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New future for Sussex’s Special Collections

The University of Sussex Library plans to have its Special Collections relocated to a new £19million historical resource centre situated off campus, though the move will not be completed until 2013. In addition, the Special Collections will be closed over the upcoming Christmas vacation period, as staff carry out a routine, though extended, checking and cleaning programme.

A planning application for the historical centre, known as the Keep, has been submitted by the East Sussex County Council, which is working in partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council as well as the University of Sussex.The Special Collections include a number of internationally acclaimed archival, manuscript and rare book collections that chiefly consists of the social, literary and political history of the 20th century.

Papers of the writer and poet Rudyard Kipling are included amongst the collections, which also boast works by Virginia Woolf. Documents recording the social history of Britain, which dates back to the 1930s and 40s, are still being collected today in the Mass Observation Archive, and are studied by students from many degree disciplines. Unsurprisingly, the university’s own archival and administrative records are held here too.

Due to the involvement of the two councils, collections from all three partners will be moved to the Keep. The archives of East Sussex and Brighton & Hove include written records, maps, plans, films, photographs, prints and drawings. The library and headquarters of the Sussex Family History Group will also be incorporated into the Keep. The Keep is expected to be constructed at Woodlands Field near Falmer, between the A270 and railway near Falmer High School.

Many students are currently dissatisfied with the extensive refurbishment programme currently being undertaken in the library as it has hindered their ability to make use of it to study in silence. While the end result should prove to be beneficial to students some may be concerned that the removal of the special collections from campus may hinder their learning, particularly those taking research courses.

Management, however, is confident that the new plans will be for the best. Fiona Courage, the Special Collections Manager, says: “the Library building opened way back in the 1960s and it doesn’t meet current British Standards for the environment management of archives. “We would have to spend a lot of money to bring the building up to the standards required for things such as humidity, temperature, lighting and air quality.

“Our involvement in the Keep means that our internationally acclaimed Special Collections will be stored for the first time in appropriate environmental conditions.” Another benefit of the new Keep will be its extended opening hours, beyond the current availability of Mondays to Thursdays, 9.15am until 5pm. Every year the special collections close over Christmas, and this year they will close from Wednesday 5 December until Tuesday 4 January 2011.

This year there will also be an additional closure during the week leading up to Christmas. In keeping with good archival practice, the collections are to be closed for the additional four research days to enable staff to tidy up the stores and take stock. One of the quieter periods for the Special Collections has been chosen for this procedure so as not to interfere with people’s studies.

The planning application for the Keep is due to be determined by Brighton & Hove City Council on 14 January 2011. If successful, the partners hope to start work on site next summer and open the centre to the public in 2013.

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