Volunteering at Kent

The first LibChats event of 2015 kicked off in March with a range of speakers talking about their experiences of volunteering at the University of Kent and beyond.  Those presenting ranged from volunteers themselves, to University of Kent staff that are supported to undertake external volunteering opportunities, to those who manage volunteering opportunities across campus and within specific teams.

 “Volunteers are people that can contribute to the success or task of an organisation” explains Jane Gallagher, Senior Library Assistant for Special Collections. People have different motivations for volunteering, such as the desire to develop new skills or build on existing experience or knowledge, or they may feel that they want to ‘give something back’ and make a difference in the community.” Whatever the motivation, becoming involved in volunteering can provide experience and open up opportunities for employment, can lead to new found friendships and be extremely rewarding.  “Special Collections has been overwhelmed with volunteers this term, which is a testament to the positive message of those who already volunteer for us.  Collaboratively our volunteers have cleaned, stabilized and prepared 240 shelves of rare books and archives.” Their achievements have been profound, having made a huge impact on the preparations for the Big Underground Move.


Charlotte Merrekin
Charlotte Merrekin cleaning a rare book in preparation for the Special Collections and Archives ‘Big Underground Move’ project.

Charlotte Merrekin is one such volunteer who has been volunteering with Special Collections and Archives since September 2014. “I was approaching my third year and wanted work experience where I could progress in a role both individually and within a team.  I undertook a Theatre History module as part of my course and enjoyed using the archives so decided to email Jane.”  Charlotte was initially involved in the cleaning of rare books within the archive in preparation for the Big Underground Move, which will see over 3 kilometers of shelved rare books and archives transferred from the current store to their new home within the library extension.  The experience has been a positive one for Charlotte who has watched the volunteer team grow during the time she has been involved with the work of Special Collections.  “There are a broad range of volunteers who you can also learn from, having been a good collaborative effort and an exciting way of learning new things.  I wasn’t sure about my future career but I would now most certainly consider a career in this sector now.

Ann MacDonald, University of Kent Archivist, speaks about how “engaging with, and offering opportunities to volunteers supports best practice in collections management.  Supporting and engaging with volunteers is fundamental to demonstrating the value of Special Collections & Archives,” and will be a major boost to the collection’s pursuit of achieving Archive Service Accreditation, which is the UK standard of good practice for archive services across the university and heritage sectors.  Archive Accreditation can be expected to bring benefits to an organisation across seven core areas (according to the Archive Service Accreditation Standard); Professionalism, Performance, People, Patronage, Partnerships, Profiles, Planning and People.  The people that can help Special Collections & Archives on its way to Archive Accreditation are its dedicated team of volunteers.


©Margaret Rountree – Ingrid is one of the ponies ridden by the children at the Riding for the Disabled Association

Supported by the University of Kent, Margaret Rountree, Information Assistant for Lending Services, is able to undertake volunteering for the charity ‘Riding for the Disabled Association. Margaret is registered as a staff volunteer and as a result is able to dedicate one morning per term enabling children with a range of disabilities to experience horse riding. “It’s great to see the enjoyment of the children” explains Margaret, whose first task was to lead a pony for a wheelchair bound child.  Four to five sessions are provided within a morning, which includes two schools, and each rider is supported by up to three volunteers.  Margaret has so far accrued 19 volunteering hours, for which she was awarded a certificate at the universities award ceremony.  She is looking forward to continuing to volunteer with the RDA and the rewarding work that she undertakes with the children who are enabled by the service that this organisation provides.

The Kent Union empowers students and enables them to have a voice, fulfill their potential and get the most from university,” explains Steph Hughes, Volunteer Manager at the Kent Student Activities Department. “It’s about aligning staff and volunteers behind a charitable purpose, and recognising and rewarding the contributions our volunteers make.”  There are currently an estimated 1,800 volunteers working across multiple departments here at the University of Kent who have notched up over 104,000 volunteering hours throughout 2014.  All of those who volunteer are supported to do so by the Kent Union and are recognised and rewarded for the work that they have undertaken.  “Volunteering has its place and is a key part of many organisations, providing great development opportunities for our volunteers.”


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