Volunteering at King’s

I joined the Thackeray Project at King’s College Library as a volunteer in June 2017 having found out about the project through an online newspaper article. I decided to take part in the project because I have a great passion for history and for books. I also believed that I would gain valuable experience at King’s which would be important for my long-term interests in museums, libraries and archives. As a member of the project I had a number of duties which included: phase boxing of rare books, preparing and invigilating the Jane Austen open days and editing on the King’s College website/blog.

Me standing next to a stack of phase boxes.

The boxing of the Thackeray collection books was central to the project. There were many books that were in need of archival-standard ‘phase boxes’ in order to protect them from further wear and tear. Although it took me a little time to learn and understand how the books were numbered and shelved (having only had experience with the Dewey Decimal system previously), I loved boxing the books because I liked handling them and studying their bindings and pages. I also enjoyed the fact that I was helping to preserve history for the future, something which I’m very passionate about.

Me with College Librarian, James Clements, awaiting visitors to the Jane Austen Open Day.

When the boxing stage of the Thackeray Project was coming to a close, I became involved in the preparation and the invigilation of the Jane Austen open days which we had over the summer of 2017. I really enjoyed both aspects of the open days. As with phase boxing, I loved being close to the volumes and learning about Jane Austen and her works; I’ve come away with more knowledge about Austen than I had before. A particularly memorable moment was seeing the Sanditon manuscript which took centre stage at the open days. After many weeks of preparation, i.e. selecting the books, writing the captions, preparing the posters and so on, we had our first Jane Austen open day on 18 July 2017, the bicentenary of her death. I took part in invigilating the event, monitoring the displays and assisting the general public with their enquiries. Although it was extremely exhausting, I had a wonderful time. It was especially pleasing when I found out that we had 1,061 visitors in total for that day which was an indication of the success of the event.

Visitors viewing the Jane Austen exhibition.

As part of the Jane Austen bicentenary events being run at King’s, we also created an online exhibition of the Austen books shown at the open days on our website and our blog. I took part in the planning of the posts and galleries and did the editing of the photos and text. It didn’t take me long to learn how a website and blog work. I enjoyed helping to edit them because I like knowing that when I look back at these posts, I will remember that I helped to put them there: this makes me feel that I have a personal connection with the Austen events. It also gave me useful IT skills which I feel will be helpful for the future.

King’s College webpage showing the Jane Austen section of the digital library.

I really enjoyed being part of the Thackeray Project. I fell in love with all of the books and with King’s College itself. I have enjoyed working with rare books so much that I have decided that I would like to specialise in this area in the future. I continue to volunteer in the library. In addition to my work in the library, I have recently started to volunteer in the Archives as well (as of November 2017).

Harriet Alder

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