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(or an archivist by any other name would still be an
Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what
an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage
and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages
hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and
new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even
since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?
The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through
the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to
adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and
photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists
should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience
to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be
whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They
should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills
every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.
08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be
bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had
none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant
also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more
Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.
09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a
photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion
about this and other jobs which can be done today.
10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my
labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out
update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more
volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the
reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.
11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local
office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue
with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.
12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer
any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any
images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War
II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form.
Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify
what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.
1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and
Strictly Come Dancing
2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.
“Too many People think of volunteer service as
cheap labour. Real voluntary service is nothing of kind. It is the gift of
one’s skill, one’s time, and one’s energy, given by an understanding human
being for a special reason”
Lady Reading, It's the Job that Counts I,1953
Five/six years ago I wrote and submitted my dissertation for
my Msc Econ in Archive Administration. The focus was the value of volunteers in
county and community archives in North West England and how archives could or
couldn’t conform to Government policy. This was at a time when the MLA had just
become defunct and ideas like the Big Society (remember that?) were floating
around. Five/six years is a long time and many things have changed included my
move from an interest in county/community archives to specialist ones. However the
value that volunteers provide to archives hasn’t.
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage collection we have a team of volunteers who come on a regular basis and
take on roles such as: repackaging, digitisation, cataloguing, occasionally
giving talks to local groups and accessioning to name a few. Everything they do
helps to make our work a success and volunteers improve access and knowledge about
material; work which staff cannot complete is taken care of by volunteers; the preservation
needs of material are met by volunteers and the archives is promoted to other members
of the public.
Volunteers also bring specialist knowledge for example skills from
previous professions such as specific knowledge of photography or computer
skills. In our case most volunteers bring knowledge of the history of WVS/WRVS/Royal
Voluntary Service through their own experiences of services such as meals on
Wheels, Books on wheels, being District Organisers, Vice-chairmen or office
secretaries. This helps us to understand the context of the material they are
working with and allows them to learn more about their different interests in
the charity. Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the Archives it also advantageous
to the volunteers.
Back in 2011 I interviewed several volunteers about their
different roles in archives this included people who were retired, unemployed,
seeking work experience or in the case of community archives they were
volunteers interested in telling the story of a certain group in society. While
they helped the archives volunteering also gave them something. This can be
split into two categories educational benefits and social benefits. I concluded
that in county and community archives education came second and social came
first as primarily volunteers went to the archives to socialise with other
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection most
of our volunteers are retired and occasionally we have student and graduate
volunteers however it seems there is more of a balance between education
(Knowledge and skills) and the social aspect. In just over five years I have
seen volunteers learn new skills such as cataloguing, blog writing and handling
or other preservation skills. Many of our volunteers who meet on the same day
have also formed friendships and meet outside the Archive. We have also
celebrated their achievements and time with service awards.
So remember volunteering is a two way thing volunteers give
archives their valuable time, knowledge and skills, in return volunteers can
make new friends and learn new skills. Also archives will always need
volunteers without them we would not have been so successful in many projects.