world. Crucially, this increased online use is sustaining, with over 2,300 non-York users of our online catalogue in August 2021 alone. 

Beyond this, the archives and special collections research climate is changing, with a general move to an expectation of remote access and delivery via digital means by the research community, a change that was in evidence pre-COVID but one has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Changing the balance in this way also means that we can offer new opportunities in the future for volunteering, engaging with our collections, and designing new services which can help connect our global research community with the archives in our care. One thing remains certain, however - you’ll alway be able to access our archives onsite, for free, to get your hands on crucial pieces of our national story and undertake your research, whether it’s a large academic research  project or the crucial building blocks of your own family story. We’re looking forward to going on that journey with you.

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