Lessons from last trip to Kew

Discussion in 'Research Material' started by gmyles, Oct 11, 2019.

  1. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    I went to TNA at Kew on Tuesday and although it did go well there were a few curve balls thrown that I'd though I'd share in case you are going any time soon.

    TNA closes at 1900 Tuesdays and Thursdays. Last time I went, which was only two years ago, they were accepting document orders up to 1700. This has now changed to 1600. I was not aware of this until it was broadcast on the tannoy system at 1530. As I had only just made a fresh order of three, I had no spare capacity in the orders process to get around the problem and so I was left with nothing to do by 1645 (despite having 15 files still on my to do list) and a late return train booked that couldn't be re-arranged.

    On the positive side, pre-ordering has increased to 12 documents. But, despite it looking pretty quiet that day, all documents took between 45 mins and an hour to turn up (one took 90 mins!) and I was left with a lot of time twiddling my thumbs.

    So next time you go, may I suggest you try the following:

    If you have pre-ordered, as soon as you arrive in the reading room. order the next three straight away. And keep ordering three more as soon as each set of three turns up. I think the rule is no more than 20 in your pigeonhole. Be disciplined in your ordering and you will be fine. Also, pre-oreder the biggest ones first (if you know this) as these will naturally take longer to copy and give you more time to order more. Also opening a big file with 500 plus pages within, after you have been hunched over a camera stand for 6 hours requires a lot of determination to go on and finish the job.Better to do them when you've just arrived and full of motivation.

    That way you should always have plenty files left over at 1600 when they stop taking orders. If you don't finish them all, don't forget to scan the bar code reader by the sign asking if you have finished now and your remaining files can be returned to the vaults

    I photographed 29 documents (1800 pages). Most of which had very thin pages which required inserting a sheet of white paper behind each page to make it easier to photograph and read later. This did however almost double the time taken to photograph each page. Some of the War Diaries were very fragile and required a lot of careful handling. However, the RAF Regiment ORBs I needed were bound in books and make for easy photographing.

    If you do end up with some spare time on your hands and don't fancy the food downstairs, then bring with you a big list of RAF Flying Squadron ORBs and Medal Recommendations that you need, as you can download them for free if you connect your pc/laptop/phone etc to TNA's own Wi-Fi. They cost £3.50 each normally.

    Hope this helps

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019
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  2. AndyBaldEagle

    AndyBaldEagle Very Senior Member


    I am almost a regular visitor to Kew, normally once a month and it works out at about an 18 hour day for me from getting up at the crack of dawn and getting a late, and like yourself, a booked train home.

    I try and put in a Bulk Order which has been reduced from 50 to 40 documents, albeit with a minimum of 20 now, which must be ordered a minimum of 3 working days ahead, and will only be available for one day not two, and they have to be from the same series.
    On a previous occasion it transpires that Monday is not a working day for TNA so I could only order 12 up front, but due to it being very very quiet I was able to in fact order and copy just over 30 documents!

    I also try and go on a Tuesday or Thursday, and have one booked for next week. I noticed on my last visit that documents were taking over an hour to turn up, and as the day goes on it seems there are fewer staff about which is why documents take longer to get to the reading room.

    It has now become very frustrating that they reduced the ordering times to the same each day, taking no account of people wanting to stay later into the evening. Also they have reduced the number of seats by 72, I presumed you noticed that the room has become smaller.

    I sometimes wonder if they are aiming to try and reduce the number of people attending on a daily basis !!!!!

    Also the prices charged for food are astronomic, I do not understand how people actually pay those prices for what is on offer -

    Good advice about the ORBs and Medal Citations, I have a long list of Squadron ORBS to download.

    Best of luck on your next visit


  3. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Gents, when you say connect to their wi-fi, is there a password?
  4. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hi Tom

    It's an open network with no password required. Once on when you search discovery for stuff the cost per download is zero.

    Tom OBrien likes this.
  5. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Oh, that’s nice and simple, I should be able to manage that.


    gmyles likes this.
  6. Aixman

    Aixman WE addict

    I am in Kew since Tuesday, experiencing quite the same situation. As I was last here in March, I knew already about the reduced ordering times. Normally, I come for a week and as preordering may only be useful for the first day, I suffer in addition from the fact, that orders are not allowed before 0930, what makes ordering enough 'spare' files until 1600 even more important.
    On the plus side, I saw they now seem to open every first Sunday in from 1100 to 1600. And you are now allowed up to 24 files in your pigeonhole.

    'Astronomic' is the word. :)
    I'll be present until Thursday morning. If you like, meet me at 19E that I hope I will keep. Another change is that you have to ask the computer on arrive, where you find your seat for that day.

    No password required.

    Best of luck for everybody researching.

    papiermache and gmyles like this.
  7. Gary Tankard

    Gary Tankard Well-Known Member

    It doesn't appear the reading rooms will be open on a Sunday.

    Also, does anyone know what the new room they have carved out of the seating area is for?
  8. hutt

    hutt Member

    New Marketing department perhaps?
    papiermache likes this.
  9. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    A studio for Michael Takeo Magruder ?

    " The National Archives announces first Artist in Residence
    Tuesday 16 July 2019
    We are delighted to announce that Michael Takeo Magruder will be our first ever Artist in Residence. A renowned artist and researcher, Michael will be tasked with translating The National Archives’ rich digital data sources into thought-provoking and beautiful artworks and installations.
    With a vast portfolio of innovative art projects and proven track record in working with digital collections, Michael is well placed to highlight our ongoing work in digital development, as outlined in our new strategy Archives for Everyone. His work involves real-time data, digital archives and immersive environments and has been showcased in over 290 exhibitions in 35 countries.
    Caroline Ottaway-Searle, Director of Public Engagement at The National Archives, said: “We look forward to working with Michael to illustrate our digital assets in a way that has never been done before. As our first Artist in Residence, Michael will create a bespoke piece of art that anyone can engage with, inspiring conversations around what makes a 21st century archive.”
    The initial artist residency will start in August 2019, with Michael developing the installation concept. This will be followed by a six month art exhibition running from March 2020.
    More details will be announced later this year.
    Tags: Archives for Everyone, Artist in Residence, data, Michael Takeo Magruder "

    The stated purpose of the construction is this:

    " New learning spaces for the historians of tomorrow
    Friday 2 August 2019
    We will shortly begin construction of two major new learning spaces within our first floor reading rooms.
    One space will be located next to the library, while the other will occupy part of the existing document reading room here at Kew.
    Caroline Ottaway-Searle, Director of Public Engagement at The National Archives, said ‘This project is part of our ongoing programme to re-imagine and reconfigure our site to become a more vibrant and welcoming environment, better equipped to deliver services and events for a wider range of visitors.
    ‘These new spaces will provide us with improved facilities for children, young people, students and learners of all ages to engage with and learn about our collection.’
    Visitors may experience some disruption over the next few weeks as we carry out preparatory works, continuing as construction begins in the autumn. We will try to keep this to a minimum, but some disturbance is inevitable. The works are due to be completed by spring 2020.
    Library users may experience some disruption to services from early August while the collection is re-arranged in preparation for the construction works.
    Some books, journals and resources may be temporarily relocated but will remain available upon request. Other collections, such as the National Register of Archives paper lists, will be unavailable during this period although the register remains available to search through our catalogue Discovery.
    More detailed updates on the affected collections will be available on our library page throughout the project.
    In the document reading room, 72 seats (nine tables) will be temporarily removed, along with some camera stands. Almost 300 seats will remain available in this area.
    Several phases of the programme have already been completed, including the redevelopment of the public restaurant and the creation of a large multi-purpose events space.
    If you are planning to visit our reading rooms within the next few months, please order your documents in advance to ensure that we reserve a seat for you.
    Tags: construction, learning space, library, reading room "

    For further such gems search for "National Archives news" in your favoured internet search engine.

    There are far fewer staff in evidence, but an increase in hideous soft furnishings which are rather uncomfortable and very garish.

    In the Kew annual reports for 2016-17 the cost of " other departures agreed" , in other words, voluntary redundancies, were £264,046 for 5 individuals, for 2017-18 they rose to £991.467 for 31 individuals, and for 2018-19 they were £935,437 for 27 individuals. I feel sorry for them: staff morale is very low, from my observations and enquiries of regular visitors to Kew.

    I visit about once a month and spend a fair amount of time in the library which is well worth a visit. I usually take about 800 photos per trip in the reading rooms but I have taken so many over the years I regularly work on photos taken back in 2011 ! Much happier times then.
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  10. Aixman

    Aixman WE addict

    Today's update:
    Had the second wrong file in five days, of 78 files so far. After 10 minutes from informing them (maybe even faster) I had the correct file in my pigeonhole. Good service, isn't it?
    Only one file was 'not orderable'.

    We are complaining as we knew better times. But after all, it is a fine institution, an overwhelming amount of information, and basically for free.

    On the positive side, even if not intended so: I remember back in 2012 and later years working under constant guarding by at least two 'patrols', sometimes even more, often accompanied by a kind of 'school master' sitting constantly at a table in the now detached part of the reading room. (Maybe he's still sitting there, I'll try to check next week.) :)
    Sometimes, some very highly motivated guards (by far not all) seemed trying to find reasons for ranting at all costs.
    This week, I only got one faint rant ...
    Patrols were very rare, no 'school master'.
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  11. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    I had a wrong file a fortnight ago for the first time ( in over a hundred visits to Kew ) but it was in the series ordered and was interesting so I photoed it, handed it to the help desk, and got the correct file within 15 minutes.

    I have photographed 3000 pages in a day but it is hard going. Last time I ordered on the day at 0930 and finished at 1430 after having received 9 files and one mistake. I also photographed one book in the library.

    Unfortunately they are withdrawing the print copies of magazines and directing users to the computer screens. The computer screens are reducing in number.

    The very expensive "easy" chairs have ridiculously low seats so I couldn't use it as a London club ( not that I've got one ) but it can appear to be an oasis of calm and I appreciate that taxpayers shell out £40 million or so for a tiny proportion of the UK population that use it.

    The problems that Australian Archives have as revealed by the evidence to this year's "Tune" Inquiry surprised me. We have little to complain about compared with an Australian who orders in advance, buys aeroplane tickets, books accommodation, turns up at the archive on the day they said and finds they haven't got the files and cannot get them quickly enough to justify the trip.

    At Kew a large proportion of readers seem to be from other countries and it is often interesting to ask what they are researching. This can lead to interesting conversations.

    I remember Annie the patrol guard who told me I couldn't use a "tripod" to assist in photographing microfilm. I told her it was a monopod, but desisted anyway, since it was easier without it. I hope she is having a pleasant retirement somewhere and has found some pigeons to shoo away from growing crops, to keep her happy.

    Kew "User Forum" used to be a good place to make suggestions but the powers that be brought it to a close last February claiming that attendance was very low. To be fair, I had not attended for some time, but there were some seriously clever chaps in attendance who knew all about the process of identifying MOD records.

    If you go to the Kew website and scroll down to the "A to Z" then go to "User Forum" and you can still read minutes which deal with WW2 records and problems therewith, amongst other things. This link is to the earliest example still on the website and not moved to another "archive" website.

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  12. AndyBaldEagle

    AndyBaldEagle Very Senior Member


    I hope you will still be on 19E, I will probably be locked away for the first couple of hours as I have pre-ordered 40 WO 416 files, but if you are able to fit one in, coffee is on me!

    As for ordering, if I am booked in for more than the day, say a 4/5 day visit, Tuesday to Saturday, I put in a bulk order for the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and pre book 12 for the Friday. It normally works but I have not done any long visits for over a year now, due to finances/ hotel costs and the Tube/Train companies deciding to do work on the Saturday which plays havoc with trying to organise my trips at the moment!
  13. Aixman

    Aixman WE addict


    Will be there until Thursday, about 1130 probably. Would be glad to meet you. You seem to keep the seat as long there is enough left in the pigeonhole ..., so try 19E.
  14. ramacal

    ramacal 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA Patron

    I'm glad I don't need to travel to Kew any more (2008 - 2016), having completed my research on Dad's war time journey. I made good use of the time to help others, not able to go themselves. Met some nice people along the way. Told off by the staff once, having stood on the desk to take a pic of a large map. You had to experience this at least once, having seen it being done to others. :D

    Having read about your trials and tribulations on your current trips, it's become tedious to navigate the increasing obstacles being put in your way. Let's hope that it is still free, to visit in the future.:salut:
    papiermache likes this.
  15. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I share the same sentiments as Rob, I probably don't need to go anymore, apart from the odd visit to assist others. However, having the luxury of living so close in any case it offers me no hardship to attend.
    papiermache likes this.

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