23 Feb 2016

Volunteering as a Natural Science Documentation Assistant

I'm Grace and I began volunteering with Birmingham Museums as part of the Visitor Services Team, spending the majority of my time engaging with visitors in the Staffordshire Hoard Gallery. It was great to be able to use the knowledge I had gained at university in order to answer visitors’ questions and give them more information not just about the hoard but also about archaeology in general.

A few months later, I joined the Natural Science Curator Luanne Meehitiya at the Museum Collections Centre as a Natural Science Documentation Assistant. At the beginning I worked mostly with the Spirit Collection, transferring the hand written log onto a spreadsheet and cross-referencing the objects to the entries in the accession record. I found reading through the accession record so interesting and that is how I found out that there is a raven in the collection that was owned by Sir Henry Irving, and possibly originally owned by Charles Dickens.


More recently I have been working on making sure all the objects in the Natural Science collection are properly labelled with the correct accession number. This is the role that I have enjoyed the most as there’s something special about being able to handle objects that are usually locked in a cabinet. I get to look through the records of all the objects that have been added to the collections, as far back as the early 1900’s!

Labelling objects

I have learnt so much through volunteering with Birmingham Museums including how to handle and pack objects for transit, how important environmental control is and I got the chance to visit another museum to see how they store and catalogue their collections.

In September last year, I began my research Master’s degree at the University of Birmingham though I still continue volunteering. I find it so rewarding at the end of the day when I’ve managed to mark another collection of objects or add another page of the hand-written record to the sheet. Some days I get to do one of my favourite things and play detective to try to match an object in the spirit collection to an entry in the accession records.

Natural Science

Volunteering has been a great way to learn new skills and gain practical experience, as well as take a break from university work. It’s also great to handle objects that are usually placed behind glass or a “Please do not touch” sign.

If you are interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums then take a look at the current volunteering opportunities we have available across all our sites.