Preparations for the move to the new Library of Birmingham

2 Hours in 1 Minute Timelapse from The Iron Room on Vimeo.

The archives searchroom will close on 23 November 2012 so we can get ready for our move to the Library of Birmingham, where we’ll reopen on 3 September 2013.

Not unreasonably, some of our customers have asked why we need to close for the better part of a year just to move some boxes of papers. Well, as an archivist who’s been working exclusively on preparations for the move for over two years, I thought I should explain.

The archive collections we currently hold stretch over 16km of shelving, and comprise tens of thousands of boxes, rolls and volumes – and that’s not including our published local studies material and newspaper volumes. In order to move all our material safely (and find it again at the other end) we need to ensure that every single box and volume has its reference number written on it, and that we have recorded as much information as possible about it in our database, CALM.

Over the last four years a dedicated team has been working to enter information into CALM from our old paper records. This means that many of our catalogues can now be searched electronically, and we can easily track when, and who by, a collection was deposited. As part of this we have taken the opportunity to improve our catalogues where we can to bring them up to modern cataloguing standards. You can see some of the fruits of our work in the Archives and Heritage catalogue at

Now we are well into preparing the records themselves for transfer to the new building. We’re working with our colleagues in the Conservation Department to make sure that all papers, maps, plans and so on are in archival boxes, and that any unboxed volumes are sturdy enough to survive the move. For example, we have thousands of rolled building plans which need to be put into boxes before they can be moved, otherwise there would be a high risk of damage to them. We’re replacing older, unsuitable boxes with archival boxes (watch the video above to see our team members Kat and Eleanor replacing unsuitable magazine files with proper archival boxes). We also need to do some rearranging in our stores to get our collections ready to move, and we can’t do this while we’re open to the public. And every one of these changes is recorded, so that we can keep track of what we’re doing.

Physically moving our collections isn’t straightforward, either. Our move contractors need to build new infrastructure within Central Library to safely move huge amounts of material from the 7th floor, which has no lift access, as some of our longer-serving researchers may remember (the old archives searchroom was reached up the spiral staircase). We’re looking forward to seeing how some of the particularly large and unwieldy items will be removed from their current homes!

In addition, my small team of specialists is working on “destination planning”: what will go where in our new stores. We need to plan carefully so that we use our new space as efficiently as possible. For example, we want to house our most-used collections nearest to the door in the new stores, to try and minimise waiting times for researchers; and we want to make sure we maximise the amount of empty space we have so that we can continue to take in new collections for years to come.

We’ll be keeping you updated on our progress up to and throughout the move, and we hope to see a lot of researchers in our lovely new searchroom in September 2013!

Sarah Pymer


Featuring Eleanor Woodward and Kathryn Hall.
Produced by Brigitte Winsor.

One response to “Preparations for the move to the new Library of Birmingham

  1. Is there anywhere else in Birmingham Library system where Parish Registers can be accessed during the excessive period of closure

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