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 at work with material from the Attenborough archive

Ellie at work with material from the Attenborough archive

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.

Lauren cataloguing in the office

Lauren working on the Mass Observation Archive at The Keep last year

‘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.’


Meet the Volunteers: Kerry Baldwin, ESRO cataloguing volunteer

6th June 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

‘I jumped at the chance to work with real archives’…

‘I’m here because I saw a blog post about volunteers at The Keep and how they were always needed, so I downloaded an ‘expression of interest’ form, filled it in and that was it!Kerry I’d just finished a Masters degree in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies, and I jumped at the chance to work with real archives. I’d been researching my family history for about ten years, using all the records I could find, and I suppose this was a way of giving something back in return for all those archives I’d been able to access.

‘This is a collection of bastardy bonds from the magistrates’ court at Burwash in East Sussex. I’m extracting the basic information about each one and adding it to our database, called Calm, so researchers can make a detailed search of the online catalogue at home before ordering the documents they want to come in and see.

‘Bastardy bonds – well, there were a lot of them! This was when we had the Poor Law, a long time before benefits and the welfare state. When a woman became pregnant and wasn’t married she had to go before a magistrate and give the name of the father under oath. The bond was then issued and the father could be pursued for payment or even arrested if he didn’t co-operate. This was such a common situation at the time that bastardy bonds were pre-printed; all the magistrate had to do was fill in names and addresses. Sometimes you get the same woman appearing quite regularly, while at others a lot of soldiers are being named as putative fathers – that must have been when the army passed through! I’ve catalogued about 900 of these bonds, covering a period of about 40 years between 1793 and 1834. The court at Burwash covered Dallington, Salehurst, Etchingham and Ticehurst, so it was quite a large area.

‘As soon as I started doing this I realised what a brilliant aid bastardy bonds are to people doing family history. Baptismal records don’t always state the name of the father but when used in conjunction with these bonds you can find it out. I’ve come across some of my Sussex ancestors, the Harmers and Pilbeams, doing this, so it’s been fantastic for my own research, too.’

Interview by Lindsey Tydeman. To view a list of the bonds Kerry has been cataloguing, click here.


bond 1

Volunteering Opportunities

20th February 2015

By Emma Johnson

glass plate negativesOne 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.

Work station ready to goMelissa 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!

If you would like to join our team of volunteers and help us with this project, please get in touch. Training will be given. Please fill in the expression of interest form and return to us by email or by post at: The Keep, Woollards Way, Brighton, BN1 9BP.

Behind the scenes: the new Asa Briggs Intern

Emma1st September 2014

By Emma Johnson – Asa Briggs Intern

My first day as the new intern at The Keep was thoroughly enjoyable and filled with information. Once I had managed to navigate my way into the building, I received a warm welcome from Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator. To start, I was given a tour of the building and was introduced to all the friendly staff that I will have the pleasure to work alongside for the coming year.

I assisted Abby, my fellow Asa Briggs Intern, with cataloguing and getting to grips with the CALM cataloguing system that I am sure will become very familiar to me as my time at The Keep progresses.

Abby was kind enough to show me her work on The Keep’s blog and her work on the Mass Observation Education ‘suitcase’ and how this can be used by primary and secondary schools for inter-disciplinary purposes. I then began to plan and write up sociology based teacher’s notes, using Mass Observation as the basis for students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various research methods.  I was fortunate to use the Mass Observation Archive during my third year at university, so it was interesting to see how Mass Observation is also being made accessible for younger pupils. A big thank-you to Abby for her support and for being so friendly and welcoming to a new face!

On my third day I received some Historic Environment Record training and then attended Senior Archivist Christopher Whittick’s In Focus talk on ‘Crime and Punishment’ which was fascinating and allowed me to see how the work carried out  at The Keep can be made accessible and engaging to the public. The following day was spent receiving Health and Safety training and training on how to access and use the repository. Adam Harwood, The Keep Systems Administrator, was a very good teacher and explained everything very clearly.

On Thursday I familiarised myself with the University of Sussex Special Collections and composed a six page document briefly outlining the collection, which I hope will be a useful document for the coming weeks and months. I then shadowed Abby in the Reading Room and learnt how to issue and return items.

Today I plan to continue to assist Abby with publishing on the blog and shadowing her in Reception. I will then begin to research and write up a ‘Places’ page for the website.


Although there is a great deal for me to learn, I am very excited to be working alongside an efficient, organised and friendly team. Stay tuned!




Behind the Scenes: The Keep Ordering Systems

28th July 2014By Adam Harwood  –  The Keep Systems Administrator

When The Keep project began, the partners (East Sussex Record Office, University of Sussex and Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums) felt that a state of the art building required state of the art ICT systems to enable researchers to find and reserve archival documents online to view on a date convenient to them.  The new ordering and inventory management systems at The Keep are the result of this vision and I’d like to use this week’s blog post to write about these systems.

The Keep systems are integral to everything that happens in the building for staff and researchers alike. The Keep online catalogue allows researchers to find records of documents from all three partners of The Keep and place an order for documents to be ready for them when they come to visit.

This kind of online ordering which everyone is so familiar with when they buy a book on Amazon is a relatively new service in the archive world.  We are one of only a few archives in the country that offers this service with availability checks at the point of ordering to ensure that two people can’t order the same document for the same date. There is no one piece of archival software that can enable this system to work and so we had to integrate separate software applications – two of which were designed specifically for The Keep – to realise our goals.

All three partners wanted to continue using their own collection management software.  East Sussex Record Office and the University of Sussex use the archive industry standard software ‘CALM’.  Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums use museums industry standard software – ‘MIMSY’. Keeping these systems has allowed each partner to retain continuity for their archivists and curators as well as a continued relationship with the wider archival and museum communities, while taking advantage of the two systems developed specifically for The Keep for ordering and stock management.

The first of these systems was developed by Orangeleaf Systems Ltd. Orangeleaf have been working with museums, archives and local history societies for over a decade creating web-sites, and large scale cross sector data search and aggregation systems. Orangeleaf transform our records to be viewed in a user friendly online interface and developed our Reader Order Management software (the ROM) that allows researchers to book documents to view at The Keep.  When researchers find the record of the document they want to see, they can create a user account and go through the order process. The ROM sends the order through to our inventory management system – the final part of the puzzle that makes up our ordering systems.

Our inventory management system was developed by a company called Wise Software Ltd. They provide inventory management solutions to a large number of businesses and we are their first customer in the archive sector. They retrofitted their existing software ‘Orderwise’ with new archive management modules to enable us to keep track of the movements of every archive container in the building. Hand held terminals tell us what documents have been ordered for the day and where to find them. We can then move these documents still inside their containers to our production room to be issued to researchers. We use Orderwise to record each document issued so we can automatically generate usage statistics.

Since opening we have been working with Orderwise and Orangeleaf to iron out some of the inevitable bugs that come with rolling out new software. We think we’ve found most of them but there are always new developments that we are looking to implement like online downloading of digital versions of documents. We’d also like to make many improvements to the search tools of our online catalogues. I’ll write about some of the things we are doing to enable this in a future post.