Volunteers Get Hands-On with Sheffield's History

Museums Sheffield’s new Curatorial Assistant – Archaeology, Lucy Creighton on how volunteers are helping share the city’s collections.

I’ve just finished the third month of my new role as Curatorial Assistant – Archaeology at Museums Sheffield. I was brought on board to help the recently appointed Curator of Archaeology, Helen Harman, with championing our city’s fantastic archaeology collection. It’s been a busy and exciting time, as well as a steep learning curve. I’ve certainly had plenty to do – answering public enquiries, developing workshops and events and carrying out research for forthcoming displays, and all alongside getting to know Sheffield’s extensive and rich archaeology collection!

We’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the number of people eager to get involved with the collection. In April this year Museums Sheffield launched its volunteering programme – in the first few months we received over 70 requests for volunteering placements! It’s fantastic that so many people are interested in museum archaeology and wish to offer their time. It was really important to us that we try and give as many people as possible the opportunity to get involved. So, rather than just taking on a few volunteers, we’ve developed a large-scale project through which lots of participants will be able to gain a foundation and understanding of working in museums.

This September, we’ll be welcoming 36 budding archaeologists to work with us in our store; these volunteers will be undertaking many aspects of ‘collections management’ – unpacking boxes, documenting their contents, condition checking, changing packing materials and taking photographs. We’ll begin work in our ‘sensitive store’ area, where the environmental conditions of objects are more closely controlled. Here the volunteers will gain experience of handling fragile materials, including metals, and learning about the best way to store them for their long term preservation. 

Increasing access to the city’s archaeology collection is one of our main priorities and the support of the volunteers is invaluable in helping us achieve this. The information they record will be added to our collections management system – an enormous database of Museums Sheffield’s entire collection. It’s a huge task, but having this information readily available will help the curatorial team respond efficiently to the huge variety of enquiries we receive, both from the general public and experts working on specialist research.

We hope our volunteers will take lots from the experience too. I’ve done my fair share of volunteering in the past and know the importance of developing first hand skills and knowledge for those hoping to forge a career in the museums sector. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for people with a passion for archaeology to make a real difference.   

We hope to run this project again in early 2014 to allow even more people the chance to get involved with this vital aspect of museum work. Keep an eye on our Volunteering Programmes page for updates on this and other opportunities.

Aug 19 2013

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