ARA publishes Managing Volunteering in Archives

New Report is 'significant contribution to the sector's knowledge andunderstanding'

‘Volunteering provides a substantial contribution to the development of the archive sector and to the accessibility of archival resources to the general public’

Caroline Williams, Managing Volunteering in Archives

The Report Managing Volunteering in Archives has been published by the ARA. The Report follows research, undertaken on behalf of the ARA by Caroline Williams, to explore the variety of roles undertaken by volunteers within the sector in the UK and Ireland and also consider whether external influences, such as economic and technological changes, are influencing the number of volunteers and their roles within archives.

This Report adds to the research (Volunteering in Archives) carried out by the National Council on Archives in 2009; this 2014 Report considers in more depth the management of volunteers. 

Key findings

  • Volunteering is growing in the archives sector while profiles of volunteers remain fairly consistent: 65% of services have up to 20 volunteers annually and a few (11%) hosted over 50 each
  • 59% of volunteers are over 55, with the next largest group (17%) in the 18 to 24 (student) age bracket
  • Volunteers are loyal: in 48% of services volunteers had been with archives for 11 years or more 
  • A huge majority of services engage volunteers in records description and cataloguing (93%), conservation and preservation (85%) and sorting and arranging records (74%). About half use volunteers for scanning and digitisation projects. Fewer are engaged with the interpretation of archives or in the public profile of the service: professionals may be ‘more likely to reserve to themselves those aspects of work that directly interface with their users and stakeholders’
  • The largest number of volunteers are hosted by local authority services
  • Increasing numbers of services – 89% - have a volunteer policy
  • Most services rely on informal methods of recruitment (word of mouth is strong)
  • Managing volunteers is challenging: it can be time-consuming and work  can be variable
  • Demonstrating the value of volunteering in funding applications has contributed substantially to their success

The Report has seven recommendations for services hosting volunteers, including the need for a proactive, policy-based approach, the need to record activity in a consistent way and to define training needs.

The Report also has seven recommendations for the Archives and Records Association. These were welcomed and accepted by the ARA Board in January 2014. The Board re-emphasised its support for the Volunteering Action Plan, with work carried out by its Volunteering Sub-Committee convened by Louise Ray. 

Martin Taylor, Chair of ARA, says: ‘Few organisations attract and welcome volunteers as positively as those in the archives sector. Few sectors are as indebted to volunteers for the added value they allow us to give to our users. This Report is a significant contribution to the sector’s knowledge and understanding of where we are and sets us all a helpful direction of travel’.

Read Extended Executive Summary and Full Report and Appendices here.  

The ARA published its Volunteering Policy in 2011. In this the ARA emphasises the major contribution and added value made by volunteers to the sector. However, the ARA ‘does not consider that volunteers can or should be used to replace appropriately experienced professional or para-professional staff as the principal stewards of the United Kingdom and Ireland's unique documentary heritage’. The ARA’s Volunteering policy is supported by key sector leadership bodies.

Read the Volunteering Policy here.

The research for the Report used an online survey, open from 14 August to 11 September 2013, comprising 44 questions in 4 sections. There were 100 good quality responses which provided robust and reliable information about the broad numbers of volunteers that services engage with, their profile and characteristics and the types of volunteering tasks and projects undertaken. Services also shared information about methods of volunteer management and their approaches to issues of policy, training and the challenges that arise.

The National Council on Archives (NCA) operated between 1988 and 2010 to bring together the major bodies and organisations, including service providers, users, depositors and policy makers, across the UK concerned with archives and their use. It merged with the Society of Archivists and the Association of Chief Archivists in Local Government  to form the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) in 2010. The NCA published Volunteering in Archives in 2009. Read Volunteering in Archives here.

Read more about Volunteering:

The ARA's Annual Volunteering Award

Volunteering Activities

Reports and Case Studies