"Volunteers have catalogued, transcribed, indexed, put on exhibitions, made phase boxes for antiquarian books, listed & photographed relics, and much more besides! We are extremely grateful for all their contributions." - Rebecca Somerset, Archivist.
As every year the International Day of Volunteers on 5 December provides us with a chance to reflect on not only on what volunteers offer to the work of the British Jesuit Archives, but also a time to consider what we can provide those volunteering in return. By giving their time, energy and skills, volunteers make a valuable contribution to the overall aims of the Jesuits in Britain Archives. Equally volunteer working can also bring benefits to the volunteers themselves by enabling them to gain or improve skills, develop interests, and provide enjoyment and social interaction.
Unsurprisingly, this year our approach to volunteers has had to change. Firstly, the two regular volunteer placements we had the privilege of having had to be ended when the first Covid-19 lockdown resulted in all the Archives team working remotely and so making onsite volunteering impossible. Options for hosting remote volunteering were soon explored and by October we were finally in a position to begin trialling this with our current two intrepid volunteers.
There were as to be expected some initial teething problems with giving access to the necessary documents (files did not load correctly etc.) but these were overcome and in the past two months Sophie and Georgina have transcribed oral history recordings, calendared some digitised manuscripts and begun indexing the Blandyke Papers and Juvenilia.
My experience volunteering at the Archives of the Jesuits in Britain has been absolutely fascinating. I have loved learning about the different parts of the collection, especially the correspondences in the late 18th century, as I learnt more about the issues the Society faced and the action they took to ensure its survival. I also really enjoy reading correspondences because the emotion with which the authors write seems to bring them closer to our own time, and I really love the gradual process of becoming more familiar with handwriting and style.
There are of course limitations with remote volunteering and we are hopeful that we can finally meet Sophie and Georgina in person in the new year and provide them with the chance to see some of those documents they have been working with in physical format rather than simply as a digitised image, though there is also a benefit to working from a digital image as the zoom function can occasionally make illegible manuscripts readable.
Working remotely has also given us the chance to think more clearly about volunteering and a Volunteer Policy as well as a Work Experience Policy have now been produced to set out more formally what it is that we provide and what is expected in return. Further to this we are considering what future projects might lend themselves well for a volunteer with the idea of offering a more task orientated role. For example, we have a glass plate negative collection which needs repackaging, and which would be ideal as a volunteer project. At the same time, we will also continue to offer 1-2 week work experience placements during which people can gain a brief introduction to the work of an Archivist with a myriad of activities. Both options have their merits and enable those interested to gain an insight into the world of Archives as well as being a valuable contribution to our work in making the records of the Jesuits in Britain accessible to the public. It is hoped that latest by Easter we will be in a position to offer such opportunities again more regularly. If you would like to volunteer or undertake a work experience placement then please send an email expressing interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.