Meet the Volunteers: Where are they now?
17 June 2016
Following our ‘Volunteers’ Week’ posts, Lindsey Tydeman catches up with two former Keep volunteers who are now working in the industry
Volunteers at The Keep come from many different backgrounds. Some have never been to university but are working here out of pure interest in the material; others are retired but want to stay in the working environment. Then there are graduates, perhaps looking for their first job, who want to put theory into practice in-between application forms and interviews. Ellie King and Lauren Clifton are two former volunteers at The Keep who found the time they spent here invaluable when it came to obtaining paid employment in the industry.
Ellie King completed a first degree and MA in Film Studies and a further MA in Art History and Curating before her career took quite a different path. ‘Although I had always thought about film museum work, I accepted this wasn’t going to happen and I ended up spending several years working in retail management in Brighton. But then a neighbour in our village who was already working at The Keep suggested I volunteer there. I joined him in a project updating the Glynde Place archives, inputting them on to the internal database (called CALM) and learning how to work with and treat archival material. It was all really good experience and it was great to come back to curating! Recently I succeeded in obtaining an 18-month paid graduate archive internship working with the Attenborough papers, a recent acquisition by the University of Sussex, which are held at the Keep. That gets more interesting every day, as Richard Attenborough kept meticulous notes and documents from all the films he made, so we’re discovering new information all the time. But I don’t think I would have got the internship had I not had such recent experience with the cataloguing process.’
Lauren Clifton currently works at West Sussex Record Office, heading up the searchroom where she handles public enquiries, outreach events, volunteer projects, and the archive’s new social media presence. She has some strong thoughts on volunteering – ‘We would grind to a halt without our dedicated team of volunteer cataloguers!’ – and was a volunteer herself at The Keep a year ago while finishing her Archive and Records Management MA.
‘I worked on cataloguing in the Mass Observation Archive using the CALM system and I think the most beneficial part was my introduction back into the working environment after being in academic study. I had the opportunity to start putting into practice all the theory I had been learning on the course. Also, having completed my MA in Dublin, volunteering at The Keep was the perfect reintroduction into Sussex’s local archive community, this time as a professionally qualified archivist. I’m sure it gave me an advantage when looking for more permanent work.
‘At the West Sussex Record Office we have strong links with ESRO, and I have found myself back at The Keep several times over the past few months. It’s always nice to pop in and see the friendly faces I knew whilst volunteering there. And I still use the CALM software every day!’
Lauren now works with volunteers herself and appreciates the value of their work. ‘The sheer volume of records that are made available for public use through the hard work and dedication of volunteers giving up their time to contribute to the county’s rich history, is immeasurable. Whether you’re an eager historian looking to learn some new skills, a local history buff with knowledge to offer, or a budding archivist like myself, volunteering is a formative experience that will never stop being interesting.’
20th February 2015
By Emma Johnson
One of the days that I especially look forward to during my week is Thursday: volunteer day in the Conservation studio. We currently have 8 volunteers of different ages and backgrounds, from former colleagues to recent graduates who are looking to gain experience in the heritage sector. The volunteers are currently undertaking a long-term project of cleaning and repackaging glass plate negatives from the Evening Argus. The negatives have already been scanned, so digital copies are available to look at, ensuring that the originals can be conserved and stored away safely here at The Keep. There are hundreds of boxes of negatives, so this project could not be completed without the time and support of our dedicated volunteers.
I begin the day by setting up the tables and equipment for the volunteers, ensuring that the work surfaces are clean and the brushes, cloths and cotton wool are to hand, as are the documentation sheets that must be filled in to record any damages or other conservation issues that Melissa should be made aware of. The process of cleaning the negatives firstly requires the negatives and boxes to be gently brushed to remove any surface dirt. Then only the shiny side of the negative is wiped with cotton wool and water; the negative side can only be brushed to ensure the image is preserved. The glass plate negatives are counted and repackaged with pieces of archive paper in between each one to protect them, and then either returned to their original box or placed in a new one. The glass plate negatives need to be handled very carefully as they are breakable. One volunteer specified that a key reason why she wanted to volunteer in Conservation was to develop her object handling skills- and working with the glass plate negatives certainly does that! If boxes are damaged, they need to be replaced and this often falls to our chief box maker, Brian, who will happily spend his day making boxes. Melissa and I are always on hand to answer any queries and offer assistance. For me, this experience has also allowed me to develop and improve my leadership and management skills, by ensuring that the volunteers are happy and confident in their work.
Melissa is very good at helping the volunteers get the most out of their volunteering experience as well as allowing us to progress with the project. One volunteer who has excellent IT skills has now moved onto cataloguing the glass plate negatives onto CALM, as he also wants to gain cataloguing experience. However, not all the volunteers are here to gain new skills – Jennifer is a former colleague, who used to manage the search room for ESRO at the Maltings. Now that she is retired, she said that she enjoys volunteering because ‘I like to give back to the services I used as a researcher. It gives me a sense of belonging to the profession I enjoyed.’
Volunteering is not all work, work, work; it is also a great way to meet new people. Our newest addition, who wants to learn how to conserve her personal collections, also remarked that ‘the people are so nice.’ It is lovely to hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the volunteers as they carry out their work, marvelling over the variety of images from circus acts, to sports days and even the occasional wedding picture.
The volunteers are very efficient and can easily clean 5-10 boxes of negatives each in a day – but we also like a chat and a cup of tea and biscuit (or two!) We could not complete this project without their time and support, so, as always, a big thank-you to them!