Volunteers and Museums

There are many museums around the world which rely on volunteers to carry out the bulk of the activities. There are even loads of museums that are entirely volunteer run and have no paid members of staff. In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to develop our volunteer programme and start supervising volunteers working on various projects. 

So here is my chance to big up some of the work that our new volunteers have started and give an insight into volunteering in the museum world. 

Here in St Andrews we don’t have any problem recruiting volunteers. In fact, we almost have the opposite problem of too many people wanting to gain experience and not enough staff members to supervise them. We are very lucky to have an enthusiastic student population, who often have a lot of skills to offer. I always think it’s nice to conduct an initial interview with potential volunteers and hear about what they can bring to the role, and then hopefully match them up with a good project. 

Current Volunteer Projects 

It’s quite possible that you have already spoken to a volunteer when visiting MUSA. We have five volunteers who kindly give up their lunchtime to work at the reception desk in MUSA. They are all doing a great job greeting and chatting with our visitors. So next time you are in, give them a smile and a hello. I think they deserve it as they work for free! 

I also have two new volunteers, Ella and Elisabeth who are helping with a big project to surface clean the Historic Scientific Instruments Collection (one of our Recognised Collections). Before we had our new store the collection wasn’t kept in the most ideal of storage conditions. This has led to a layer of dirt and dust building up on some of the objects. The collection has now moved into our new clean store, which gives us a chance to assess the condition of the objects and also carry out some light surface cleaning. It’s important for this work to be carried out, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because dust can cause long-term damage to the object. It’s a long process and we have to use the gentlest of tools. The best thing to clean most objects is a soft brush, but groom stick which is used by conservators is very good too. Here are some photos of some of the objects Ella and Elisabeth have cleaned: 

Eye - after cleaning by Elisabeth
Object before cleaning


Object after Cleaning by Ella


We also have  Milena volunteering with us one day a week to work on a documentation project. She is cataloguing a group of botany slides. A recent gift to the Unit, the slides were originally made and used Mabel Wynd, who was a student at St Andrews in 1909. This made her one of the first female students at the University! Milena is currently in the process of adding information about the slides to our collections database and taking photos of each item. Eventually the all the slides will be on our (up-coming) online database, but in the meantime here a few sneak previews for anyone interested in the world of plants:

Botany slide BPM2010.35(20)
Botany slide BPM2010.35(38)

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