Elaine Walters, IHR Administrator discusses her thoughts and feelings about the IHR temporary relocation and its eventual return to the North Block of Senate House
Although we had actually been planning the IHR move for months, I don’t think I actually ever thought it would happen. But here we are in the south block!
I had the feeling that initially there was a lot of feet dragging, a kind of disbelief of that we would actually move at all and then suddenly I was sending round equipment logs for staff to fill in, and crawling around floors attempting to identify which particular socket a PC was attached to!
Moving the IHR was surprisingly emotional. Every book packed, every crate filled, every picture taken off the wall, and every locker opened seemed to tear a little bit more heart out of the place. And the planning required – every library book taken off its shelf and every crate labelled to correspond with a new home elsewhere, every door lock, every phone and PC socket identified, every piece of furniture to be labelled with a home, and decisions made about what to store and what not to store.
There were areas in the IHR which had clearly not been accessed for thirty years or more. We found old photographs, typewriters, desks with drawers containing blotting paper and ink (oh the good old days!). The most time – consuming part of the exercise was having to open every single unclaimed locker- and there were over hundred! Some clearly had not been opened for a decade. They contained newspapers from the early 90’s, record cards, spare shoes and enough books to open a book shop. Some of the most surprising items included net curtains, underwear, bedding, oceans of talcum powder and lipstick and in one locker 14 brand new toothbrushes! And from the lockers located in the women’s toilet- several unopened and several half drunk bottles of sherry!
Over the two weeks of the move things were very hectic but the library and mezzanine move, which were phases 1 and 2 went surprisingly smoothly. Hats off to the staff and to Pickford’s, who were flexible, professional, and good hearted throughout.
We experienced the inevitable problems- the photocopier was too big to get into the lift to move and had to be dismantled, some staff had over – estimated the amount of furniture which could be fitted into their new offices. One department (who shall remain nameless) had not completed their packing on the day of the move, some cupboards were so heavy that even with four Pickfords men we struggled to move them and so had to be unpacked, moved and re-packed.
Phase 3 – the move to Senate House 3rd floor, proved to be the most problematic. In terms of the amount to be moved it was much less than phases 1 and 2 but the furniture proved too large to get into the rooms due to the ‘extra’ architraving around the door frames. Desks had to be disassembled and re-assembled which doubled the amount of time the move should have taken. But we made it and in no time at all people were back at their desks, vases filled with flowers and shelves filled up with belongings.
The ‘old IHR’ now stands virtually empty- no books, no furniture and no people. The space actually echoes! I have taken many trips back in the days since the move-for me personally it is rather sad to see our corridors bereft of life. And goodness me the state of some of the space- the years of ‘north block neglect’ have taken their toll. It is not until a space is laid bare that the true extent of this is made clear. People keep stopping me and asking why we would ever want to move back after experiencing the south block. Well, even though the offices are superior, the sense of IHR community appears broken – hopefully only for a short time until everyone gets used to the new space but the loss of the common room at the heart of the Institute is severely felt.
But enough of this melancholy; the move provides an important opportunity for the IHR to shift itself into the 21st century. Planning for our new space is afoot and we are excited about the prospects ahead. Preliminary plans reveal that our space can be used more flexibly and to greater effect. The IHR remains committed to providing a space that is fit for purpose- that purpose being the facilitation of historical research for the generation s of historians to come, as well as those who are still with us.
Thank you to all the staff who engaged so fully with the moves, to the library staff who worked tirelessly to get the library open to the public on time, to estates staff who came good, despite my pleading, nagging and begging for things to be done, and to the members of the IHR for coming back to us. Stay with us- it’s going to be a bumpy, but worthwhile ride.