Hidden treasures were discovered in the library’s small strongroom, which is hidden away behind the family history section.
The library closed in January for a month to allow the work to take place, but the schedule was thrown off course during lockdown, meaning it reopened only on Tuesday.
Chief librarian Sue Laker said she was glad to see things back in order.
‘There has been a lot of very busy work,’ she said.
‘It’s incredibly time-consuming, but very important.’
The family history room was turned into the sorting-out room. That meant the large microfilm machines had to be removed to make space, which in turn meant the library had to close.
Miss Laker said it was one of the challenges of not having a work room, because all the space was used.
‘We pulled out all the materials from the strongroom,’ she said. ‘Books, archives and documents.’
Many of the items had not been stored in a way that would allow them to last – for example standard office staples having been used, which would later rust.
Miss Laker said it was a relief to see the items were going to stand the test of time.
‘All the books are now tied up with unbleached archival tape,’ she said. ‘There are lots of acid-free paper covers.’
Boxes were emptied and documents removed from standard office cardboard folders and placed instead in acid-free folders.
Miss Laker said anyone going into the strongroom now would find it quite simple.
Gone are the piles of papers and loose treasures, which have been replaced with neat archival boxes and folders. But those items would now last.
Along the way some surprises were found. The strongroom was largely uncatalogued.
‘We found in one box marked miscellaneous a prospectus for the new Anglican Church in 1817,’ Miss Laker said. ‘That was St James.’
In the Delisles family file, a letter was found from a member of the family in South Africa to another member in America saying how glad they were that their relative was safe, after hearing from the consulate.
It was only when the library checked the date of the letter – June 1906 – that it was realised the pair were talking about one of them surviving the San Francisco earthquake, which killed more than 3,000 people in the then-young city.
‘It has been quite surprising,’ Miss Laker said.
Library staff were able to start work on the sorting in February, but had to socially distance.
The strongroom is so small only one person was allowed in at a time, meaning it was unsafe to climb ladders without someone at the bottom. Three members of staff were allowed to work in the family history room, wearing masks, but it slowed the work down.
‘It was organised chaos,’ Miss Laker said.
‘It’s nice to go into the strongroom now and see it looking clean, professional and organised.’
While this work was vital, there is more to do.
Miss Laker said they hoped to move on to phase two next year, which would see the room catalogued fully.