Avril Pedley, a retired librarian and archivist, looks back at her experiences as our most longstanding conservation and archive volunteer.

I ignored the usual wise advice about “never stick your head above the parapet” when I first volunteered to work in Special Collections in 2010 after seeing an article in the local paper suggesting that help would be welcomed. Since then I have continued to come in, more or less every week.

Even now I never entirely know what kind of work my day will hold.  I may help to trundle a trolley to another part of the campus where storage is used.  I can also undertake basic listing of new acquisitions so that Special Collections staff can use my notes as a basis for their work. My own professional background as a librarian and archivist is a help here.

I have assisted in the processing of several antiques’ dealers’ archives including the H. M. Lee & Sons and R. A. Lee Collection.  The company kept a record of its stock on index cards which were rather disorganised.  Having put these into order by stock number and repackaged them in suitable boxes, it is rewarding to know that researchers are now accessing the collection.

Many of my tasks involve helping to conserve archives.  Sometimes I am doing mundane tasks, perhaps cutting and folding large numbers of acid free folders to specific sizes to protect paper archives. I may be measuring quantities of books so that fitted boxes can be ordered for them.

In the course of all this I get to see and handle wonderful items which give me enormous pleasure.  I have learnt how to make protective boxes for them, and how to pack them suitably.  My boxes don’t always work out perfectly, and some have a distinctly “hand crafted” look about them.

Die for casting medal
Die used to cast the Leeds School of Medicine medal after repackaging.

One of my favourite projects was making a box for two dies used for producing the Leeds School of Medicine Medal.  These date from the 1890s.  The front face design features a crown of laurel leaves.  The die for the reverse face design is engraved with a portrait of John Hunter (1728-1793), the Scottish surgeon.

While I may not be volunteering much longer as my husband and I are planning to move away from Leeds, I shall certainly appear every Wednesday until the removal van is actually at the door.