The landmark millennium building for the east of England is a stunning example of 21st century design. Known as the Forum, it houses the tourist information centre, a cafe, a pizza restaurant, a learning centre, a shop, a city college, the Norwich project that assigns people with paid employment, BBC East and the 2nd Air Division (USAAF) Memorial library. It is also home to the most popular library in the United Kingdom.
The Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library opened in 2001. It was built following a tragic fire in 1994, which destroyed the library and the Norfolk Record centre attached to it. Many items from the local studies were lost and signs of fire and water damage remains evident on some items.
The Norfolk Library and Information Service has 47 branches, which includes the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. About 75 staff work here. The three level library is home to the Norfolk Heritage Centre, which includes the library’s vast local studies collection and duplicate records from the Norfolk records office. I met with Rob Mitchell, second floor manager (Heritage Centre and Business Library) and had a chat with him, followed by a tour of the Heritage Centre Space and behind the scenes stack area. Rob is keen to get all ages interested in the Heritage Centre and making it a welcoming place for people to come to.
Arriving at the second floor, to the left, researchers will find the Business Library collection and may use the available computer resources. To the right is the Heritage Centre. In front are storage lockers and a large reference desk with three staff available to assist with both business library and heritage related queries.
Local and Family history related titles available for loan are also located in the business side.
The Heritage Centre includes about 8 computers and a number of microfilm and microfiche readers. A reference collection includes items such as Debretts peerage and some of the visitation series dating from the late 1500s . Material from the neighbouring country of Suffolk is also included in the collection.
Cabinets hold an array of resources on microfilm and fiche including census and local newspapers. Current newspapers are microfilmed; hard copies are not kept due to space restrictions and to comply with the long term practice to do this.
Folders of material copied from the Norwich Records Office include traditional popular items. Material on microfilm include parish registers and records, wills and other probate, poor law and workhouse material, some manorial material, school records, monumental inscriptions, archdeacons’ and bishops’ transcripts and cemetery records.
Time constraints meant I was unable to visit the Norfolk Records Office, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is considered a four star archive service. Researchers can visit this facility about 20 minutes away. It holds wide deposited collections from a huge number of record creators, whether they be local public or private bodies, Diocesan records, Dean and Chapter records, deeds, estate maps, manorial records etc and has a vast manuscript collection.
Back in the Heritage Centre, finding aids located against the wall include topics such as Tracing the History of your House, Probate Records, Census Returns, Irish Ancestry, Military Ancestry, Guide to Ancestry Library Edition and more.
The reference collection does not reflect at all the huge local studies collection which is actually stored behind closed doors in a humidity controlled environment in electronically controlled compactus.
The collection is not completely catalogued but in consultation with staff, researchers may request access to items in the collection. Proof of identification is required for this access. About 19,000 items were lost as a result of the 1994 fire. Of these, approximately 16,000 items were identified and indexed.
The collection includes council minutes, newspapers, local biographies, parish magazines, oversize stock that may include for example art works, ephemera and broadsides, political and parliamentary subjects, sale room catalogues, electoral registers, prints, acts of Parliament, ephemera and, a very large photographic collection managed specifically by a photo administrator who also manages Picture Norfolk . Unfortunately I was unable to meet with her today. A significant portion of this collection consists of a large photo survey of local places photographed in the 1950s.
The Centre is also custodian to other Special collections including the Colman collection. Jeremiah James Colman of mustard fame was based in Norwich and was regarded as a bit of a social reformer. His personal library from the Victorian era is now held here. It consists of subjects that interested him including sociology, local environment, local history, art, music and literature. There are strict conditions for access to this collection.
The Norfolk City Collection is also highly valued but rarely accessed probably because most of it is in Latin. It was collected by local clergy as part of a library that would be available to other visiting clergy. It has only recently been catalogued.
I was privileged to also see the Wycliffite “Boleyn” Bible from the late 1500s believed to be owned by Anne Boleyn who came from the local area.
Rob also showed me the oldest item in the collection; the Norwich Apocalypse from the 12th century. This is a portion of the bible which was beautifully transcribed and illuminated by a monk.
Yes I had to pinch myself that I was actually standing in a public library!
I also met with Liz who is employed as an archives specialist (one of two) by the Norfolk Records office but based at the Heritage Centre. Her role includes assisting people with their queries including a regularly advertised drop-in time during the lunch hour. About 40% of queries are family history related; other queries may be related to house history. Liz also organises training sessions for starting family history. Currently a program named “Spring Heritage Hours” includes regular lunch time talks and ”ask an archivist” specialist research clinics.
After lunch I met with Claire the community librarian for local studies who having worked there since before the fire could not only paint for me the big picture but also talk briefly about some of the other history related projects including the Norfolk Sources Project where a number of resources have been digitised. Reminiscences collections consists of kits and packs available for loan to individuals and community groups. The library does not generally hold in-house reminisces sessions although they did do one year during the time of the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations. Claire also informed me about their project, still in planning stages, to acknowledge the World War 1 centenary.
Before I left the building I was honoured to visit the 2nd Division (USAAF) Memorial Library, established to honour the friendly invasion of the American Air Force during World War 2. This library includes items relating to the 2nd Air Division, American Life and Culture.