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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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