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Volunteering at the Royal Voluntary Service’s Archive & Heritage Collection

“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of the Nation, and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”.

Lady Reading 1970

These are the words of Stella Reading founder chairman of WVS which are very relevant to the support archives are given by those who volunteer their time and skills to help with a multitude of tasks. It’s been a while since we updated you on what our volunteer team have been up to in the archive so here is a quick round up of all the tasks the team have been helping us with recently.

Cataloguing photographs

After completing his work on sorting through, digitising and cataloguing 100s photographs from 1990s and 2000s Pete has started work on photographs from 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. They have all been digitised and are now being described in detail in the Archive’s catalogue; Pete is working very hard and we often find out a lot of new information through research into the subject of the photograph. 

Central Registry Files

These files contain policy documents relating to various WVS/WRVS departments including Good Companions, Hospitals, One-in-Five, Civil Defence and Food. Each one is full of pins, staples and treasury tags which need to be removed. Nora is very busy working through over 1000 files to make sure they are repackaged to archival standards and preserving the history of the charity.

Narrative Reports

Yes we’re still working on the Narrative Report collection; there are 300,000 pages you know! Although we aren’t digitising the rest of the collection volunteers are starting to work on repackaging reports written in 1980s and early 1990s. Pearl is busy working away on them and discovering new stories while removing rust staples. As she has been since 2012 as Pearl said then “an afternoon in the life of this apprentice archivist is never dull.”

Record Cards

The latest project our volunteers are working on is repackaging a number of volunteer record cards we hold in the collection. Jean and Alice have been busy working on a number of areas including Aberdeen, Cardiff, Midlands and East Dunbartonshire. This isn’t simply an exercise in putting cards in alphabetical order there is a lot to think about e.g. are the cards split into a specific order, into centres into WVS cards and civil defence cards. Jean and Alice certainly have their work cut out for them.


Accessions

Every year we seem to receive more and more material into the collection, it’s always exiting to get some new treasure! Jeannie helps us out with accessions and has been for just over ten years sorting through c240 accessions. The latest material to come in was a WRVS Long Service medal with a clasp and MBE belonging to Molly Lace Regional Organiser for North Yorkshire.

As you can see our volunteer team are very busy and doing a marvellous job helping us to take care of this very important collection. We are always looking for people to join our volunteering team so if you are based in the Devizes area and interested in history and heritage why not get in touch with us through our online volunteering opportunities.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 04 February 2019.

Labels: Volunteering, Archives, cataloguing, accessioning, repackaging

“Data, data, data” I can’t digitise without catalogue data

It’s another of those famous lines from a Sherlock Holmes story “Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” (The Adventure of the Copper Beeches) but it can be applied to many areas including archival practice particularly digitisation. Archives @PAMA recently covered the topic of digitisation in their blog Why Don’t Archivists Digitise Everything? Part of their argument covered Meta Data and how important it was to give archives context before digitisation. This has inspired us, in this week’s blog I would like to look more at the importance of cataloguing records before digitising them in relation to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection.


What is cataloguing?

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. This is based on a hierarchical structure showing where Items, files and series best fit within a collection and describes details such as the content, context, admin and custodial history, date and access details. Cataloguing records can help to make collections more accessible with details and keywords which help researchers find what they are looking for and link different records together on the same topics. If you would like to know more about Archival description why not read  Organising Archive material HeritageBulletin Volume 6.

Why is it important for digitisation?

Cataloguing is important to digitisation because it turns a single item on its own which may not tell us much about the activities of an organisation into a record which has context, a history of its own and links it to the rest of the collection. For example when cataloguing photographs, publications or posters if there are similar items or a series relating to each other we record their references in the Related Material Field. This helps lead researchers in looking at all the material available on a chosen topic. Recording this data before digitising records also gives the archivists the opportunity to assess the preservation needs of the material and repackage it into archival standard folders, boxes, papers etc.. It also allows of consultation on the need to digitise material and if digitised material could be published online depending on condition, content and copyright. This work can be very important in terms of preservation and access.

Our Collections and how cataloguing has helped make them more accessible

Cataloguing different parts of the Archive & Heritage Collection has allowed us to publish the catalogue records online for people to search for themselves. This work has given the team a greater knowledge of what materials are held in the collection and led in some case to digitisation.

Photographs and Posters

The Archive has been focusing on cataloguing and digitising records since 2010 and started with a collection of publicity photographs. Creating detailed descriptions of photographs allows researchers to find photographs easily and quickly by searching key words. Cataloguing also allows the Charity to record useful data about copyright holders and to distinguish which images can be used in promoting its rich history and heritage in many of the services it provides today. The Poster collection was catalogued and digitised in 2012 which has provided the same advantages as the photographs.

WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVSAssociation

Newsletters Over the years Royal Voluntary Service has produced a number of publications including magazines containing news stories and information about its activities and that of the Association (1971-2013). Using the description field on our catalogue to its advantage and OCR software we were able to record all the information in each WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVS Association Newsletters and make it searchable. Being able to do such a specific search can save time in trying to find articles covering particular services or activities. Recording months and dates also allows us to pin point key dates such as the first Trolley shop or mobile canteen.


Narrative Reports

Between March 2012 and March 2014 we catalogued all the Narrative Reports held in the collection which were written between 1938 and 1965. The information recorded included the areas the reports were from and this work enabled the archive to develop the Kickstarter Project Hidden histories of a million wartime women. The £27,724 raised via the crowdfunding site meant we could digitise all the reports written between 1938 and 1945 and publish them online. This allows more people access to these hugely important documents and it all started with a cataloguing project.

In General

The items mentioned above are also very fragile and cataloguing means we can pinpoint the exact records we are looking for without rifling through a number of documents before finding the correct information. Digitisation which leads on from this  helps us further in preserving fragile items as digital images are used as preservation copies for research meaning we reduce handling the original. Cataloguing also assist with the creation of finding aids such as the Guide to Archive Online; using data and description fields from the catalogue means we can assist researchers in their search for more knowledge about WVS/WRVS.

I have not included Voice of Volunteering Oral Histories in this week’s Blog as they are born digital records and in a future blog we’ll look at the difference between digitisation and born digital.


Conclusion

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. It is important to create these records before digitising to provide context and allow archivists to assess the need for the material to be digitised. Working on a project to both catalogue and digitise material can also help with preservation and digitisation which are very important activities in archives. Since 2010 Royal Voluntary Service has been working to catalogue its collection which as a result has led to some interesting digitisation projects including photographs, Narrative Reports and publications. However without the first stage of creating information about the these records this work could not have been carried out.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 August 2018.

Labels: Archives, Cataloguing , Digitisation, Records, Access, Preservation

What the does the Deputy Archivist get up to on Wednesdays?

Sometimes on social media (usually Facebook or Twitter) you see posts which say “you know you’re a … when you …”. Last week I had a, “you know you’re an archivist when the brass paper clips arrive and you get over excited about it” moment. I realise there has been some posts recently on Archives NRA (JiscMail Mailing list) concerning the oxidisation of brass paper clips and the damage they can cause to documents but in my opinion they are so much better than the nasty rusty staples I see in our documents. Anyway I am going to move on now and this week I thought you might like an insight into one of the projects I have been toiling over.

Since September I have been working with our large and varied collection of publications. Over the course of nearly 80 years Royal Voluntary Service has been producing publications to advertise their services and appeal for volunteers. Some Archivists may see this as ephemera but for a charity a leaflet, poster, bookmark or other such item is evidence of day to day activities and business transactions so they have earned their place as an archival document. A few years ago the collection had been sorted into acid free envelopes and listed on and Access Database; it was time for them to be appraised, repackaged into acid free boxes and catalogued to archival standards.

I began with repackaging, appraising and referencing which involved sorting through duplicates, removing them from the collection and then giving each publication a unique reference number. WVS and WRVS publications were created by the different departments within the organisation for many years thus they have been catalogued in their original order under each department for example Children, Health and Hospitals, Old Peoples Welfare and Prison Welfare. They were catalogued at Item level each with a short description.

Once all 1,368 items were repackaged and catalogued (one Wednesday a week, except over Christmas of course) they were placed on the shelves in neatly labelled boxes. This makes finding them for enquiries extremely easy. If you’re interested in testing my theory please send us an enquiry about our publications through the online enquiry form. While most of the publications live on the shelves there are also a number of large posters which wouldn’t fit in a standard archive box and needed a bit more TLC.

Before they were catalogued they were kept folded up with the rest of the collection. As you can see from this image this wasn’t doing them any good but now they have been found and catalogued they could be properly preserved. I have in the past carried out some basic conservation to ripped documents. Sometimes a terrifying moment when you have to consider the damaged you might cause. I really don’t know how conservators carry out those more complex jobs. Even cleaning documents which I had a go at on a number of work experience placements was a bit nerve racking; I have never used a rubber so gently in all my life. Anyway this task was a bit less petrifying...

As they are awkward and won’t fit into the standard boxes they must go in our plan chest. Therefore they required some protection and the first job was to place them in polyester sleeves, archival standard of course. Secondly they needed to be supported by mounting board which was measured out and then cut to the right sizes. A steady hand on the Stanley knife was required and long arms as it is fairly difficult to cut a piece of card almost the same length as yourself. Finally the posters were then attached and the reference number written on below. Job done! They now live happily ever after in the plan chest, except when we need to access them or hopefully digitise them in the future.

There you have it my Wednesday project, though now I will have to find something new and I am sure just as interesting. Our online catalogue will be updated over the next few months so watch this space or email us and ask to be added to our mailing list.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 27 March 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, , WVS, , WRVS, , Publications, , Archive, , Cataloguing

Cataloguing photographs - a volunteer's story

Hello its Pete here, it has been just over two years since I last posted a blog about volunteering here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection; this is what I have achieved in the past two years.

Maybe I am being too self-critical, but it doesn’t seem to be very much.  I am still involved with the collection of photographs I had started sorting two years ago.  I have managed to appraise around 3000 and saved those which tell the fascinating story of the Charity in the 1990s and early 2000s, give them reference numbers, find descriptions from WRVS publications, and scan them into the computer.  This last year I’ve been writing descriptions of all the photographs – I’m about half way through.

Got to tell you this, though, being a volunteer here is sometimes like being a history detective, piecing the evidence together. I was going through the photographs and I came across two pictures of RAF Tornado aircraft making Meals on Wheels deliveries.  At first I assumed they were separate events as they featured different aircrew, different WRVS volunteers, and different locations.  Further research revealed it was the same aircraft and crew on the same mission, one picture taken just before take-off, with the pilot and leaving party, and the second picture on arrival, with the navigator and different arrival party.  I mentally popped a champagne cork for that one!

Right I’m off to do some more cataloguing and investigating hopefully next time I blog you’ll be able to read my descriptions on the online catalogue.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 01 August 2016.

Labels: Archives, Cataloguing, History, Detective, Photographs, Charity

What I'm up to - Hannah Tinkler


Ever wondered what an Archive volunteer gets to be involved with? Well, as a volunteer I get stuck in with all the goings on at the Archive, whether that’s sorting through new items just delivered or writing the Heritage Bulletin, there is always something going on! The most recent task I am currently working through though is cataloguing all of our records from Ipswich.

These files had been saved by our Archivist, who, armed with the empty boot of his car, rescued them from being destroyed once the Ipswich Office closed. The collection holds files relating to a lot of the services WRVS provided to the community of Ipswich, from Meals on Wheels to children’s holidays, it’s all there.

So come Wednesday morning you’ll find me sat at my desk armed with a staple remover and a computer, entering in the details of the records held within the Ipswich files. My task is to catalogue 140 files, two boxes of membership cards and the posters which were recovered.

So far I’m half way through and still going strong; I have pulled out countless rusty pins and staples from the documents and in the process of cataloguing have come across some great finds. The earliest record so far is an extract from the Thornbank Residential Club minute book dated 1946, this was the first ever Residential Club WVS opened and the Ipswich hoard contains several files about the service provided at Thornbank.

In my cataloguing pursuit I have come across floor plans for extensions and improvements, numerous newsletters, leaflets and reports and so many more interesting things.

I will be working with the Ipswich files for the next few months ensuring that all of the files have been recorded and preserved properly and then it will be onto the next challenge!

Posted by Hannah Tinkler at 00:00 Tuesday, 21 August 2012.

Labels: Hannah Tinkler, Ipswich, Cataloguing