Tuesday, August 05, 2008

the national archives

Firstly, the apology… I DROVE to The National Archives at Kew today (and back!). Yes, I know this was COMPLETELY un-green but I wanted to be there at opening time (and then be able to get a quick get-away)! I went to The National Archives to try to find out a little more about my grandfather’s time in WW1 (more about that another time).
I have to say, I was REALLY impressed with the set-up.
The website is excellent and very helpful (and tells you what you need to think about before you arrange to visit). For example, in order to have access to its enormous catalogue of stuff (over 10million items apparently!), you need to get yourself a “Reader’s Ticket” (valid for three years)… easy peasy: fill in a form online and then just turn up; give them your postcode; they locate your details; then they take a photo (instantly, from the assistant’s computer camera and before you know they’ve taken it!) – apparently, it takes up to an hour for this normally - but they did it within 10 minutes for me at the start of the day.
Lots of brilliantly helpful people on hand… you get on to one of the dozens (hundreds even?) of computers… they give a desk number code (that you key in every subsequent time you want to use the computer)…. you request specific information (having checked it out in their various indexes) and then they deliver it to your mailbox (literally a big glass mailbox with your desk number on it) in the reading room – where you have your allocated desk for the entire day.
I want to go there again (in fact, it would be really good if they allowed you to camp out overnight in their car park)! There’s an excellent café/canteen and, if you’re really keen, you can visit M+S in the neighbouring retail park!
I had a great day and it’s absolutely FREE (including the car park)
(note: getting there early was CRUCIAL!).
Photo: my reader’s card – complete with photo of startled old man!

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