East Riding Archives


Sam Bartle - Archivist

Sam Bartle is The Archivist for Digital Preservation & Engagement at East Riding Archives. Based at The Treasure House in Beverley, the archive has documents dating back to 1129 and is one of only four local authorities that hold Registries of Deeds (a precursor to the Land Registry) dating back to 1703.

Sam talks to us about the career path that brought him back to his native East Riding and about the variety of work in a Local Authority Archive, from digital preservation and engagement strategy to covering the front desk and even dealing with floods.

The interview examines how Sam has used relatable content from the archive to engage with huge new audiences on social media. Sam talks about partnerships with other organisations, the success of the innovative AR project 'What Was Here?' and working with Max on https://picturearchives.org/

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello and welcome to the maps communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is Faith Williams and i'm joined today by Sam Bartle archivist for the east riding archives part of the local authority service would you like to introduce yourself sam and tell us how you came to be in your position yeah sure hi faith yeah as you say my name is Sam Bartle i'm an archivist um within the local authority in the east rounding of Yorkshire we're based at the treasure house in Beverly which is in East Yorkshire obviously I've been in Perth since 2007 but back in the early days i started out um flirting briefly with the idea of being an early as school teacher but after the trauma of trying to teach 30 nursery children i kind of fell back in into the archive sector thinking it was much easier to manage so um i gained some fantastic experience at churchill college in Cambridge where they have the Churchill archive centre they've got some amazing collections there supports in various publications and documentaries um securing the permanent preservation and some of his war cabinet and they've also got some some um science and technology records there as well because they advocate science and technology so collections to do with um splitting the atom work on inventing jet engine promote propulsion and groundbreaking work on particle physics so so that was a real good um you know background in archives and having started out there i did my masters at Liverpool and since then I've been working in local government so initially it's rotterham metropolitan borough council on a lottery funded project to catalogue and promote the material that they held there and then i was able to return to my roots in east Yorkshire and that's where I've remained so far i began as a collections officer where i was again cataloguing and promoting information from you know the archives that we preserve and then that role has evolved into a remit for digital in line with the growth of that sector both in terms of preservation and access so now i'm mainly responsible for the long-term preservation of digital archives in our care and also finding ways of engaging new audiences digitally through various online channels so that's included a mobile app that i innovated recently called what was here which i received a finalist nomination in our local tourism awards for tourism experience of the year and tourism business of the year and this basically gives users the opportunity to explore their surroundings and view historic images from the location where they were taken and it features heritage trails with an augmented reality camera view where you can overlay the archive image onto the present day scene and toggle the transparency to compare past with present so the platform's used as a conduit to direct users to these driving photos prints website which is managed by yourselves at max and it gives them an option to to buy prints of the images that they view so you know the success of the app and its associated website has led more recently to my involvement with the heritage alliance as well working with them on their new heritage digital project as an expert digital consultant where i offer my experiences of the project as a case study for others in the heritage sector to learn from like the positive and the negative aspects so um that's basically how i've ended up you know where i am today wow that sounds like you do some really progressive project work then yeah yeah it's all been very interesting yeah um trying to you know transform the way that people access archives yeah is that how you spend most of your time or how do you spend an average day oh well average there well um i guess the um given the variety of things i get up to it's um probably fair to say there's no such thing as an average day but generally speaking i'm always doing something relating to our various online access channels and managing the you know the digital archive or digitization of originals so i might be adding new photographic content or map overlays onto you know the what was here platform you're producing new heritage trails with one of the external partners and i'm often working with the marketing team on publicity and promotion of the online services so creating content for social media and editing and writing posts for our our blog and then there's general inquiries that i might get by email from researchers wanting to know if we have certain information in the archive or sometimes we get media companies as well who want to know if they can use one of our images or videos in a publication or a documentary so um you know the content management for what was here which i do most is that involves a geo-referencing of photographs so there's a lot of playing with google maps and getting gps coordinates you know sometimes using street view to get a look at locations on the ground um and for overlaying the historic maps i'm often using google earth to kind of align the historic map with the modern satellite imagery and yeah once you get into it it's quite an absorbing process and it's strangely satisfying you know when you're toggling the transparency of the map and you see that it lines up well with the modern cartography and i think i'm something of a map geek really i find that quite quite a fun job to do um but yeah one of the things you quickly realize when you're working on them online or digital projects is that you can build something fantastic but if you can't get people to find it you know what's the point so i'm always working on promotions in print and online to try and make our resources more discoverable and it's diff it's very difficult and i'm relying really on our marketing team and the the goodwill of the local tourism board for giving things a bit of a shot in the arm really so i'm always liaising with them you know those guys on a daily basis often you know just trying to get more leverage for what it what it is that i'm doing and then on the preservation side of things you know it might be refreshing some of the digital content onto new preservation copies you know transcoding analog material like vhs or audio cassette onto a digital format and then accessioning digital deposits and maintaining the metadata on the catalog to you know just keeping an audit trail of the material that we're preserving so um i'm basically i'm keeping a constant curatorial eye on the digital archives um probably more so than the traditional physical formats because technology is constantly changing and the information is so delicately stored and then on the moment the inside on the top of all that i can be um on call for assisting with the main front of house service desk that we have so you know being asked to give copyright or data protection advice or taking a decision on whether or not a customer can have access or a copy of a particular document and then we're also supporting the treasury house manager with various building management duties so that can be dealing with contractors who want to do some work on the air conditioning or um reporting building faults or doing fire alarm tests so um know we're called on to do all kinds of things like major customer incidents as well in the absence of the um you know the manager you know there's quite a facilities management angle to the you know day-to-day side of things which might surprise quite a few people and it surprises me sometimes if i'm absorbed in doing a map overlay and then i get called down to deal with flooding in the corridor or something of course it sounds like you're juggling lots of balls in the air at any one time yeah it can be quite varied yeah definitely yeah you've mentioned some of the um content that you deal with presumably um the the topics it's based on and how you've collected it is from the local authority so it's from the east riding Yorkshire area it is yeah it is from the striding yeah yeah that's our collecting remits anything outside it or does that go elsewhere well um we we collect and preserve the archives for the east riding of Yorkshire um the material it starts from 11 29 a.d and goes right up to the present day so we collect for um that area but obviously there are sometimes when you look over the past 125 years there have been all kinds of different boundary changes in terms of local government and so we do tend to have other collections that refer to other geographic regions so it's not quite as intuitive as you you'd um expect really and you know because for example um Beverly is the former administrative administrative center of um what they call the humberside county council which incorporated northeast Lincolnshire and much of north Lincolnshire as well as the city of hull and now these are all different boundaries and different local authorities but from that time when it was the humberside county council we do have archives you know relating to some of those areas so yeah it's a little bit um like i say counter-intuitive i guess in that sense maps are important and interesting clearly yeah i love maps yeah definitely so who accesses the collection and why what are they looking for so you've got the physical collection and then you've got the stuff that you're focused on digitizing is that different audiences well it can be yeah yeah i mean it's an interesting question because we're at a point where um it's beginning to involve evolve i think you know the access to archives with the digital age um we tend to have a core traditional service for researchers and that's focused mainly on genealogy like family history and a lot of our records like the parish registers which have baptisms marriages and burials are very name rich and these are original archives that we hurled in the repository and you know they're a great resource for people tracing their ancestors in the east riding but now we're seeing with the increase in the popularity of websites like ancestry.com and find my past and then with programs like who do you think you are you know the appetite for using our material is it's rising dramatically as particularly since the mid 1990s um you know starting out with using the originals and moving more now into the online sphere um and because of the heavy focus on the local area you know we've got records such as estate surveys valuations court records school admission registers they all shine a light on the lives of ordinary people down the centuries you know it's these ordinary people so to speak who um the family history researchers are interested in because that's their genetic link to the past so yeah we get a lot of family history researchers um both in person and remotely from all over the world and they often want to take copies of various items you know for reference and so in in that sense our core service is very much research and reaper graphics um yeah much like any other local authority record office but i would say it's it's a mix of um original and digital um but where we have mostly original use tends to be in um a huge collection that we have that's unique to just four areas in our country and that's the three historic ridings of Yorkshire that's north west and using the east and also Sussex and this collection is called the registry of deeds and for some reason i can't recall right now but um we were the only areas to have recorded or retained over time a log of all the property transactions that took place and it's this collection is basically a precursor to the modern day land registry and hours begins in 1703 it runs all the way up to 1974. so it's it's a massively detailed record of title deeds showing the property development through time i don't know if you've seen them David Olliserga's popular BBC series house through time and that basically takes a particular property as the framework our basis for a case study over time using local archives to build up a story of the lives of the occupants you know the events that occurred through its history and and some people have cottoned onto that and they've realised they can use our deeds registry you know by coming into the you know the research room and do the same with their own house and create their own story of the of their house and i think people did this before you know by coming in to consult the originals but um we've seen a slight increase since that program maybe not as much as with who do you think you are but there's certainly potential there for um you know consultation of the originals and it's far too big for us to digitize in any kind of comprehensive way and so i think it will always be largely physical access to that unless we get a major um commercial stimulus from a company such as ancestry and then if the audience begins to grow in that respect then there'd be skirt for you know more large-scale effort to create online access um you know in the same way that is happening now with um traditional resources like parish registers so i think those are our two main traditional you know research uses um we do also get solicitors actually inquiring about the deeds and that you know to make use of them in the conveyancing of properties so in that sense we've got records that serve you know a modern day business function as well you know for their evidential value in providing like an audit trail of property ownership um just thinking another evidential use is the um collection we heard of coroner's archives as well we preserve them on behalf of the coroner who's the office occasionally requests access for them on behalf of like a relative of someone who is perhaps the subject of an inquest but they keep the the access strictly um close to you know 70 year closure period um so that tends to be a yeah a much more restricted um access there but then we get you know general historical research as well so um it might be local historians professional academics or students and they all make use of what we hold for a variety of possible uses you know different subjects of interest um yeah some of them are quite obvious so you've got information about the history of the police might be a subject and then there's others that you would just never even imagined in a million years i once had someone um like a student and she wanted help to research seed pressing in the 18th century so i'll just never have anticipated that so yeah you've got to be ready for anything really um in terms of access you know people that want to use the collections um but yeah a lot of my work over the past five years um as i say has involved trying to expand the scope of our digital offer and exploring the ways of kind of reversing that tradition of encouraging users to come to us in the archive and kind of enabling the archive to come to the user so to speak so that's what's been at the heart of um recent innovations like the what was here app and website because they give like a snapshot of our archive material and place it directly into the hands of the user you know in either in the home or out into the wider world and kind of give them an intuitive mobile discovery um experience with the archives you have self-directed exploration and using it for general tourism or ancestral tourism you know family history or just formal education or you know general local interest um so there's great potential there i think for for use as a reminiscence tool and things like social prescribing you know walking for health and then also online I've created a web presence on flickr it's a photo sharing website and and again we've partnered with yourselves at max for the Easter egg inverters online print service so you know in all those cases I've um deliberately focused attention on that things like historic photos and maps you know with what was here because i think they're probably you know the key resources that um are most accessible and relatable you know with mainstream audiences you know that seems like a good place to to start in creating you know online resources that can give like more intuitive access to archives yeah i've also worked on them audio visual collections as well i've created video presentations that people now buy is a dvd and we've shared some other video content on youtube and facebook and with these i've tried to make them more appealing to casual viewing and so i've edited them down and added a music overdub in order to keep the audience's attention and that's worked particularly well in a video that someone made of the town of Beverly in east Yorkshire back in the 1960s it basically drove around the town and attached a camera to his cab on it and so i just added a soundtrack to that and it just went viral we had um 300 000 views on Facebook and then about 70 000 on the YouTube channel so you know in terms of actual visual exposure to our kind of content the online access is quite quite remarkable really obviously it's a very different form of access to the research service which is you know a much more engaging type of experience really and i'm working quite hard to get a digital repository for digital archives and that will involve an online browser which allows digital access to the you know to the archives so then we'll be able to move the research experience which is currently um you know of originals and try to move that more into the into the online world so what are your hopes for the future of the collection and digitization do you have any projects on the horizon any more apps in the pipeline well um what's at the moment i mean we've got different phases of development um for the future i mean like um we're gonna do more development on the what was here app and gonna develop more on the digital repository hopefully um so i think you know we just need to keep expanding the the digital offer and improving the discoverability of the information um i'd like to see you know the service you know the council at large you know get to a point where we're as strong as the marketing and promotion of the content as we are at the preservation of it because that really is the key to adding value to what we do i think going forward and it's probably something we need to get ahead of the curve on really the focus because your local authority archive is to engage the local audiences then i think primarily yeah it is about um engaging local audiences and then it depends really on them you know the demand for the collections because we do serve um family historians quite a lot as well and obviously they come from all over the world so in that sense we do target a global audience and in terms of things like the you know the app innovation that is very much based on a local experience and but yeah it depends really on the um on the collection as to you know who the audience might be do you partner up with other people like um schools or local museums or anything like that yeah i mean we're always trying to work with different different partners i've done quite a bit of partnership work well obviously with yourselves at max on the um east riding photos prince website um and then on the what was here app we do a lot of heritage trails that involve other um visitor destinations so there's a sooby hall and gardens that's a local tourist destination in near bridlington in east yorkshire um humber bridge country park um currently working with visit hull the local tourism board in hull um so yeah in my side of things i do um quite a bit of partnership work and then we have um a good relationship with local schools as well and have various workshops that we that we run what is so you've got items dating back from 11 29 what is your most popular item and what is your own personal favorite item oh popular um that's well that's a tough one i think the most popular item um it's very like i don't actually know what it is to be honest but it's very likely to be something family history related um it may it may well be a charter or of some description from you know one of the local towns we've got the elizabethan charter from 1538 for beverly and that i think that's been looked at quite a lot um but yeah having said all this about digital i think my my own favorite item is um i mean we've got to choose out of over 400 000 items so it's quite difficult but um i was asked this as part of an article for who do you think you are magazine last year and it's actually hard copy sets of cartoons and caricatures from the first world war and it i like it because it just jazzed with my stereotype view of the the first world war and i kind of love the humor of the images it's quite specific to the british soldier and the way he manages to kind of find amusement amid you know like the horror and tragedy you know the carnage even of of war so it got a kind of peculiar charm about them really and the backstory is is quite fascinating and tragic as well um they were drawn by someone called lieutenant Edward Moore Robson and he was from quite a well-to-do family in pocklington which is East Georgia and he was awarded the military cross for bravery at the battle of the song and then he was part of this regiment called the green howards but was killed in April 1918 which was just a few months before the end of the war and his father was a quite distinguished solicitor called Thomas Robson and he'd already lost his wife eva in 1914 and then two of his other sons who were Edwards brothers were killed in action in march 1918 like within two days of each other so you know during that period of the first world war and you know particularly that march to april of 1918 Thomas Robson's family was completely obliterated and yeah such a devastating thing and i think he had one son left so i suppose he found some solace in that but you know even so the it's is the tragedy of that mixed in with the humor of those cartoons um that just really makes it very poignant to me and when i'm asked about the collections i always think of those those cartoons very human human bitter sweet combination there isn't it yeah yeah it's quite it's quite interesting yeah and yeah really good illustrations as well really good quality well i'm personally going to check out your beverly car video that sounds fascinating we'll be another viewer for your youtube channel there yeah yeah it's um on the council youtube channel yeah they call it a drive through Beverly that's one of the videos yeah we've got the app the what was here app is there anything else you want to point people in the direction of well we have um we've just during lockdown actually we we launched a blog to kind of you know keep a dialogue going with with um our audiences so we've got new archives blog which is at www.eastridingarchives.blog and basically just going to our website there's you know lots of online resources there under archives online so it's www dot east riding archives dot co dot uk wonderful thank you so much for agreeing to speak to me today Sam it's been really interesting hearing about the different users and what they're doing with your collections i find it fascinating that tv shows are inspiring people to engage with their local community yeah i think that's been a trend quite for quite a while now actually certainly with family history so yeah who do you think you are has really driven you know the market for family history and certainly in the past 15 years i would say yeah and yeah no your digitization you are very innovative and i think that's something people maybe don't expect from a local authority archive so that's wonderful that you're being so progressive and forward-thinking yeah i mean it's what we need to do if we're going to get people to engage with um you know what what we have we need to exploit its potential yeah yeah thank you so much for your time and and i would definitely suggest that people check out their local archives if they're anything like yours yeah absolutely yeah thank you