Exclusive look inside Hunts new �4.6million library

ALMOST one million records charting Huntingdonshire s progress from the Middle Ages to the 21st century will be transferred to their new home in Huntingdon s �4.6million library in two months time. When the records move into a purpose-built temperature-

ALMOST one million records charting Huntingdonshire's progress from the Middle Ages to the 21st century will be transferred to their new home in Huntingdon's �4.6million library in two months' time.

When the records move into a purpose-built temperature- and humidity-controlled records centre on the upper floor of the new building in Princes Street, they will comprise the first local authority archive service in the United Kingdom to have its archive collections managed wholly by computer-controlled barcodes.

The move from the old records office in Grammar School Walk, along with the library's move from temporary accommodation in Dryden House at the other side of the town's ring road, will take around three weeks - during which both library and records office will be closed to the public.

The new facility, with around 50 per cent more library space than the old building, which opened in 1971 and closed two years ago, is expected to become fully operational in late May or early June. But the public will be able to try it out on a couple of preview Sundays in the meantime.

Contractors are putting the finishing touches to the state-of-the-art building, which will be handed over for fitting out early in April.

Members borrowing items from the miles of new shelves will mostly use a radio-frequency identification system to register their loans, although this can also be done manually, said Mike Hosking, Cambridgeshire County Council's director of community learning and development, during an exclusive tour of the almost-finished building for The Hunts Post. The system has been trialled successfully in March Library.

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In the children's area, youngsters will sit, read and learn on carpeting designed from the Green Knowe stories of Hemingford Grey children's author Lucy Boston, who died in 1990, aged 98.

The new building will not be just about traditional library activities, such as books, music and reference, there will also be meeting rooms available to the public, a caf� and a small theatre-style lecture room upstairs for up to 60 people. Also upstairs will be the records strong-room and an integrated archive and local studies area.

"Those activities overlap so much that we thought it right to put them together," Mr Hosking said.

The new library and archive centre will include irreplaceable manuscripts, including Huntingdon's earliest town charter of 1205, Oliver Cromwell's baptism entry in the Huntingdon St John's parish register of 1599 and the fragile Victorian glass plate photographs of people and places in Huntingdonshire taken by the local photographers Maddison and Hinde.

Currently, these items are held in the archives office on Grammar School Walk, in ambient conditions in a building that is far from ideal for ensuring their survival.

The new strong-room, in which records will be kept in tracked racks for easy of retrieval, "meets stringent national standards for keeping archives, which demonstrates Cambridgeshire County Council's commitment to preserving Huntingdonshire's written heritage for future generations," a Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said. The archives will take up a mile of shelving from day one.

"Every year, thousands of people pore over the books, maps, documents and photographs in the collections, whether they are researching their family tree, the history of their house, school, local community or any one of a huge variety of other research topics. Access to the all the resources will be free."

The project has taken two years and has attracted national attention, including visits from archivists elsewhere in the country and approval from the National Archives in Kew.

Local studies manager, Christine May said: "I am very proud that the new library and archive centre is leading the field. I fully expect other record offices to follow the lead set by Huntingdon.