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Old is new: Simcoe County archives getting makeover

'All of this will improve the rate at which records are processed, arranged and described, and made available to the public,' said county archivist of $1.6M project

Simcoe County Archives, of all places, is being updated.

The financial strategy for the multi-phase, $1.63-million renovation project was endorsed by Simcoe County council Aug. 8.

Funding was approved in the county’s 2022 budget, a long-term plan for a project to renovate the public facing area of the Minesing facility. Its aim is to improve accessibility, as well as the overall public experience there, and increase the efficiency of collection work processes.

“There are many reasons people visit the [Simcoe County Archives],” said Matthew Fells, the county’s archivist, “but the three most common are, in no particular order, almost always genealogy and family history, property research and local history.”

There have been 156 visits to the archive so far this year, and the forecast is for 267 visits by year’s end.

No renovations have yet taken place, as they are still in the design phase. Phase one of two design phases has been completed. Phase two will take place this fall into early next year.

The project aims to improve the overall public experience at Simcoe County Archives, including enhanced barrier-free access, the creation of a safe and secure space for researchers and collections, updating aged and deteriorating finishes and streamlining workflows in staff areas to facilitate records processing and digitization.

The renovation will include the reading room, work room and offices, and receiving room.

The reading room is where researchers spend their time, while the work room, offices and receiving room are where staff perform their duties, including: receiving, appraising, arranging and describing, digitizing, microfilming and otherwise preserving records before they are made available to the public.

The reading room will be made more welcoming and user-friendly by adding self-serve reference and microfilm libraries, a small room for reference interviews and privacy, and secure storage for researcher belongings. The reference desk will be located closer to the closed stacks where records are held, and there will be a larger public washroom.

Changes to the layout of the work room, offices and receiving room will streamline the flow of records through the archival records processing pipeline. Records processing and digitization stations will be set up in the receiving room for pre-processing, while staff work areas will be optimized to speed up records processing.

“All of this will improve the rate at which records are processed, arranged and described, and made available to the public, adding to the deep well of information they can draw on,” said Fells.

SCA has six full-time employees. In addition to Fells, there’s an archivist for corporate and municipal records, private collections, digital preservation and reference co-ordination, along with a microfilm technician.

“We also employ up to two archives assistants each semester,” Fells said. “These positions are usually filled by co-op students from the University of Waterloo. The archives assistants assist full-time staff in the completion of their duties. They retrieve and put away records, digitize maps and photos, re-house collections, create box lists and inventories, and verify transfers.”

A total of $1.63 million was allocated from 2022 through 2024 for this renovation project. Completion of both the phase one high-level and phase two detailed design work was planned for 2022 and 2023, with construction to take place in 2024. While the first phase was delayed, it was completed under-budget.  

Estimates for the project’s second phase were unknown when the budget was created, but are now confirmed at $203,500 - with the construction phase now planned for 2025. 

Since phase one is under-budget, $99,000 remains in the 2023 approved budget and can be allocated toward phase two costs. County staff say $104,500 is required to initiate and complete the detailed design phase. Staff will use funds from the 2024 allocation to complete the phase two detailed design.

Because construction has been pushed to 2025, cost updates will be provided to county council on the project as it develops.

Simcoe County Archives collects, preserves and makes available both the documentary history of Simcoe County in any format and the permanent records of the county and its municipalities. 

Built in 1979, additions to the archives were constructed in 1992 and 2011 along Highway 26. Of its total 18,000 square feet, approximately 4,100 sq. ft. are dedicated to public access and staff work areas.

These are in the 1979 and 1992 portions respectively, and neither of these spaces has been updated in the intervening decades except for interior paint and some furniture. Finishes are aged and deteriorating, staff say.

When archives re-opened to the public last June, it moved to scheduled appointments only. This helped keep communities safe during COVID-19 pandemic and continues to make accessing information easier by reducing the need to visit the archives in person.

Quick information requests are now often handled by phone or email.

This year, Simcoe County Archives staff expect to handle 930 phone and email contacts, and this number continues to increase year-on-year.

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