Visit to the Kent History Centre 17.09.14

The Kent History Centre at James Whatman Way in Maidstone opened in 2012 and is a purpose-built Library and Archive. The modern building replaces the Centre for Kentish Studies, the County Central Library and the Maidstone town centre Library. It cost approximately £12 million to build and accommodates around 400,000 books and 14km of archived material dating back to AD699. It is1 of 15 Libraries in Kent to offer a births, deaths and marriages registration service. The Centre has a gallery at it’s core to promote collections; the present exhibition commemorates the centenary of WWI.

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CILIPinKent’s visit took place on a sunny Wednesday 17 September with archivists and librarians from education, healthcare and public libraries across the region in attendance. The tour of the Library was led by Jan Bedford, Customer Service Development Librarian. It commenced in the main foyer where the centre has a number of themed display areas which are changed regularly.

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The most popular display to date has been ‘Staff Recommendations’. Many books on display are shelved face forward to capture the attention of visitors as they arrive. Venturing beyond the foyer, fiction is shelved alphabetically, however the categories of Science Fiction, Westerns and Crime are separate in response to customer feedback. Non-Fiction is classified using dewey and includes a Local Studies collection. The Childrens and Teen Library is often the busiest area with baby rhyme times taking place regularly and other events such as poetry performances occasionally. The Library also offers audio-visual loans, local newspapers (dating back to 1786), OS Maps, online resources and access to PCs.


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Community History Officer Mark Bateson led the tour of the Archives. Mark’s role focuses on widening participation and aims to promote resources to under-represented groups within the local community. The public reading room is purpose-built for consulting rare documents and specialist advice is available on request. History workshops, talks and exhibitions take place regularly in the Centre.

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Behind the scenes, the Archive strong room occupies 14km and contains manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, charters and volumes. The material is individually barcoded and stored by format (in order of size) in a temperature controlled environment with an air sampling system. The archive was transferred to is current location from the Centre of Historic Studies by a team of volunteers. The tour included a visit to the reprographics studio where items from the collection are digitised on request for exhibitions, events and in-house promotions. The Centre are in the process of setting up a commercial digitisation service. Their Phase One camera captures high-resolution images and is currently being used to produce a digital Maidstone United archive for an upcoming exhibition.

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The final stop on the tour was the Conservation studio on the first floor; the conservation team hold responsibility for the welfare of documents in the centre’s collections. The professionally qualified conservationists also restore documents for other organisations and are at present restoring Rochester Cathedral’s art collection for a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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CILIPinKent would like to thank Jan and Mark for a very interesting and enjoyable tour. Unable to attend? Not to worry, CILIPinKent plan to organise a repeat visit in the near future.

To find out more about the centre and to browse the catalogues visit http://www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-community/history-and-heritage/kent-history-and-library-centre

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3 responses to “Visit to the Kent History Centre 17.09.14

  1. As a non-cilip member the husband of a member), I feel that your report reads as a glowing recommendation of the Kent History Centre in Maidstone, whereas those of us who regularly used the former centre find the new one to be very user unfriendly and having many useful books no longer available. The catalogue and ordering system is not designed to attract users but is difficult to use and very time consuming. It is symptomatic of the library as a whole where two good libraries were combined to make one extremely mediocre one. No wonder the baby and teens library is so popular, it is the only part that still has any choice in books. The non-fiction is appalling, where at either of the former libraries I could probably find two hundred books on a particular subject but the new library could only offer three items, one of which was a DVD and one was mis-catalogued by an amateur who clearly had no idea of the subject.
    May I suggest that rather than relying on your guide, you actually talk to people who use the building to find out what they really think of it. I know that others who were familiar with the former setup share my misgivings on the effectiveness of the new one, our only consolation is that at least it has survived in a form rather than being closed.

    • Dear Alan,

      Thank you for your comments and for reading our blog. We are sorry to hear that you feel that our post did not offer an accurate view of the Kent History Centre in Maidstone. The post was the result of the visit we organised and attended last September. We were hoping to provide a summary of the tour that was led by Jan Bedford, Customer Service Development Librarian (for the library) and Mark Bateson, Community History Officer (for the archive), rather than to review the services offered at the Centre.
      That said, you have given us an idea there!…..it would be great to carry out an investigation on how the Centre is perceived by its users and what can be done to improve its services. We cannot promise that we will be able to find time and resources to do this. However, we will add it to our Action Plan for the next year.

      In the meanwhile, would you like us to pass these comments to Jan Bedford? Also, have you considered making your feedback known to the Kent History Centre User Group (http://www.khcarchivesusergroup.org.uk/). We believe the Group regularly meets with the management of Kent History and Library Centre in order to give users’ feedback about the archives.

      Thanks again for offering us your opinion.

  2. Pingback: Annual General Meeting 2017 at Kent History Centre, Maidstone | CILIP in Kent·

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