Before we begin the answer's no.
No, I didn't steal any of the old books/files or tear out any pages! I may have a reputation for collecting and re-purposing old paper but - trust me - on this occasion I was a paragon of restraint! (And I reserve my scissor action for books I've paid for or been given thankyouverymuch.)
And now we can begin properly ...
Earlier this month James and I threw on our 'big' coats and headed out for a night in the dark as part of the 'Nightfall: Sky Full of Stars' event in the town centre as part of the annual Discover Middlesbrough festival. (You can catch up with my post about 2015's festival here). This year's event featured all kinds of outdoor light installations, which I'll share in a post of their own, but it also included various atmospheric torchlight tours of notable buildings and, nosey-vintage-paper-obsessive that I am I booked on to the tour of Teesside Archives:
It wasn't entirely dark when we arrived but by the time we'd been greeted, had an introduction, and embarked on the tour the sky had darkened and the atmosphere had begun to build. We were shown upstairs - with the lights on because: health and safety - but soon then the torches we were given began to come in useful as we were led into the rabbit-warren of corridors and rooms in a building that began life as a postal exchange.
Forgive the blurry photos, my camera does usually cope well in the dark but even so, I came away with a lot of photos like this:
- what kinds of documents are stored in the archives: eg. local business archives such as British Steel, council proceedings, housing plans, plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge which was designed and built in Middlesbrough
- and also what's involved in the preservation of the contents: eg. regulating temperature and moisture, checking for pests, having a sprinkler system in case of fire ... and having cardboard boxes that can withstand a few hours of being sprayed with water. Who knew?
And, when you see some of the amazing old volumes it's home to, you can understand the drive to protect it all.
Then from the dark (and our over-active imaginations) we were ushered into the light of the conservation room:
And, smaller still, was this light which is as thin as a couple of sheets of paper - and in fact looks like a rectangle of card until it's switched on.
Continuing the theme of 'light and dark' the curator demonstrated how light had effected a book from the 1800s:
And again ... no ... I didn't squirrel any of it away for myself. So stop thinking of me like that ... I mean it's not like I was the only person there who was taking photos of the piles of paper on her desk ... oh ... hang on ... yeah ... I was. I was the only person taking photos of paper. Oh well ... moving on ... and up ... and up:
In fact, it's latest story is that it's almost full. The archivists told us that in several years they'll likely run out of space to hold everything they have coming in and then what? Their hope is that they'll be given - for the first time ever - a purpose built archive, but in this era of local government cut backs, who knows?
Now, why does the idea of a building almost full-to-bursting, shelves groaning under the weight of so many old books and documents sound so very familiar to me? Can't imagine ...
I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes, if you want to share stories of your own experiences of archives, or restoration, or collecting old books then let's continue the papery conversation in the comments here or over at Instagram, my Facebook page or on Twitter.
And I'll whip up another post about the 'Nightfall:Sky Full of Stars' event soon.