Our Romany Archivist, Caroline Bolton, write about community workshops, YARN and the Romany Collection.

Recently with the help of Leeds GATE, (Gypsy and Traveller Exchange) we invited members from Gypsy and Traveller communities to come to Special Collections to have a look at material from the ‘Romany Collection.’ We wanted to gather their views to help us to improve the way that we describe these items so that we can better understand the collections.  We also wished to discover what is important to people from Gypsy and Traveller communities to enable them to find and use this material themselves.

We did this by running a workshop based on a revisiting collections toolkit  that was produced some years ago by the Collections Trust to help organisations to capture and share multiple perspectives on archive collections.

The session was well attended with members from a number of Gypsy and Traveller families looking at a selection of photographs, drawings and paintings.  They gave us an invaluable insight into the archives that would have remained hidden. The session was well received with requests for follow up sessions to look at more material.  It demonstrated both the interest within these communities and mutual benefits of community engagement with archives.


As a result of the workshop we wanted to look at how we could extend these conversations beyond the workshop format, especially for those who for a variety of reasons wouldn’t feel, or be able, to attend. For this we were able to pilot a community storytelling application called YARN which was recently designed and created during a research programme led by the University of Leeds.

YARN is designed to allow users to create their own stories using material from the web and from archive partners such as Special Collections. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to gather those parallel stories that exist around items in the collection. The results of this first venture can be viewed as Special Collections’ first story and we are hoping that it will provide a chance to showcase items from the collections and enable users to better engage with them. This includes academics, researchers, communities and members of the public.

The next step is how we capture these alternative narratives more permanently within the catalogue.  We are currently working on incorporating summaries of the feedback as ‘additional descriptions’ within the item’s catalogue entry. These will provide alternative access points and increase accessibility and understanding of the collections.  Crucially the summaries will be attributed to those that have provided them so future researchers understand the context of the comments. It is also an acknowledgment of thanks to those volunteers who have given up their time to contribute to the cataloguing process and help widen access to the collections.