Working with Volunteers by Anika Klee

Everyone knows that volunteers can often be the unsung heroes of the museum world, helping out with a range of tasks and activities.

I have recently been involved in recruiting volunteers to work within the Human History department at Auckland War Memorial Museum, sorting CVs, shortlisting and interviewing the prospective volunteers in a casual style. Being a volunteer at Auckland Museum is a sought after position and being responsible for giving that opportunity to someone was a difficult but rewarding process. It gave me some insight into how difficult recruiting for a paying role must be and how attitude can be more important than experience.

We recruited two volunteers to help the Collection Managers and me with various tasks. Both of the successful applicants are still at university studying for their undergraduate degrees.  I wish I had known to volunteer when I was at that stage of university – not that I knew what I wanted to do with my life at that point! This meant that neither had any hands-on museum experience. Everything they do is new, and is helping them to develop skills that are valuable to potential future careers in the museum sector; if that is the path they wish to take.

World War I uniform photography

My own experience of volunteering in museums was very different to what I am involved with now; I was often given a project and left to work on it by myself, not having direct contact with a mentor or manager. Only occasionally would I work with others, and in these instances they had the same burgeoning skill set as me.

At Auckland Museum however, I work very closely with my volunteer as we photograph World War I uniforms for a half day once a week – often the uniforms are difficult to handle by just one person, so having my volunteer is invaluable.

I have been able to teach her to use our studio photography set up, the ins and outs of our cameras, given insight into a few of the interesting Auckland Museum numbering systems and how to attach the images to Vernon (our Collection Management System). Imparting experience to someone does remind me how much I now know, and how I should remember to value my own capabilities.

As an emerging museum professional, working with volunteers is a great way to show leadership and develop the ability to teach others. Through this experience I have learnt many things, but perhaps the most surprising, was that in increasing someone else’s professional capacity, you often can increase your own.

Anika Klee
Collection Information Technician – Human History,
Auckland War Memorial Museum

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