Through conservation keyhole: volunteers’ day a day in Archive

As the new academic year begins we look forward to welcoming University of Glasgow students back into Archive Services. Each year Glasgow University Archive Services offers many volunteering opportunities for students. Volunteering is a fantastic thing to do with the potential benefits having a positive impact on students in terms of lifestyle, opportunities and academic knowledge. These programmes are also a valuable opportunity to enhance and promote our archival collections. As a preservation manager I’m frequently asked by our student volunteers about their day to day volunteering activities. So today, in a reversal of that situation, I am asking Luke Doyle, an undergraduate student in History of Art and Philosophy about his experience in our Archive Services preservation unit. Luke has been now been a volunteer at the Glasgow University Archives twice, with his first experience being two years ago. More recently, he has returned from his Erasmus exchange year in Amsterdam to volunteer in our Archives for two months.

Luke first photo

Luke Doyle working on the repacking of some of the William Simons Plans and Luke with Colin Vernall, Preservation Assistant in the repository with the William Simons Ship Plans.

Luke has been assigned work on several projects including assisting in the preservation of Glasgow’s ship building heritage and history, and also helping with the digitalisation of a recently discovered World War One medic’s diary. So, I asked Luke about his volunteering experiences and have shared our conversation in this blog post.

What made you decide to become a volunteer in The University Archive in Glasgow?

Learning how to preserve a culture’s history and heritage was definitely a big factor for me wanting to become a volunteer. As well as this, during these times of technological advancement in the field of archiving, there are many exciting opportunities allowing for the rediscovery of historic articles and works. This not only includes new methods of restoration and preservation, but also new ways for academics to study and explore pieces of tangible history. It is techniques and understandings such as these that drew me to want to volunteer here.

What was a typical volunteer day like at the Archive?

As I was working on various projects, my typical day changed frequently. When I was working on the William Simons & Co. Ship building project, my day consisted of coordinating alongside other archivists, creating condition reports of the plans as well as assessing the best means of restoring and preserving these works. However when I was working with the World War One diary, I was placed in charge of digitalising the piece, therefore making it available for a world-wide audience via the internet. This meant I had to use a precise method and procedure to make sure the images produced were consistent as well as for them to be as true to the original article as possible.

What was the most challenging or exciting part of your volunteer project?

The projects that I was involved with were all working along on a strict time-scale. This meant that a quick, efficient, but effective method of working our way through the plans had to be outlined and created before embarking on the long process of repackaging. Once this challenge had been overcome, we then had to apply this method onto the plans that varied so greatly in their quality and condition, some needing far more attention than others. For example, a few plans that we inspected had been torn in half, and so that meant we had to place these more delicate plans within plastic sheeting and pockets to insure they did not deteriorate any further, and so we had to be a lot more gentle in handling them.

What was you’re the best archive items or memory/do you have a favorite?

My favorite’s extract of the World War One diary is from 30/5/1915.


Luke Doyle with John Ferguson-Smith WWI diary

Here the writer describes how the weather outside was “glorious” as they walked around the batteries. After this they describe how “15 shells fell close to H.Q (Head Quarters) in about 10 minutes”. This is my favourite part because during the time I was working with the diary there was heavy construction and demolition occurring next to the archive building.


Photos of the Dunaskin Street Flour Mill next door to Archive Services on Thurso Street see more

This meant that imagining the epic sounds of explosions and crashes was far easier to do whilst the archive building shook and rattled. Additionally, this seemingly terrifying act of shells landing near to the writer are described in such a casual manor, reminding me of the bravery that these men and women had on a daily basis.

So now that you have completed that project, what does digital preservation mean for you?

  For me, digital preservation is the next stage of preservation and archiving, allowing us to make full use of the wonderful pieces of history that we have in our possession. It also allows for cultures and societies to share their history far more easily, as that by through the digital process, many artifacts and works are available to be viewed online from all over the world!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start volunteering in Archives?

I would advise a volunteer that is looking to start at the archives to find out specific projects that need more precise jobs and tasks done for them, as well as finding projects that need an element of creativity and initiative. By doing this, you feel that you have placed your own input into the overall result and so the finished product is something which you can be proud of. 

Luke, thank you for your work and help in archives projects. I hope you enjoyed your time at the Archive and I wish you good luck for next academic year.



Categories: Archive Services

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