History of Our Outreach and Community Engagement – Part 1

 This blog is part of a series, which I initially said would be told as a chronological story. However, exploring this history through the experiences of those involved, has revealed that each story is important, and that we ought to represent as much of each one for some really interesting insights.

The History Van

Extract from a flyer for the History Van.

 Richard’s story: the History Van
Our first conversation took place with former colleague, Richard Albutt, who retired at the end of 2011 after 38 years service. Richard started working in the library after leaving school, but then left to do the Library Association Qualification, before returning to work in the Fine Arts department, and then History of Geography and Social Sciences. He then left to work as a Librarian at the Bourneville Art School, only to return 18 months later to take up the post of Schools Liaisons Librarian. He explains:

“that was about 1990 [but] the post goes back to the late 1970s… And it really created quite a stir when it was first set up, because as far as I understand it, it was the first post of its kind in the country”.

The Service continued to change and Richard talks about his next roles, including leading on Central Library tours, and then:

“my post changed and evolved into Community History Development Librarian… I had a greater focus on community history across the Library Services. So I’d do a lot of work, going out, giving talks at community libraries. If community libraries had a link with a local school, or a local community group, who were doing a local history project, I’d quite often take material out from local studies… and do a kind of joint talk about the area, or about using community history materials. That was a very, very positive time, and I got to make contacts with lots and lots of people outside of the Central Library…”

“And then round about that time, in the 1990s… we had funding for the History Van… which again, I think was the first vehicle of its type. It was a converted Mercedes van, which had shelves and seats on, and it had a video player, and a computer, a scanner… an early Macintosh and an Epsom scanner, which was great; built-in and powered by a series of traction batteries on the history van.”

Was this the beginning of the coming together of Digitisation and Outreach?!

“We’d go out and give talks. Take materials out, take maps, videos, series of photographs we had duplicated… the walls of the history van were lined with carpet, we would just Velcro pictures up to it. We had exhibition boards. We had an awning outside, you could pull down, if you’re out somewhere, and it wasn’t too windy; you could put exhibitions up outside, and tables and things”.

“In the summer, most weekends, I’d be out Saturdays and Sundays, going to carnivals, different events around the city, taking photographs and material out. And also, people would bring things on to the History Van. We also had a recorder as well, so we were able to do some recordings. But the computer and scanner proved to be immensely popular. And that really led to the digitisation of library resources, at an early stage, and again, it was before a lot of people were doing it.”

“So the History Van was very, very popular. But very hard work, because… I felt it was better to have specific materials relating to the area… to make them more relevant to people, about the specific area I was going to.”

So, what happened next?
Look out for the next blog in this series…

Izzy Mohammed
Outreach Officer


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