Beth Dumas, CRC Taster Day Volunteer
Since October, I have been volunteering with the CRC, doing one or two day sessions with each department and discovering how every job contributes to the task of running the University of Edinburgh’s Special Collections. Just by volunteering one day a week, I was able to jump right into assisting with book collections, responding to queries for information or digital images, and the beginnings of rare books and archive cataloguing. Among other highlights, I discovered a fascinating drawing in a late 19th century casebook from the Lothian Health Services Archive, encountered more books in Icelandic than I’d ever imagined would be in Edinburgh, and spent a rather poignant day sorting materials associated with alumni who fought in WWI.
As a student in the MSc Material Cultures and History of the Book programme, the experience has proved invaluable in my understanding of how the modern library handles rare books, manuscripts, and archives, and the varied professions associated with an institution such as the CRC. This practical information has dove-tailed nicely with my academic interest in book history, and rounded out my studies in a way that simply completing my course-work never would. When I started volunteering, I knew I wanted to work in a library but wasn’t sure where I would be the best fit, but by learning about every department, I was able to determine that my strongest interest is in rare books, which led directly into my new position as one of two cataloguing interns in the rare books and manuscripts division of the CRC, which I am eagerly looking forward to as the next step on my career path. I would strongly suggest that anyone with an interest in literature, art, history, or, obviously, book history, take the time to volunteer at the CRC, because it’s a rewarding way to see how your academic interests can be applied to managing and preserving the wealth of material culture available at the University.