First look: Inside York Explore, the new central library and archive

Open to all… the York archives
4 Jan 2015 @ 9.39 pm
| Entertainment, News

New year, new start – that’s certainly the case for Explore York Libraries and Archives. After breaking away from the city council to become a mutual society last May, the new service opens its flagship building on Monday, January 5.

YorkMix got a sneak preview of the new combined central library and city archive. And it is an undoubtedly great new asset for the city.

New beginning

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Click to see a bigger image. Photographs: Richard McDougall

Chief executive of Explore York Libraries and Archives Fiona Williams said the reopening was a watershed moment.

“When we left the council in May, we only had a month and then this place was closed.

“In a way it’s Explore’s real beginning. This is our flagship – it does 60 to 70% of our business in terms of both book loans and income.

“It’s so wonderful to be at the point of reopening – people have missed us so much.”

She aims to double the number of library users from 1,600 a day to 3,000.

Community groups will be encouraged to use the library in the evening before it closes at 8pm, Monday to Thursdays, for everything from poetry readings to Spanish classes.

What’s changed

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The makeover has given the listed building a cleaner, lighter feel. The parquet floor has been levelled and re-laid.

The ground floor still holds the main lending library, including both fiction and non-fiction books and DVDs. The children’s section has been refreshed too. And there’s a bigger café with a new menu.

The first floor archives and local history section is where you’ll notice the big changes. The archives reading room is through a glass door.

In the main room there are new tables with power points.

Some of the desks – created from old butchers’ blocks – can be raised and lowered hydraulically.

You can copy pages from books and documents directly onto a flash drive via a ‘Bookeye’ scanner. Or you can copy documents using your smartphone.

Prices for copies start at £1 per image, with daily, weekly and annual licences available from £10.

There’s also a new, dedicated family history room with computer controlled microfilm readers which can again copy documents via USB. It boasts a mezzanine meeting area.

New café and shop

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A new counter, a six-cup coffee machine and a proper oven have all been installed in the extended café.

With 60 covers in the main café area, and more space in the reading room (modelled on the one at Rowntree Park library) it will be a popular hang out. The furniture is from Ikea and looks fresh and modern.

In charge of a team of five at the café is Jason Bailey.

He was a salesman before training as a chef ten years ago. He ran cafés in Poppleton as well as York City FC’s catering – his stepfather still runs the Pitchside Bar at Bootham Crescent.

The ambience in a library will be different, Jason says:

“There’s a great atmosphere. You get such a mix of people.”

He says he will be adapting the menu in response to his customers.

“We’ll see how things progress. If people want more hot food we’ll look at that. We’ll learn a lot from the first month.”

There is also a small shop area, selling book related items from local history books to magnifying glasses to bookmarks. This will be expanded as time goes on.

From the menu

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Latte £2.10 / £2.50
Cup of tea £1
Pot of tea £2
Hot chocolate £2 / £2.50


Slice of cake of the day £2.25
Tray bakes £1.75
Gluten free cakes £2
Scones £1.80 / £2.50


Sandwiches £4.95
Soup of the day £3.50
Oven-baked potato £4.50
Yorkshire platter £6.95

The new archive

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Fiona Williams checks one of the city’s historic charters in the archive store; the state of the art condition controlled store; the archive reading room. Click to see a bigger image

Found inside a gold box added to the top of the library, the purpose-built archive store contains the documents which chronicle York’s history.

Including the city’s first charter from 1155 and a letter of condolence from the aldermen after Richard III’s death, the archive has moveable shelves to increase storage space and is temperature and humidity controlled.

You can now access the archives four days a week. You don’t have to make an appointment but it might be best as the archives can get busy.

The plan is to make York’s archives much more accessible.

“Now we are starting the activity plan – getting the people of York in, working with community groups and individuals and making it so everybody understands it’s their archives.”

– Fiona Williams

The library and archives in numbers

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The view from the York Explore roof. Click to see a bigger image

Cost of the project: £2 million
Grant from Heritage Lottery Fund £1.57m
Grant from City of York Council: £517,000
Staff in the building: 43
Volunteers recruited: 70
York history books in online catalogue: 6,000
Size of archives: 300 cubic metres
Archives hold: 1.5 miles of historic documents
Archive reading room seats: 12 people