Volunteers' Week: accessions registers

Volunteers' Week takes place from 1 - 7 June 2021. At Hampshire Cultural Trust, we have an extraordinary team of volunteers, who give their time, energy and passion to make an invaluable contribution to communities across the county. We're marking this year's Volunteers' Week with a series of articles that give just a very small glimpse into the incredible work of our volunteers. Here, our Curatorial Liaison Manager, Ross Turle, looks at a volunteering opportunity provided by lockdown.

Lockdown posed many challenges for museums, but at the same time offered opportunities. One such opportunity was to address an issue the curatorial staff at the trust had with access to accession registers. What are accessions registers, I hear you ask? The short answer is a list of all the objects that are in our collections, with details of when they came in and where they came from. In the distant mists of time, these ledger books would have been the only record of objects held, but in more recent years, information has been transferred to a computer database - although unfortunately not all the information and the computer frequently says 'no' when asked about objects which should be in the collections.

An example of one of the older registers, this one is from the Willis Museum, Basingstoke

With little opportunity to get hands-on with the collections, lockdown provided an opportunity to address the issue of how to make the information in the accession registers - which was at least thankfully scanned as PDFs - more readily available. Volunteers have always played a big part in our work, both in our stores and at our museums, but why not give people an opportunity to volunteer from their own home? An advertisement was put out for volunteers to transcribe the PDFs into Excel spreadsheets, which are easier to search and order. I have to confess that I was surprised at the large number of applicants we had and not just people local to Hampshire, but from across the country. In all we had 44 applicants and ended up with 27 volunteers.

The volunteers who stepped forward proved to come from a variety of backgrounds. Some were university students just starting out on their careers and wanting some real museum experience during lockdown. One student was able to use the project as a work experience placement. Other volunteers were at the opposite end of their careers and wished to continue with their lifelong interest. Some were people working in the arts and museums sector who wanted to bolster their CV or keep their hand in, with lockdown providing so few opportunities and stopping them doing their own work.

These two comments are very representative of feedback from volunteers working on the project:

“I have found that incorporating transcribing into my weekly routine has given me some more structure and a feeling of doing something helpful and fulfilling.”

“I applied for the volunteer position so that I could stay involved with museum collections while everywhere is closed. I've found transcribing things such as collections records a fascinating way to learn about the breadth of a collection.”

I am extremely grateful to the volunteers for their unreserved help and also to Amy Humphries from our Winchester team for her help in coordinating the project. We are very much looking forward to welcoming back our established volunteers when we are able to, but also hope to continue travelling this distanced-volunteering, two-way street.

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This article was written by:
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Ross Turle

I am the Curatorial Liaison Manager for Hampshire Cultural Trust. I help with the care of the collections held and enable access to the collections so as they can researched and exhibited.
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