Accessing Archvies

On Tuesday 29th October 2013, I went to the Herbert Gallery to enquire about doing some archive research on the cinema industry in Coventry. I have been interested in the cinema industry all my life, being a daughter of a cinema proprietor. Coventry was famous for having such a booming cinema industry in the 20th Century.

So, I entered nervously to find an elderly man with glasses sliding down his nose (pretty much the epitome of an academic really!). He wasn’t very welcoming and I felt as if I was being a nuisance: I have never been to a local archive before and was completely unknown as to what to do or expect. He asked me what my purpose of looking at the archives was, like just having an interest wasn’t a viable excuse. It is no wonder why people don’t want to go to see archives if they leave feeling like how I did. Nevertheless, I went on the database to look at everything that was ‘coventry cinema’ related. There were lots of pictures and lease documents. However, I noticed a ‘chiefs log book’ for the Gaumont Palace cinema (Odeon) in the mid 1960s. I decided that I would like to see this; it could have hidden stories within it.

I asked the archivist if I could return on Thursday to see the documents, which he said yes, took my name and said I would have to bring identification on the day. That was fine by me.

So I returned Thursday 31st October (yesterday) and said that I had ordered the cinema documents, to which the same man asked whether I had a name card (???) I was completely unsure what he was talking about. Apparently you need one of these so they can keep document of who looks at what and when, which seems fair enough to me, but it seems that there really is no clear instruction as to what the process is to use an archive service. I was made to feel less of an academic but an absolute amateur.

Never mind, I asked whether I could take photographs and he said it was £5 for the first 5 pictures and then £10 thereafter. I thought this was quite frankly, ridiculous. I don’t have a problem making a donation to keep the archive alive, but to pay £1/shot which could mean that people online could access what I have more freely, just seemed crazy. We are in an age to share information, but I guess I am being naive in thinking that this doesn’t come at a price. Then again, archives are paying companies to digitise their contents, not the other way round.

Eventually, I just decided to quietly look through the books and copy passages I found interesting…

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