Today we visited the superstar of British archives: the National Archive in Kew. They hold books, scrolls, and maps, and everything else archive worthy from British history.

I visited the archive together with my husband to look at maps of our home towns from the past. In my case, these are hand drawn maps of the colonial era Hong Kong. In his case, these are maps of Berlin and Germany used by the allied military in World War II.

If you want to visit the archive yourself to look at things, you have to register online for an account. The process is hassle-free and in the unlikely event that you do mess up your registration, the archive staff replies to emails quickly and gets you started. An interesting tidbit about the registration is the compulsory online course on proper item handling you have to pass before getting your account. It is made clear that generations of archive engineers have devised the perfect foam wedges and weights of all different shapes to fix whatever item you may want to study. Once you have your account, you can then use the online catalogue to reserve items. To do this, you need to specify your day of visit and the seat number you want to take in the reading room.

Now here comes the first tip to get the most fun out of your own archive trip: the reading room a bit crowded and the individual reading spaces are quite small. Because we wanted to look at maps, which are very large when unfolded, we requested to be upgraded to the “map room” which is a very nice room with huge tables, lots of space, and no allocated seating. This change comes however with a cumbersome procedure: all items have to be transferred upstairs. It takes a person about 30 seconds to ascend to the next floor, but in the archive world the many guidelines made it 15 minutes in archive time. And of course carrying your things upstairs yourself would be against protocol.

Afterwards there is another checkpoint at the map room. The general archive already has a rule of allowing only pencils as writing utensils and clear plastic bags to transport things, and we came prepared for that. However upon arriving, the friendly archive staff informed us that our pencil was too pointy and we would certainly understand that bringing it into the map room would put the precious documents at risk. In addition, the archive told us our bags were too noisy to be used inside the archive, as it might distract other archive users. Of course we were more than happy to be handed an archive grade clear plastic bag instead.

We arrived in the map room at the same time as our maps, and subsequently indulged in studying them in detail. The materials were impressive and we recommend everyone to go on a trip to the archive–to study the extraordinary materials and learn more about how to handle them.

   

最近我們因好奇驅使,去了英國國家檔案館欣賞他們收藏的地圖;分別是香港殖民地時代的手繪地圖,及第二次世界大戰中盟軍使用的柏林和其它德國地圖。

參觀前,須上網註冊帳戶。過程頗為容易,就算遇到問題,工作人員也會迅速回復電郵幫忙。註冊時,一個有趣的地方就是在戶口開通前您須收看及通過一個如何正確保護檔案的簡短課程。課程中提到,原來檔案館備有可供隨意使用的各種形狀的紙鎮和泡棉楔子,用來不傷文件,可謂專業。當帳戶成功開動後,您便可以預訂參觀的檔案,到訪日期和在閱覽室的座號。

因閱覽室有點擁擠,閱讀空間狹小,而因為地圖伸展後會變得很大,我們要求「升級」到地圖室,桌子較大,地方較多,沒有劃位。然而,過程變得比較繁瑣,因為所有東西都要轉移到樓上。一般來說,只需要約30秒能上下一層樓,但在檔案館的平行世界,林林總總的守則使總時間延長至最少15分鐘。如果您認為可自己拿到樓上的話—少年,您太年輕了。

之後在進入地圖室前,又遇到另有檢查站。一般檔案館的規定是只允許攜帶鉛筆作為書寫用具和透明膠袋,而我們已早做好準備。但到達後,友善的工作人員告知:我們的鉛筆太尖了。此外,我們的膠袋摩擦的聲音也太響,會分散其他讀者的注意力,故不可在館內使用。當然了,我們都十分樂意轉用他們提供的鉛筆和特製膠袋。

地圖室的文獻藏品令人印象深刻。國家檔案館絕對值得一去作參觀研究,也可乘此機會增進正確處理文獻的知識。

 

Categories: Archives 檔案館