Monday 26 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: E is for


Throughout the lonely weeks of Lockdown and the gradual re-awakening of services, Archive staff have been diligently answering enquiries. Even during Lockdown itself, when most of our staff scattered to the four winds either self-isolating or re-deployed in essential services, there was always at least one person with a nose in a book or deciphering a document or developing a photograph. 

Due to the high number of enquiries we received during this time period and the low numbers of staff, we are still working through the backlog. As we gradually catch up, please don't be too disappointed if we take a little longer than usual to answer, we will not forget you. 

At the beginning of 2020 we changed to a paperless method of recording enquiries as around 80% now come via email. If anyone does actually write a letter, it is a source of much delight and everyone wants to see it. The last one we received was in green ink. What a treat! (we are so easily pleased...)

Each enquiry is recorded in a database and given a reference number. The enquirer is sent an acknowledgement and their number. We then record any work done and emails sent on our Enquiry Progress Report form. Enquirer's contact details are never shown on this form, they are only known by their initials. This helps to protect the enquirer's contact details which are only saved in the database. Any scans done are saved in the enquiries folder along with the Progress Report. 

There are five members of staff who do enquiries, two full-time archivists and three part-time archive assistants who all job-share one position. Sometimes an enquiry is done by just one person, and sometimes by many of us, especially when one of us utilises the "Help! I'm Stuck" category. We all have developed different strengths and interests over the years, so sometimes it is good to bring a fresh pair of eyes to an enquiry or look at it from another perspective. 

We don't charge for enquiries, but at the same time do not accept ones which will take a great long time. Some take a couple of hours research time at the most, but many can be done within an hour. When I say an hour, what I really mean is 10 minutes one day, 20 minutes another day, 30 minutes the next day all slotted in between our other daily tasks and running the searchroom. 

Since Lockdown began up to the present day we have researched and answered enquiries on the following subjects:

Place names of Swona

Photos of Copinsay

Family History queries: Reid, Turfus and Corrigall, etc

Maeshowe drawing (see below)

Undated pencil drawing of Maeshowe, archive reference D8/3/11

Helping with research for Radio shows

Orkney Piers

Witchcraft trials

James Keith of Benholm and Cromwellian Orkney (see below)

Extract from Statement made by George Monck regarding an iron box of jewels, 18 January 1654 

Old mills

Crown Chamberlains

Helping with research for journalists on articles

Councillors and council official enquiries

Vice-Admirals of Scotland

Margaret Gardiner

Stromness Footballers (see below)

A new deposit resulted from this enquiry of this photo and a small silver
medal awarded in 1915, archive reference AccNo:2819.

Scuttling of the German Fleet

Helping with research for documentary film makers 

Motor Vehicle Registrations

Old maps (see below)

Lithographed plan of the commonty of Deerness as divided, 1839
Grainger and Miller, surveyor. Archive Reference D7/2/1[F4]

Margaret Tait

Press gangs

Military history, particularly soldier's lives

Orkney's connections to the slave trade

Kirkwall Streets

Newspaper copies of particular articles or whole papers for birthdays and anniversaries

Helping with research for book publications both fiction and non-fiction

Orkney sound archives 

Help with Fereday Prize projects

and many many more...

We do love enquiries and look forward every day to learning about the contents of our Archive collections, Orkney history and what you love to research too. 

Monday 19 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: D is for


Charleston Dance Diagram by Andy Warhol 

DON'T take your partner by the hand

Keep your distance, touching's banned!

Two colleagues in the corridor!

There's not enough room on this tiny floor

First, step to the left

Then step to the right...

Then step to the left...

Then step to the right...

Then step to the left...

Then step to the right...

Laugh at the silliness of it all

Then flatten yourself against the wall

Breath a sigh that all's gone well

But wait! What's that unearthly smell?

A third colleague comes round the corner

She's far too close, quick, someone warn her!

All three dance about like fools

It's the work-place dance, these are the rules.

Oh readers, we are exhausted by all the dancing about each other in the halls! Is this happening in every workplace across the land? We were all subjected to Scottish Country Dancing as children and so sometimes get carried away and end up doing an entire (socially distant) Virginia Reel up and down the corridor. Most tiring.

Library staff downstairs have been complaining about our ceiling-quaking gallops and raucous whoops, but I've seen them doing the (socially distant) charleston when they change over at the desk so they have no power over me at all.

Monday 12 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: C is for


Every day we are open we are cleaning especially for you, dear public. Before and after each booking, we clean the table and the chair (hence the plastic chairs) and the laminated table label. 

Here is one of our table labels (it's really a sign, but table label is more pleasing to say): 

If it is red-side up, then we know that the table needs cleaned. 

We also have a sign on our public pc.

If it is red-side up we know to clean the keyboard after each use. 

We also have a signs on our Microfilm Readers 

You know the drill now...

When a surface or machine is ready to be cleaned, our desk staff press a button...

...and our small band of backroom staff are ready to spring into action at the sound of the trumpet (no boring doorbell sound for us), on the way donning disposable gloves, picking up blue paper-towels and either soapy water or anti-viral spray depending on what they need to clean. 

Soapy water is for anywhere we are likely to handle archives as it is more gentle. 

At the end of morning bookings we also clean all the touch points along the corridor which our dear public may have touched, such as door handles, the lift buttons, light switches and bannisters. 

At the end of the day our wonderful cleaning staff come in and clean all surfaces and touch points again. 

We are pleased to say that it is going smoothly and there has been no need to put up this sign yet...

See previous blog here

Monday 5 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: B is for


It is delightful to be open again and to welcome readers and researchers back to the search room. Gone are the days, however,  when researchers could just pop in on a whim to research a topic. We now ask that visitors book a research slot either by telephone or by email. You can find our contact details at the following link:


We have slightly new opening hours post-lockdown to allow for cleaning, quarantining and arguing over whose turn it is to clean the public bannisters and light switches that day:

Time slots will last for 50 minutes and start on the hour. Consecutive slots may be available if you need more time. You will be allocated a table in the Searchroom or the Orkney Room depending on your needs. If you just need a microfilm reader, these are bookable too. 


New Opening Times in Archive Searchroom

Monday                             10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Tuesday                            10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Wednesday                                             CLOSED
Thursday         10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm, 5pm-6pm
Friday                              10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Saturday                           10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Sunday                                                   CLOSED


New Opening Times in Orkney Room (Local Studies Room)
Monday                             10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Tuesday                            10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Wednesday                                             CLOSED
Thursday         10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm, 5pm-6pm
Friday                              10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Saturday                           10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Sunday                                                   CLOSED

Excess furniture has been removed in both rooms to allow for safe physical distancing. Face-masks (or coverings) are to worn when moving around the rooms, but can be removed when seated. Tables and chairs will be cleaned before your booking. 

We are doing everything we can to keep you safe whilst you read and research.