Last Tuesday was ‘library volunteers day’. A dozen or so people from the local area arrived at Insight—our Collections & Research Centre—at 10.00, and spent the morning cataloguing the vast number of unlabelled, unsorted books that are shelved in our research library. That means opening each book, entering its details into a form, filing the book, then entering the details into our digital database. For hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of books.
One such volunteer is Betty (third from left in the picture above), who’s old enough to remember saving up for a Brownie camera, and who’s been a museum volunteer since 2004. She’s the one who brings the biscuits for everyone to nibble on during the mid-morning tea break. So far Betty’s catalogued books about everything from TV and film to photography. But she tends to avoid the more gruesome photography books. ‘I don’t like all that blood and guts,’ she says. ‘Not when I’ve just had a chocolate biscuit.’
The books come from all over: personal donations, the University of Newcastle, and our Kraszna-Krausz Collection are just a few of our sources. Some books are well-thumbed, others have never been opened. Betty might be leafing through the pages of a book that’s worth pennies—or hundreds of pounds.
In the library itself, where some of our little team were busy filing the catalogued books, I found another volunteer: Pamela. She was dutifully cataloguing our collection of Portfolio, the magazine of contemporary photography. The magazine is having a back issues sale and we’re considering filling the gaps in our collection—but first we need to find out what we do and don’t have. That’s Pamela’s job today.
No-one is more grateful for the volunteers’ help than Brian Liddy, our Curator of Collections Access. ‘They make my life so much easier,’ he says. ‘And the cataloguing means that researchers stand a much better chance of finding the kind of books they’re searching for.’
If you’re interested in joining our team of volunteers, you can find more information on our website.