Volunteering with the National Library of Australia: interview with Margaret Goode

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many remarkable volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the profusion of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our sixteenth interviewee is Margaret Goode, who volunteers for the National Library of Australia.

Moore sculpture at the Library (photo by Damian McDonald)
Moore sculpture outside the Library (photo by Damian McDonald)

Tell us about you and your National Library of Australia volunteer role…

I began volunteering at the National Library several years ago when I was phasing down my consulting business. I began by doing Treasures Gallery and Behind-the-Scenes tours and by undertaking weekend shifts on the foyer information desk.

As I reduced paid work it seems I increased projects at the National Library, commencing the practice of forming small research teams to prepare guides for the library’s exhibitions. We also set up small teams to make a big hit in a short time on projects that library staff will never get to. Currently small teams are working on the Australian theatre programs, rehousing and listing them and entering holdings information on to a shared national database called AusStage.

What are the benefits of volunteering with the National Library?

The public benefit is that the volunteers get a lot of work done for the Library that wouldn’t otherwise be done.

The benefit to me is the satisfaction of doing something productive and the social contact in a very pleasant millieu, providing the contact with the world outside home that working used to give me.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

The volunteer work is absorbing, and educative in that I learn a lot of things that I mightn’t otherwise explore.

A big difference from the working life is that while you are responsible for doing work properly when you’re at the Library, there is no management responsibility staying with you when you walk out the door to go home. That is very, very nice.

And the volunteers in the Library staff are really delightful, varied, interesting and good spirited to people, in other words lovely people to be with. The library staff are wonderful to the volunteers, and vice versa, and no harm comes from people being nice to each other.

Volunteers at the National Library can choose to provide exhibition tours, behind-the-scenes tours or assist the public at the Foyer Information Desk (FID). How did you choose your tour specialisations and projects?

I guess it is a combination of what my background would make me suited to and what the Library needs at any particular time.

Do you have a favourite insight into the library or a library secret that you could share?

The National Library is a place where the starting point for interaction is goodwill. On the front desk, for example, when you tell people that exhibitions, tours and kids activities are free they are amazed and delighted. Some people don’t expect a free good, and do value them when they receive one.

How do people express interest to volunteer with the National Library?

The National Library offers a range of volunteer roles – assisting the public at the Foyer Information Desk, welcoming visitors, providing guided tours or behind-the-scenes doing dedicated project work.

You can find out more about how to apply for the Volunteer Program on the National Library’s Become a volunteer webpage.

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Volunteering with Canberra Archaeological Society: interview with Steve Skitmore

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many magnificent volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the abundance of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our fifteenth interviewee is Steve Skitmore, who volunteers with the Canberra Archaeological Society (CAS).

Steve Skitmore, CAS volunteer
Steve Skitmore, CAS volunteer

Tell us about you and your CAS volunteer role…

When I first volunteered for CAS last year, I actually didn’t realise it was with them! I moved to Canberra just over a year ago to study a Master of Archaeological Science at ANU, and as soon as I arrived I tried to throw myself into all the projects and opportunities that were available. I knew Lucy, the President of CAS, and she had asked if I could help out doing some ground penetrating radar surveying on Springbank Island. Springbank is in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin and we were trying to see if we could detect the remains of the old homestead there. Needless to say, by the end of the week, I knew a lot about CAS (and how to push around a radar machine)! My role in the society is pretty informal, I help out where I can with organising events and the like.

What are the benefits of volunteering with CAS?

Well, there are lots! You get to talk about exciting new developments in archaeology with the public, see kids faces light up as they help out uncover artefacts on public excavations, connect with experts who are breaking new ground in dating objects and tracing ancient DNA.

The biggest one though is that you are connecting with those people in Canberra who know the most about its history. People often think of Canberra as this place with only 100 years of history that would be great if only it was a little more like Melbourne or Sydney. Well, when you volunteer with CAS you’re working alongside Traditional Owners whose ancestors have lived on this land for over 20,000 years. That’s a mind-bogglingly huge amount of time. Working with them, you get to explore the hidden histories written in the scarred trees and grinding grooves, places that people look at every day, but don’t really see.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

It’s definitely being able to get out into the field, and not being stuck in the lab all the time! In the last couple of months, I’ve helped organise a community archaeology dig where the public can come along and learn from the pros, and have run a stand at the National Science Week with replica human skulls and some stone tools for people to play with. Also, maybe I’m a bit mean, but I also love bursting people’s bubbles about what archaeologists actually do. Everyone wanted to be an archaeologist when they were young right? Follow Indiana Jones and Lara Croft on their treasure hunts, or find dinosaurs? Sad to say guys, but we don’t find treasure and don’t look for dinosaurs!

What’s the next thing you’re organising?

Apart from the monthly seminars that we hold at the ANU, we’ve got a field trip on tomorrow (17th October) to learn how to locate and record Aboriginal grinding grooves in Gungahlin. Everyone is welcome to come along, registration information is on CAS’ facebook page.

Do you have a favourite moment from site excavations or the CAS/CAR (Centre for Archaeology) evening lecture series?

The community open day for the Springbank Island project has got to be my favourite so far. We had a couple of hundred people come out to the island on a lovely Saturday morning and we got them down in the trenches to get their hands dirty. My favourite moment was teaching a young girl to scrape back mud and dirt with a trowel to uncover artefacts, whilst she was decked out in bright pink fairy dress and wings! She loved it, but I’m not sure her parents were that impressed.

How do people express interest to volunteer with CAS?

We welcome anyone from the Canberra region who has an interest in archaeology, no experience required! The best thing to do it head along to the CAS website or Facebook page to find out about our upcoming events.

Volunteering with Canberra Contemporary Art Space: interview with Sharon Gallagher

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many magnificent volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the abundance of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our fourteenth interviewee is artist, Shags (aka Sharon Gallagher), who volunteers with CCAS (Canberra Contemporary Art Space).

Canberra Contemporary Art Space is a space in which contemporary artists can develop daring new work. There are three CCAS gallery spaces in Canberra which host exhibitions by local, national and international artists. CCAS offers opportunities for networking and collaboration, while introducing audiences to exciting new ideas and media.

Shags, CCAS volunteer
Shags, CCAS volunteer

Tell us about you and your CCAS volunteer role…

As part of my mid-life crisis (or is that ‘peak in the all-life crisis’?) I decided to enrol in Printmedia and Drawing at the ANU School of Art. As part of a Professional Practices unit, we had to undertake either a residency in a high-school or do an internship somewhere of our choosing. Not being confident that I could wrangle a grunt of teenagers; and because the CCAS staff laughed at my dumb jokes when I first met them, I figured I may as well be among people who didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Fortunately, they took me in.

After my required time was up, I asked if I could stay on as a volunteer. Well, I must have dazzled them with my wit*, because they said yes.

*I can’t back this up.

What are the benefits of volunteering with CCAS? 

The international glory?

Seriously though, there are a number of benefits:

1. As I attempt to transition into an arts career, this real world experience will no doubt be invaluable. I’ve learnt all manner of skills. For example, how to hang lights (and stay on a ladder); that the bubble-side of bubble wrap goes on the outside of artwork; if you sit the gallery, the public expects you to be the local arts expert; what artists do as other jobs; what else an arts organisation does to stay relevant and engaged with the community; how much time and effort goes into organising an exhibition. This list goes on.

2. As a practicing artist, I understand what I can do to make life easier for a gallery; what’s important in an exhibition proposal (good documentation!); I get to practice talking about art; I feel more included in the arts community. This list goes on too. I’ve really learnt a lot just by having my ears in the room.

3. The quiet pride in knowing you’re helping an organisation, that you inherently care about, to succeed.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

I just really like hanging out with the people who work there; they’re delightful, hardworking, multi-skilled, driven, charming nutters.

A close second is de-installing and packing up exhibitions, prepping the walls and installing the next show.

Was there anything that surprised you when you first started at CCAS?

The volume of work they get through with good humour.

Last year CCAS had 32 exhibitions at the Gormon Arts Centre (GAC) and Manuka. Now that the City space opened earlier this year, CCAS will have 41 shows in it’s 2016 exhibition program (pause to think about that. That’s A LOT!). This of course means: drafting contracts, liaison with artists/galleries/couriers, de-install/install, catalogue essay writing and design, marketing, organising and attending openings, doing their social pages wrap-ups, to name a few things.

On top of this, they also (take a breath here) write funding proposals, do budgeting, report back to their funding bodies, manage the members base, member emails, social media, organise resident recipients, host events and school groups, give advice on proposals, do archiving, keep statistics, attend other organisations’ openings, they’ve just set up corporate partnership … there are only three full time staff!

To help with all of this and more, they have a bookkeeper, an installation guru and two volunteers.

Do you have a favourite exhibition that’s been held at CCAS?

Oh my. There have been so many great exhibitions held in all their spaces. However, my favourite by far was Monster at the GAC in 2013 by the mind-blowing printmaker and pioneer, Erica Seccombe.

How do people express interest to volunteer with CCAS?

Firstly, ask yourself some questions: Do I actually like contemporary art? What am I hoping to learn? Why this particular arts organisation and not another? Am I certain that I can turn up when I say I will? Do I understand it’s not all about wine and cheese cubes at openings? (i.e. I’m ok with scanning old catalogues or filling in statistical spreadsheets).

Once you’ve done that, head over to their website for information about duties, benefits, requirements and who to contact.

Volunteering with ACT Heritage Library: interview with Michael Hall

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many remarkable volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the profusion of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our thirteenth interviewee is Michael Hall who volunteers for the ACT Heritage Library (we previously interviewed another of their volunteers, too).

Michael Hall, editing the ACT Memorial database
Michael Hall, editing the ACT Memorial database

Tell us about you and your ACT Heritage Library volunteer role…

I started in 2006 working on the ACT Memorial website which commemorates Territorians who have served in wars and on humanitarian and peacekeeping missions from the Boer War to Afghanistan. As a local historian I had already been researching Territorians who had served in World War 1 and had provided names for the ACT Memorial for that conflict in 2006. Since then I have been adding and updating names for the Memorial and researching the stories of the individuals who are commemorated on the website. Over the years I’ve written numerous stories which the ACT Heritage Library has published on its ‘Stories from the ACT Memorial’ website.

What are the benefits of volunteering with ACT Heritage Library? 

Access to the wonderful resources of the ACT Heritage Library; its books, photos, maps, ephemera and collections and the support of the Library in publishing the fruits of my research.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

Being able to tell the stories of individuals who have served their community and to have them available to the public. In particular, being able to help the families of those people on the Memorial tell their stories.

How did you choose the subject matter or which archives to work on? Do you need to be a specialist in that area?

In 2001 I was helping put together a booklet on the naming ceremony for Canberra (which occurred on 12 March 1913) as part of the Canberra & District Historical Society’s commemoration of the centenary of Federation. Looking at images and film taken on the day I became curious about the people attending the ceremony and the soldiers and light horsemen on parade. The naming ceremony was two and bit years short of the Gallipoli landings and I wanted to know if any of those present served in the war. There is very little material about the local involvement in World War 1 so I began searching. Having a solid knowledge of local history was an advantage.

Do you have a favourite insight from the archives or collections that you work with in your volunteer role?

People seem to think that Canberra has little history. ‘The Road to Peronne’, one of the ‘Stories from the ACT Memorial’ on the ACT Heritage Library website, is about a World War 1 soldier, George Potter, who sacrificed himself to save his mates. He lived across the road from where I grew up. Sometimes history can be very local.

How do people express interest to volunteer with ACT Heritage Library?

Formally, by applying to the Librarian in writing, including a resume and reasons for wanting to work in the Heritage Library. This allows the Librarian to match individual skills to the current set of tasks available.

Volunteering with the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House: interview with Sylvia Marchant

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many lovely volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the bounty of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our twelfth interviewee is Dr Sylvia Marchant, who volunteers with the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MoAD OPH).

Sylvia, MoAD OPH volunteer
Sylvia, MoAD OPH volunteer

Tell us about you and your Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) volunteer role…

I am a retired public servant and a historian. My role at the Museum is to guide visitors around the building and explain its history and functions. It is a very interesting building with a rich history featuring Australian politics and fascinating personalities. This makes it possible to shape the story to suit the different visitors who can be either very knowledgeable or unfamiliar with Australia’s history such as visitors from other countries. I also take part in the Oral History programme which involves the recording of interviews with people having personal knowledge or experience of Old Parliament House, particularly during the years when it was Australia’s Parliament.

Over the years management has broadened its focus especially with the introduction of the Museum of Democracy which has greatly enriched the experience at Old Parliament House.

What are the benefits of volunteering with MoAD?

The pleasure of introducing people to the charismatic old building and enjoying their positive responses and also of being part of such an interesting institution plus working with motivated and lively colleagues and staff. Regular training programs are another benefit where volunteers are introduced to the work of the professional staff of the Museum such as Curators, historians and heritage management, which keeps us up-to-date with developments and programmes.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

Interacting with visitors of such a varied backgrounds and ages and enjoying the beneficial ambience of the building itself.

Do you have a favourite anecdote or secret about Old Parliament House or a display at MoAD?

I find the display of the replica Crown Jewels in the Office of the President of the Senate the most fascinating with its glitter and splendour. It is such a contrast to the elegant simplicity of the building itself and a gentle reminder Australia’s British heritage.

How do people express interest to volunteer with MoAD?

Volunteers are recruited on a needs basis, usually through a bulk recruitment that is advertised beforehand. However expressions of interest in our volunteer program are always welcome and can be made by contacting the Volunteers Coordinator on (02) 6270 8146 or email. Volunteers are inducted with an intensive and varied training programme over four weeks.

Volunteering with ALIA Board: interview with Aileen Weir

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many splendid volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the wide range of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our eleventh interviewee is Aileen Weir, who volunteers as a board member with ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association).

Aileen Weir, ALIA Board volunteer
Aileen, ALIA Board volunteer

Tell us about you and your ALIA Board volunteer role…

I can’t think of a time in my career when I wasn’t involved with professional associations and I have never regretted it.  Working on ALIA committees is a great way to network with people you wouldn’t normally encounter and the contacts you make can be invaluable for your own career progression.  Helping to plan conferences, seminars or other events is a terrific way to develop your skills.   Approaching potential sponsors and speakers, planning a budget or perhaps chairing a panel session on the day, all require skills you may not have the opportunity to exercise in your day job.  Over the years, I have been on numerous committees and, in addition to what I gained professionally, have made many friends.

What are the benefits of volunteering on the ALIA Board?

It is a real privilege to be a member of the ALIA Board and I remain indebted to former President, Vanessa Little, for encouraging me to take on this role.  I am now in my fourth year and have learned a great deal about the challenges facing our profession and the excellent work done by many people across the country to promote our skills and advocate on the issues that matter.    As a Board member, I have an opportunity to contribute on a strategic level and help shape the Association’s priorities and advocacy agenda.  I believe strongly in the values of ALIA – equity of access to information, preservation of the human record – and am proud of the many activities the Association undertakes to promote them.  Volunteering in any capacity is worthwhile, whether through the Board, our many useful and important Advisory committees, or one of our Groups at the local level.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role? How does your current role differ from your previous ALIA volunteer roles?

[Editor’s note: Aileen has previously convened ALIA Universities and Research Libraries Group (URLs) and the Australian Law Librarians Group (ALLA ACT)]

It is hard to pin down what I find most enjoyable. I have always felt a strong responsibility to give back to the profession that has supported me throughout my career.   I certainly have great respect, admiration and, in many cases, friendship for the colleagues I have worked with over the years.   Colleagues you meet through association work can be great informal mentors as they are one step removed from your work environment, but familiar enough with what you do to offer advice.  I know that volunteering has extended my own skills and helped position me for leadership roles in my career.  As an employer, I always look twice at someone who is an active ALIA volunteer – to me it demonstrates initiative, commitment, leadership qualities, and professional pride.

How do people express interest to volunteer with ALIA?

There are many ways you can get involved.  There are numerous groups and advisory committees you can join, all listed on the ALIA website, as is information about running for the Board.  Talking to anyone you know who is already involved with ALIA is a great way to indicate your interest.  Another way is to contact Diana Richards, the ACT/NSW State Manager. Diana would be happy to tell you which groups are active in the ACT or explain other ways that you can get involved.

Many people encouraged me along the way so, if someone taps you on the shoulder and suggests you get involved, I strongly recommend you do it!  Like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it!

If you’re based in Canberra and would like to find out about events run by our local ALIA groups (including URLs ACT, but also ACTive ALIA, ALIA APSIG and ALIA OPALS ACT), please see the ALIA in the ACT webpage.

Also, remember to sign up for the FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) and ALIA Weekly newsletters. They are a great way to learn about ALIA activities and campaigns, such as the recent terrific (and delicious) Cooking for Copyright campaign.

Volunteering at a Gallery: interview with Christina Clarke

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many to restrict them to just one month! These stories will highlight the copious volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer.

Our tenth interviewee is Christina Clarke, who volunteers for the National Gallery of Australia.

Christina, Gallery volunteer
Christina, Gallery volunteer

Tell us about you and your Gallery volunteer role…

I’ve been working at the National Gallery of Australia’s (NGA) Research Library with documentation and archives for five and a half years but I’m actually an archaeometallurgist – an archaeologist who specialises in metalwork.  I finished my PhD on prehistoric Greek metalwork in 2012 and it’s been a struggle to find work in my field.  I wanted to do some volunteer work to expand my skillbase and I asked a colleague at the Gallery if she knew of anything coming up.  It was just pure coincidence that we had recently acquired a massive collection of early Australian silver from collector John Houstone and someone was needed to work on the records in the Gallery’s collection management system (CMS).  It’s a data entry role, but every item in the collection must be measured and examined for makers’ marks, and the manufacturing techniques and materials described.  This means that I handle every item, and there are hundreds of them, perhaps a thousand.

Having a library background means that I have a good grasp on data entry standards, but I have the expertise necessary for analysing metal antiquities, so it’s pretty much the perfect volunteer role for me.  Metalwork is my passion, and I’m just so happy to be able to be able to work with it every week!  Especially with a collection like this one which contains the work of some of the earliest silversmiths in Australia, so it has a lot of historical significance.  People joke with me that I must be sick of teaspoons (there are hundreds of them in this collection), but I secretly enjoy every single one!

Another great thing about this role is that I get to work with people and in parts of the Gallery that I’ve never had anything to do with before.  I liaise with art handlers, conservators and the Curator for Decorative Art and Design, as well as the team who manage the Gallery’s CMS, KE EMu.  I’ve gained some great new skills and have learned so much.

What are the benefits of volunteering for the Gallery? What kind of projects and activities do you anticipate in the future?

The Gallery is just a great place to work and volunteer.  It’s lovely to be part of a national cultural institution where, no matter what job you’re doing, you’re contributing to Australia’s cultural history.  It also has a fairly small workforce, so you get to know most people’s faces, even if you never work with them.  Another great benefit, of course, is all the wonderful art.  Working in the office you tend to forget that there’s an amazing collection of art just a couple of doorways away, so I love to wander through the exhibition spaces now and then to remind myself of what all the hard work is for!

For the future, well I will probably still be examining and cataloguing this silver collection until the end of the year, and after that there will still be some work to do tidying up the records.  I’ve also been developing some research projects based on the collection which will lead to some scientific papers for publication.  My academic interest has always been in prehistoric European and Middle Eastern metalwork, but as you can imagine there aren’t many avenues for that research in Australia!  I think that there’s a lot of scope for research into Australian colonial silver.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

Working directly with items in the NGA’s collection is definitely a highlight.  I’m particularly happy to be working with metal objects but, frankly, I’d be happy working with anything in the collection!  It’s also great volunteering in the organisation you work in because you learn about other aspects of the place, which makes your own job more meaningful because you see your work in a greater context.

Do you have a favourite collection item? Or have you learnt interesting things from doing data entry in the CM?

I don’t know if I could single out one item from the hundreds I’ve dealt with so far!  A couple of fun things with engraved inscriptions come to mind.  The Ryan Tea Service was presented to Captain Valentine Ryan by the passengers of a ship he captained between Portsmouth and New South Wales in 1836 “in acknowledgement of his unremitting attention and kindness during the voyage”.  He must have been a very kind chap to earn a gilded silver tea service!

Another wonderful item is a silver medal awarded to one Mr Moses Moses by the inhabitants of Yass in 1842 for trying to capture the bushranger Massay “in which he only failed by not being supported by the Constable present upon whose assistance he naturally calculated”.  These funny little stories really bring life to the objects.  Some of the items were owned and used by significant historical figures, and it’s humbling to work with them.

Could you share some tips for people wanting to do similar volunteer work? 

I really lucked out with this opportunity because it just happens to require a combination of skills and expertise which I happen to have.  Others would find it tedious, but I look forward to it every week.  If you’re a younger person who’s looking for volunteering opportunities to increase your skillbase, I’d say think about what direction you want your life or career to take and ask around about opportunities in areas which will carry you in that direction.  It’s also a matter of being able to contribute something, of course, so make sure you have some relevant skills to bring to the table!  Some of the best mature age volunteers I know have professional experience in their area, and they really are invaluable.

How do people become a volunteer at the National Gallery of Australia?

To find out about volunteer project work opportunities (which can be really varied) with the Gallery, please phone the Volunteers/Guides Coordinator on 02 6240 6588.

Many of the volunteers at the Gallery are Voluntary Guides, and provide daily public guided tours of the exhibitions. They undertake a year-long education program in art history and, upon graduation, commit to guiding once a week for at least three years. You can find out more about applying to be a Voluntary Guide on the Gallery’s website.