National Railway Museum Archives

Behind the scenes at the NRM lies a vast railway archive and library, holding a unique accumulation of knowledge about the history of the railway.

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Search Engine is the new name and the new space for these important collections. Ten years in the planning, the NRM’s Search Engine project fulfils a dream to bring the hidden archives of the museum into the light and open up a wealth of resources to the public for the first time.

Heavier than the Flying Scotsman

Relocating the entire resources of an archive of world importance was no small undertaking. Especially since everything had to be moved twice – into temporary storage and then into its final location.

The total library and archive collections weighed 180 tonnes, 22 tonnes more than the Flying Scotsman. And the range of material was very diverse, from early engineering drawings to photographs and glass plate negatives, from sound archives to railway posters, rare books and company records.

Harrow Green’s past experience of handling major library and archive collections was vital in ensuring a seamless understanding of the needs of the museum. It was important that the museum continued to function throughout the move, so work was timetabled to minimise disruption and intrusion into exhibit space.

Into store, out of store

The phased relocation meant cataloguing, sequentially packing and moving the entire library and archive into four temporary offsite locations, including environmentally controlled facilities – and then back again into the museum’s new information centre. The Harrow Green project manager worked closely with the Archivist, individual collections managers and site management to plan methodologies, responsibilities, access and risk assessment.

As well as specialist handling and packing of valuable, fragile and irreplaceable objects, Harrow Green’s team had to ensure the protection of exhibits in the main engine hall during the out-of-hours relocation. That meant the daily installation and removal of protective material, including protection for the rail tracks running through the hall.

The move included:

  • 1.5 million photographs
  • Over a million engineering drawings
  • The UK's most comprehensive railway library
  • Sound and oral history archives
  • Personal and business archives of the railway industry
  • The country’s largest collection of railway posters, graphic art and advertising
  • Archives from predecessor museums at York and Clapham

“Search Engine will transform the way the NRM cares for these huge hidden collections and change the way that we open them up for hands-on public access.”

Tim Procter, Archivist, The National Railway Museum

 
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