– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

archive move essentials

Here’s my list of the absolute essential preparations by the archivist preparing to move the collections into a new repository – or indeed into storage and back to the old one!

  • Condition survey of the things to be moved, and priority conservation for anything likely to be damaged in the move (now that really is an ideal…)
  • Item-by-item check of every single thing against whatever catalogues there are – combined with improving the lists where possible. It’s essential to know what’s where, what’s been misplaced and what’s really missing *before* the move!
  • Proper numbering and labelling of anything that isn’t so labelled, ideally at item level of course.
  • Plan EXACTLY where each section and each box is going to go in the new repository and have a code to mark the boxes with their new bay/shelf numbers. Label the new repository clearly before the move starts. Be sure to include provision for any outsize, awkward, delicate or otherwise complicated items!
  • If you are having anyone else do the move, make sure they are using crates or whatever that will hold your standard size boxes securely, and that they won’t stack more than e.g. 3 boxes high in a crate. Identify any non-standard size items in advance and decide how to pack those for the move, individually if need be. We used 2 large sizes of ‘Really Useful Boxes’ and they were brillliant. Also sturdy.
  • When the move starts, make sure you have sealed the boxes and know exactly what’s in them, and have a checklist of what boxes go in which crate. Check in and out at either end.

In short, make a lot of lists and check them twice.

Of course, environmental monitoring should begin asap in the new building, and the move should not start until conditions are really stable and where you want them.

The move must be gradual enough that environmental conditions are not thrown out of whack, and so that you have enough time to sort boxes straight into their new place – shifting things around later is a waste of time, money and effort. Ideally, you should need to move each box only once.

These are basic essentials, not frills. The needs of historic documents are different from those of ordinary office paper. I hope your organisation will be enlightened enough to give you help, support and above all enough time to plan and carry out the move properly. Good luck!

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