Through conservation keyhole: Just a Little Can Make Difference

Today is 5 December International Volunteer Day and it is the perfect opportunity to celebrate !

Established by the United Nations in 1985, the day is a celebration of volunteering and volunteering in all its forms on a global scale. Last year’s many of the students were involved with volunteering and helping in our Archive. This International Volunteer Day is about recognising all these good work of volunteers and inspiring others to give their time.

Volunteer day

On the 5th December we’ll compile all these photographs into a single photo celebrating the good work being done by volunteers.

This post is a chance to share some student experiences and highlight their contribution in archive preservation.

My name is Jenny and my Club 21 placement was as Preservation Assistant in the University of Glasgow Archive Services. 


As Preservation Assistant, my placement revolved around assisting Ela, the Preservation Manager with the preservation programme, which was mainly focused on the oldest records held by the University: the Blackhouse Charters.  For the first couple of weeks, my task was to assess the condition of these parchments and produce written reports detailing their content and overall condition. As these documents date from as early as 1304, many of them were in a fairly bad condition, meaning I was able to gain experience in basic object handling.  At first I was quite fearful about potentially damaging them due to their old and brittle nature, however as the weeks went on I became more confident in my object handling skills, as well as becoming more efficient (i.e. faster!) at producing condition reports. The next few weeks consisted of mounting the parchments and constructing storage boxes to keep them safe. This was much more physically demanding than I thought it would be! 


Also, my irrational fear of numbers would often result in much confusion over my exact measurements in each stage, especially when it came to the actual construction of the box.  However, it was always very satisfying to see the end result when the parchment was mounted, and I learnt a lot about the different materials and techniques used when carrying out these essential preservation tasks.The final two days were dedicated to treatment options for various paper documents at the Conservation Studio in the main University library, and assisting with the Integrated Pest Management Programme (IPM) in the Archives themselves.


Assisting with the IPM is an experience that I will certainly never forget!  This task required us to update the archive’s insect inspection records, which meant searching for and replacing the insect pheromone traps located throughout the building.  Due to it being winter, we were lucky enough not to come across too many spiders or beetles, however that did not stop us from having to mentally prepare ourselves for what we thought we might find inside each trap!  However, it was a great experience, and felt almost like a treasure hunt, albeit quite an unnerving one.Another positive side of the experience was getting the chance to share it with my classmate, Kirsty, as we were able to work together as a team and help each other when either of us found a task difficult or were unsure about something.  It also helped to have some support whilst carrying out the Pest Management tasks! 


Being a lover of history, getting experience in the Glasgow University Archives was a truly unique and rewarding experience, and I would urge anybody who is thinking of a career in the heritage/conservation sector to take up a Club 21 Placement if the opportunity presents.  This has been an excellent chance to gain some practical archival skills that I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to.  Not only that, the staff at the Archives are a lovely bunch of people and I very much enjoyed working with them all.  At the moment it is extremely difficult to get any kind of experience, paid or unpaid, in the heritage/conservation sector, be that in a museum or archive environment, however this placement has given me invaluable experience which I can use towards future employment opportunities, and I can also take the skills I have learnt and apply them in my postgraduate course.

                                                          Thanks to Jenny for sharing her experiences, stay tuned for Kirsty’s blog-post shortly!

Categories: Archive Services

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