Archiving the Story of BME Communities in Manchester

The archival record is the foundation on which are built all our histories, with their many and varied voices…

Archives for the 21st Century

With the Centre closing to the public on 6th December and the movers booked for mid-February, our move to Central Library (as part of the Archives+ partnership) is starting to feel very real. We keep trying to imagine what it will be like having so many more visitors into the library every day… it’s going to be amazing, but we need to think about how we balance the demands of greater access with preservation of the collection.

Up until now we’ve had a fairly relaxed approach to what’s on the shelves. Alongside the contemporary books and reports you can find much older books, books published by independent publishers, as well as flimsy little ephemeral items; brochures, pamphlets, leaflets and the like. These unique, irreplaceable resources will need a bit more protection once we move, so we’ve been busy binding, dishing out Do Not Remove stickers and moving things into the archive.

Perhaps inevitably, this has led to a bit of soul searching about who we are, what we do and what we should be collecting.

We have masses of important primary material, but we’re also an open access library – a resource centre! We make information available to the people who need to use it; stashing loads of material away in archive boxes doesn’t feel right. So what is it our job to preserve?

Manchester history, we all agreed, is a priority, but we don’t need to duplicate the work of civic and local organisation archives. What we can, and should, preserve for the future is the grassroots story of BME communities – in their own words.  Hence our brand new archive, made up of things that were previously on the shelf in the Local History section: The story of BME communities in Manchester.

This is material produced by or for local community groups, that tells important stories or stories that might otherwise get lost, and material that, if it went missing, would be a loss to this history.

Even with these criteria, selecting things for the archive is a subjective and agonising task. We all have different ideas about what constitutes an ‘important’ story, as well as our own pet interests and favourites. After much deliberation we’ve pulled together about 50 items. Here are just three of them:

Image of Roots publication

This community publication is about the first five years of the Moss Side Roots Festival, a school-based community celebration which took place in the 70s and 80s.  We have three copies of this, two on the shelf for readers today, one in the archive for the future.

Image of Travellers in the City publication

Travellers in the City: An information pack for teachers was published by the City Council’s Traveller Education Service in 1988. Although not produced by or for the community, it provides rare insights into the presence of Traveller communities in Manchester – a group still poorly understood and largely hidden from history.

Image of Indian Senior Citizens Centre pamphlet

The Indian Senior Citizens Centre in Whalley Range is still very much going, and we wouldn’t see it as our job to collect their publications. However, this is an important organisation for the Indian community in South Manchester and it was founded by the late Dr B. C. Das, whose fascinating oral history we have on the shelf here. So we’ve included this one pamphlet in the archive, if only to preserve the fact that this organisation existed.

Image of the Manchester archive box

That’s just a preview – there are lots more lovely, important, interesting things in the new archive which will be accessible to the public when we reopen in Central Library. Drop me an e-mail if you have any questions or suggestions, and come and see it for yourself!

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