The 2017 ARA Conference: Day 3

At this point, please forgive me, as I completely neglected to take notes in all but one of the talks that I attended. However, I found this particular talk so interesting (and potentially very useful for an upcoming project), that I would like to dedicate this short blog post to that one talk in the Conservation stream…


Emily Hick, Special Collections Conservator at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at the University of Edinburgh, gave a great talk about carrying out conservation work by crowdsourcing from the pool of students at the University. The project was to rehouse part of a significant collection which was in a poor condition over the space of two days. The project would reduce the time it would take for the conservators to rehouse the collection; it would provide conservation experience and generate student engagement, and it would promote the archive and the need for preserving the historic collections.

The important points:

  • To ensure a good staff-to-student ratio during the rehousing, Emily stressed the importance of briefing more staff on the project and processes too, so that there was appropriate supervision and guidance for those taking part throughout the experience.
  • To spend a significant time planning the project, risk assessing the situation, developing a timetable, and ensuring all necessary materials and equipment are ready. Planning and risk assessments are great for management buy-in
  • Create training resources and guidelines for the volunteers; provide detailed training before starting the project, and including on-the-spot re-training if an unexpected situation occurs or where necessary
  • When sourcing the ‘crowd’, seeking anyone who has an interest in archive and/or the collections, and not simply asking for for anyone with previous experience or conservation qualifications
  • Over-booking the volunteers, as volunteer-driven projects often have a number of people who drop-out or who can’t make it on the day
  • Provide refreshments and breaks! Keep the volunteers motivated and give something back as a thank you for participating
  • Gathering as a group and talking about the project periodically to ensure that the volunteers are aware of what they are doing, why they are doing, and to discuss any issues and successes – celebrate the wins!
  • Supervise and check the work of the volunteers
  • Think about the growth of the collection and plan for the collection take up more space on the shelving once the collection has been rehoused

Crowdsourcing and Volunteering

I don’t think that crowdsourcing has been spoken about much in archives, but volunteers in archives are a form of crowdsourcing, without the crowdsourcing label. What there has been some discussion of is the use of volunteer labour to do the work of archivists. I’ve been in both situations. I’ve been a volunteer, and I’m currently an archivist. If it wasn’t for the possibility of volunteering, then I probably would not be doing what I’m doing now. Volunteering allowed me to experience an archive and gain experience, to see what archivists do, to get my hands on records, and to value the importance of preserving records and making information accessible. I didn’t for one moment resent the fact that I wasn’t getting paid (although I’d happily accept tea and biscuits). I saw it as an opportunity, and was very grateful for those who allowed me to develop my skills whilst volunteering. Now, as an archivist, if I was ever in a position or organisation where I could take on some volunteers, I would do so to provide experience and opportunities to those who wanted to learn, and not exploit them for free labour.



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