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Library & Archives

2 Posts tagged with the 60_second_volunteer_encounters_l&a tag

1/ Why did you want to work behind the scenes in the NHM Archives?


For the last 14 months I have volunteered at several archives to gain the work experience required to apply for a post graduate qualification in the subject.  I wanted to work ‘behind the scenes’ to develop my knowledge of how a museum and business archive operates. The role offered the opportunity to learn and develop skills essential to becoming an Archives and Records Manager. This includes cataloguing historical material, dealing with user enquiries and using the CALM database. I felt compelled to apply for the position as it would give me the opportunity to improve accessibility and contribute to the preservation of a unique collection within a museum I am familiar with.


2/How long have you been working with us and what have you been involved in so far?


I have been volunteering since September 2013 and hope to continue until September 2014. I have been responsible for cataloguing a wide range of historical material into CALM. This includes correspondence relating to the Piltdown Hoax and photographs relating to the opening of the Human Biology exhibition, as well as the staff magazine Chrysalis. I have also taken responsibility for rearranging the Tring Museum correspondence into a new series, with each new reference number correlating to a specific year (1914-1920). Zoe-Fullard.jpg




As the museum is still a 'live' institution, it deals with active records on a daily basis. I have been given an insight in to how an archives and records manager deals with this area of business; the importance of retention schedules, confidential shredding, and the processes involved when a record has reached its retention period; it is either destroyed, or if it holds historical value, it will be appraised and held in the archive. As a volunteer I have not had any direct experience with the live records, but it has been useful to be exposed to these factors and learn about the life span and purposes of records.





3/ Have you come across anything interesting so far?


When cataloguing papers belonging to Dr Kenneth Oakley (Anthropologist and museum employee), I am required to construct a brief description relating to the content of each item of correspondence. Oakley discovered that the Piltdown Man fragments (founded in 1912 by amateur palaeontologist Charles Dawson) were in fact an elaborate hoax. Dawson claimed the fragments were the missing link between ape and man; subsequently Oakley's discovery caused uproar in the scientific community. It has been interesting to read the reaction's of Oakley's cotemporaries, the press, and the general public, as they write to him from all over the globe with their reaction to the news. Many speculate who was responsible and how the hoax was implemented; a true 'whodunit' of modern times. In his letters Oakley claims to have his thoughts of who the perpetrator(s) are, but never puts it in writing. To this day the culprit of the biggest hoax in history has never been revealed.


When organising the Tring Museum correspondence, I have come across numerous letters to and from Lord Rothschild, his director Ernest Hartert and curator Karl Jordan, written during the First World War. It is interesting to read records created during this time; letters from removal companies stating they cannot assist with the transportation of museum specimens as their automobiles are being used as part of the war effort; letters from employees sent away to war seeking job security on their return, as well as men enquiring about possible vacancy openings at the museum once released from the army. One gentleman lists his entire employment history prior conscription; he is striving to get back to the normality of civilian life, highlighting the disruption the war had on many people's lives. The series also includes a letter to Dr Hartert from Captain Robert Davis, an enthusiastic zoologist who was drafted into the RAF. After writing about his experiences at war, he ends the letter expressing his condolences to Hartert, who has just lost his only son fighting in battle. Hartnet later writes that he is taking a week off work to visit the grave of his son in France. The First World War had a huge impact on the museum's business, but foremost it had a huge impact on the personal lives of millions of people across the globe.



4/ What would you like to be doing in the future professionally?


When qualified I would like to work as an Archive Assistant and eventually as an Archives and Records Manager. I aim to bring passion and experience to an inspiring environment where I contribute to preserving the past for future generations to learn from and enjoy. I have been accepted onto the diploma in Archives and Records Management at UCL starting in September 2014. I am looking forward to undertaking the course to as it is essential to my professional development.




To learn more about being a volunteer at the Natural History Museum, please visit our volunteering web page.


Rod has been volunteering with us as part of the Wallace Correspondence Project since August 2012. But it isn't until you take the time to sit down and have a chat with him, that you realise we are one of four places he gives his time to.


The National Army Museum was the first experience of volunteering that Rod encountered. There is currently a huge behind-the-scenes effort by their staff and volunteers to prepare the Museum for a significant closure for building works. Rod has been working in the Department of Printed of Books, assisting to catalogue, scan, barcode and package a whole variety of material, ready to be moved off site. This has been a fascinating experience and has enabled him to see some very interesting material. A particular highlight has been MOD Army training manuals from the early 20th century, which included procedures for trench design.



The second place that Rod gives his time to is The Children's Society. His first project with them was to clean and flatten files dating from the 1880s to early 1900s. These related to successful applications made to the Society for individual children to be rehomed, the large majority having had some level of disability. This work was part of a project called 'Including the excluded', which Rod described as very interesting but emotionally charged, because you are learning about the circumstances these children found themselves in.


His current project involves going through the Society's quarterly journal and annual reports for the period covering the mid 1960s to the late 1990s, looking for references to specific CS homes and projects. The idea behind this is to build up a timeline of how the Society changed and developed during this time.


Rod's third volunteering position is as a reading helper at a primary school in Westminster. Here he supports children on a one to one basis, reading together for 30 minutes, with 3 children twice a week. He recalls on the first day being slightly apprehensive not knowing what to expect and whether the children would like him.  However, once his first day was completed, he couldn't wait to go back!



His work with us is one day a week for the Wallace Correspondence Project. It involves transcribing letters written by Alfred Russel Wallace to people all around the world, covering a myriad of subjects. He is given a batch at a time to go through, and has strict procedures to follow  in regard to how he types up each transcription. Since starting he estimates he has dealt with approximately 100 letters. Originally Rod completed a Geography degree which included a Geology module which he thoroughly enjoyed. It has been fascinating for Rod to be able to read letters between Wallace and the great names in geology such as Charles Lyell. Rod is well read up in regard to Darwin and evolution, and therefore had a general awareness of who Wallace was, but it wasn’t until he volunteered with us, that he was able to really gain a true understanding of the man himself. One particular set of letters were written to a young entomologist called Frederick Birch, fl.1905, who was working in Trinidad at the time of the correspondence. Rod found it interesting because Wallace is giving his younger counterpart practical tips and advice regarding areas such as getting the right price from dealers and sourcing supplies. Currently we know little about Birch, which is a little frustrating because it would be nice to find out how he got on in his profession. Another interesting example were letters from Wallace as he tried to secure work for his son, having returned from his travels.


Whilst working with us, Rod has made sure to take advantage of our temporary exhibitions: in particular he thoroughly enjoyed the Salgado Photography display in 2013, taking his daughter on the Darwin Centre Spirit Tour, and the current Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story Exhibition.