With over 160,000 records, and with the collection growing all the time, the Royal Society archives are full of material documenting the history of science. Space is at a premium in our central London location, so what to do when the collection outgrows our available shelf space?
Well, one option is to store material offsite. This is the route we’ve gone down at the Royal Society, with nearly 10,000 boxes kept in an underground location in Cheshire, which operates both as an archival storage location run by Deepstore and the biggest salt mine in the UK. Our offsite records are in good company, with the National Archives and the Wellcome Trust also storing their material in the mine. When the opportunity arose to visit our collection in Deepstore, the combination of archives and heavy industry was too intriguing to miss, so my colleague Kat and I took a trip up north to find out more.
As Deepstore are neighbours to a working mine, all visitors are required to be kitted out with full health and safety gear, including hard hat, goggles, belt, mask and lamp. Coincidentally Kat and I are both granddaughters of coalminers, so we were in our element. I was expecting the spaces to be claustrophobic, but the cavernous scale of the operation means that you never feel penned in. Deepstore’s section of the mine comprises a maze of caves covering the area of 700 football pitches.
As well as plenty of room to spare, the mine offers perfect conditions for archives and records. The mine has consistent temperature and humidity levels, and is naturally free from the hazards of flooding, vermin and light. Surfaces have been levelled off to better accommodate huge racks of shelving, and there are full-scale underground roads for the heavy vehicles necessary to shift goods around. Sparkly crystals glitter in the gigantic salt pillars which support the ceilings.
The Royal Society has a mixture of material in Deepstore, from archival treasures to semi-current business records. Some of the Society’s recent operational material is kept for a set period before being securely shredded. Other material is part of the Society’s archives, and can be recalled (with a week’s notice) for researchers to study in our Reading Room. Our online catalogue tells researchers if archive material is kept onsite or off. If you’d like to look at something which is held offsite, do get in touch with the Archives and Library team first and we can recall it for you. And in the meantime you can rest assured that our offsite records are safe and sound underground!