ARA publishes Volunteering in Archives 2014

Report by Caroline Williams adds to sector knowledge about volunteerexperience

 
caroline williams cpdThe Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) has published Volunteering in Archives 2014 by Caroline Williams, following a survey of volunteers in archives and records management services across the UK and Ireland. 
 
The survey sought to add to existing knowledge about the volunteer experience in archives and records management services across the UK and Ireland, building on previous surveys. 438 responses were received to 15 questions relating to volunteer profile, types of volunteering, motivations and benefits gained from volunteering.  
 
Volunteering in Archives 2014 adds to a number of pieces of research undertaken by the ARA and its predecessor bodies: in 2009 the National Council on Archives published Volunteering in Archives, the first research to seek the views of volunteers themselves  in identifying motivations and benefits. In January 2014, the ARA published Managing Volunteering in Archives by Caroline Williams. This looked at the topic from the perspective of those running archive services and managing volunteers.
 
‘Volunteering in Archives 2014 acts both as a complement to Managing Volunteering in Archives of 2014 and a successor to Volunteering in Archives of 2009’, says Louise Ray, who convenes the ARA’s sub-committee on Volunteering. ‘As well as providing data on this important part of the sector’s work, the growing body of ARA research on Volunteering underpins and guides the work of the Volunteering sub-committee’.  
 
 
Key findings
 
•Volunteer profile: this remains similar to previous surveys in relation to gender (64% female) and age (32% aged 65-74), though the population is aging slightly. 10% had at least one disability.
 
•Volunteers’ time commitment was substantial in terms of years volunteered, monthly hours and regularity of commitment (82% are volunteering weekly and 59% are contributing between 11 and 30 hours a month). Earlier surveys do not allow close comparison, but monitoring against CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) shows an upward trend.
 
•Types of volunteering: two thirds of people volunteered for social rather than career-related (28%) reasons; 85% in an archive environment.   A solid minority worked in conservation but very few in records management. More people made direct approaches to archive services than in 2009 and fewer came as part of an interest (e.g. Friends) group.
  
•Tasks undertaken: description and process based activities continue to predominate over outreach and advocacy undertakings and archival tasks over more general duties. Individuals each undertook about three different archival tasks, mainly related to description – transcribing, indexing, cataloguing or data inputting. General tasks were primarily secretarial, clerical and administrative.  
 
•Financial equivalence: while the most valuable outcomes of volunteering are not to do with money, it can be useful to make a case in terms that funders and others can relate to. Using the minimum wage as a model in 2014 over 300 people contributed a total of over 84,500 hours a year: an in-kind total of nearly £550,000 or over £1600 each. 
 
•Volunteer motivation and benefits: interests in history and in family history (69%) were key intellectual reasons for volunteering, though many were also keen to improve their archival and other skills. As in 2009 expectations continued to be met or exceeded, except in the case of family history – a category introduced in 2014. Greater benefits than expected accrued in the social and communal aspects of volunteering. 
 
•Volunteers’ experiences were very positive, valuing the tasks, the staff and the social environment, often wanting to ‘give back’ to services. 
 
•Improvements suggested included less bureaucracy, and better IT provision, feedback, and training and induction.
 
•Career volunteers: a significant minority (28%) undertook volunteering in order to advance a career.  Their voice has been clearly heard in this survey: issues surrounding payment, the status of ‘career’ volunteers and the need for experience tailored to a future career have been raised. 
 
•The distinction between professional and volunteer activities continues to be clearly maintained, but can become blurred for example where ‘career’ volunteers want anticipated professional activities, or where volunteers wish to save professionals time e.g. by accessing restricted areas.  
 
 
Conclusions
 
•Records management is still under-represented among volunteer activities.  
   
•Financial equivalence: a number of models might be used to establish the financial value of volunteers’ contributions. ‘While care should be taken to emphasise the fundamental non-financial values of volunteering some research into this area might be useful to those taking on volunteers where applications for funding are concerned’, Caroline Williams. 
 
•The management of volunteers is necessarily becoming more efficient and business like.  However volunteers may resent the introduction of processes that mimic those of employment.  Demands (especially if not strictly necessary) to produce CVs, complete application forms and other demands can make them feel like a free work force.
  
•Tasks undertaken. The pattern over time remains similar: most activities are predominantly routine and process-based: outreach, profile raising and the provision of advice and other advocacy roles are less likely to be undertaken regularly by volunteers, thus remaining the responsibility of the professional. 
 
•Career volunteers: the views of this significant minority need to be taken into account in order to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to support them.  Although the ‘intern’ debate has not formed part of this survey the motivations and needs of different volunteer groups do vary and need open discussion.
 
•The distinction between professional and volunteer activities continues to be clearly maintained, but can become blurred for example where ‘career’ volunteers want anticipate professional activities, or where volunteers wish to save professionals time e.g. by accessing restricted areas. 
 
 
 
Read Managing Volunteering in Archives and Volunteering in Archives at http://www.archives.org.uk/careers/volunteering/volunteering-reports-and-case-studies.html
 
The ARA published its policy on Volunteering in 2011. The policy emphasises the significant role that volunteers have played in the archives sector for many decades, but makes clear that volunteers work in partnership with, not instead of, trained professionals. The policy is endorsed by The National Archives, The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the National Records of Scotland, National Archives of Ireland and the Archives and Records Council of Wales.