10 July, 2009

Volunteers' Day

Whereas people like me get paid "handsomely" for our jobs here at the Museum, there's an army of unsung helpers who volunteer their services for free -- and whose work in Collections and elsewhere keeps the Museum running efficiently.

Tuesday in Collections is 'library volunteers day'. A dozen or so people from the local area arrive at Insight at 10am, and spend the morning cataloguing the vast number of unlabelled, unsorted books that are shelved in our Collections library. That means opening each book, scribbling the details onto a form, filing the book, then entering the details into our digital database. For hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of books.

One such volunteer is Betty (third from left in the picture above), who's old enough to remember saving up for a Brownie camera, and who's been a Museum volunteer since 2004. She's the one who brings the biscuits for everyone to nibble on during the mid-morning tea break. So far Betty's catalogued books about everything from TV, to film, to photography. But she tends to avoid the more gruesome photography books. "I don't like all that blood and guts," she says. "Not when I've just had a chocolate biscuit."

The books come from all over: personal donations, the University Of Newcastle, our Kaszna Krausz Collection, and elsewhere. Some books are well-thumbed, others have never been opened. Betty might be leafing through the pages of a book that's worth pennies -- or hundreds of pounds.

In the library itself, where some of our little team were busy filing the catalogued books, I found another volunteer: Pamela. She was dutifully cataloguing our collection of Portfolio, the magazine of contemporary photography. The magazine is having a back issues sale and we're considering filling the gaps in our collection -- but first we need to find out what we do and don't have. That's Pamela's job today.

No-one's more grateful for the volunteers' help than Brian Liddy, our Curator of Collections Access. "They make my life so much easier," he says. "And the cataloguing means that researchers stand a much better chance of finding the kind of books they're searching for."

The mammoth task of cataloguing our collection continues. If you'd like to join our team of volunteers, do call us on 0870 70 10 200.


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