Objects before conservation
Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell, talks about the contribution of volunteers in Special Collections.

Volunteering is a key element in making our collections accessible for research, teaching and public enjoyment. The Collections Care and Conservation Team has a longstanding commitment to welcoming volunteers with the skills, dedication and goodwill they bring.  Volunteers help us deliver projects as well as carrying out routine work, such as cleaning and repackaging collections.

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience and interests. This can make for lively interaction and has inspired some volunteers to explore further potential avenues of research and study based on the collections they have been working on. Some have gone on to work in conservation.

Apart from being lovely, community-minded people, united by a passion for history and heritage, why do they do it? Generally speaking, they want to build new skills or apply their existing ones in a new way, learn about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in conservation or just meet like-minded people.

Recently, volunteers have been helping with our Medical Collections Project. Once soiled and difficult to access items are now clean and rehoused. Gone are the weird and wonderful packaging solutions of yesteryear like manila envelopes and ancient Kapok stuffing material, which were damaging the collections. Thanks to our volunteers these have been replaced with beautifully crafted paper wrappers and boxes, each made bespoke for particular items.  Medals, for example, are nested in inert foam in boxes and wrapped in archival quality acid free tissue.

Not only are the collections more stable and protected as a result of these simple actions but we all derive great satisfaction seeing how well cared for they now look!

Objects after conservation
Objects from the Leeds School of Medicine Collection after repackaging. Image credit Leeds University Library

“I was happy with the repackaging of the medals because I felt it paid tribute to all the medical staff who had received the awards”, Helen Utting, retired Senior Lecturer, Leeds University School of Healthcare, and conservation volunteer

Anyone can become a volunteer – no experience is necessary as training in handling and basic conservation techniques is given. Look out for roles, usually advertised as and when they are available, via Twitter @LULGalleries or Volunteer Connect.