Berkshire Records Office Receptionist (BROR):What are you looking for?
Wendy: Um….history… …nothing in particular… …just browsing…. …um…….what have you got that’s good?
BROR: We’ve got lots of maps, even before the Ordnance Survey started
Wendy: Oh! that sounds good, I like maps, I’ll look at the maps
Large filing cabinates skirt the windows of the records office. Microfiche’s mount rows of dustless, grey, formica tables against the windowless walls. A large table holds the map-drawers down in the middle of the room. Can you tell I was getting a bit excited by it all?
At University in 1983 we had to book time using one of the 3 Microfiche machines – grubbied from thousands of sparingly washed students fingers. Here there are sparkling rows of them, unused! My gleeful gawping was quickly interrupted
BRO librarian: what are you looking for?
Wendy: I’d like to just browse, your colleague suggested maps… ….Reading’s Quaker history is interesting too…
The librarian looked disconcerted, I was getting disconcerted. He latched onto my Quaker suggestion and pointed me to the local records subject index filing cabinates. The drawer made a pleasing, heavy, swish sound as he opened it. He suggested looking under “Q” for Quakers or “S” for Society of friends. No hint of my ancient PhD on finding files in electronic filing systems had seeped into this librarians awareness. I smiled and resisted the urge to raise his awareness.
PAPER INDEX CARDS!
(The sound of my brain spasming within my cranium confines)
Index cards. Hand-typed in courier-font. Lined cards where the typing didn’t sit on the lines. Cards where one card is the index for multiple items – so it’s expensive to add new stuff in the right order. Thrilling! The colour returned to my face with a big smile. I didn’t need to find anything, this card system was enough to keep me happy for hours, days, possibly years if they don’t upgrade it. I wonder if they have any part time or volunteer jobs…..
The librarian noticed my smile and politely took his leave to help another lady, who was clutching a handful of cards. I tucked into the “S“s – Settlement, Scutage, Sheriffs, Slavery, Suffragettes…
The Librarian returned about an hour later. My hands still deep in the yellowing index cards
BRO librarian: are you doing ok?
He beamed a lovely smile and grew quietly animated as he showed me how to use the index card reference numbers to track down the physical location of an item in a herd of big folders. To practice I picked a card titled “Services, Personal” where in 1396 a married couple had sold themselves in return for the things they needed to live – a home and a place to keep their sheep
The afternoon slip-slided away on paper cards labelled with “S”
An adult version of Sesame Street “S”exploration