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Glasgow Women's Library's Collections Volunteering Programme

Introduction

This case study is about:

Developing the capacity, skills, and knowledge of GWL’s volunteers in response to an increase in visitors to the library and its collections.

You should read it if:

You are interested in empowering a diverse workforce, including volunteers, to increase their skills and potential.

Background

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) is the only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, with a lending library, archive collections and innovative programmes of public events & learning opportunities.

The project

After achieving Recognised status for the entire GWL collection, the organisation experienced a substantial increase in visitors. This project aimed to meet this growing interest by recruiting and training new volunteers to meet and greet visitors, support access to the collection, and assist with cataloguing and preservation. A fixed term Collections Volunteer Coordinator post was created to oversee the recruitment and training of 15 new Collections Volunteers. The project prioritised the recruitment of volunteers who had experienced exclusion from museums due to educational, socio-economic and cultural barriers in the sector.

The best thing about volunteering with GWL is being able to realise your own ideas and participate in all aspects of the organisation. Collections Volunteer, Aug 2017

Project Funders

  • Museums Galleries Scotland
  • The Robertson Trust
  • The Henry Smith Charity
  • Glasgow Women’s Library

Challenges and successes

  • Two volunteers have gone on to secure paid employment in museums, with both highlighting the skills and experience they gained through volunteering at GWL as a decisive factor.
  • Volunteers provided 3200 visitors with a personalised welcome to GWL. Visitor feedback has been extremely positive, which is testament to the warm welcome, informative tours and extensive collections knowledge offered by the volunteers.
  • Volunteers helped to list and catalogue thousands of items across 12 different collections.

GWL volunteers and staff receiving an award for commitment to diversity and inclusion

The difference made

  • Volunteers reported wide ranging benefits as a result of volunteering with the collections. These included 70% gaining new knowledge and skills, 82% feeling the experience helped them to embrace new opportunities, and 74% reported improvements in their mental health as a result of taking part in the programme.
  • GWL is regularly asked for information about volunteering programmes and widening access, and has been able to share good practice and learnings from this project with others from the museums sector and beyond.  
  • By recruiting volunteers from groups who are traditionally underrepresented in museum audiences, GWL has diversified its own audience as volunteers introduce their friends and families to the organisation.
Being part of the library makes me so proud and I like telling others about it at every chance I get really! Collections Volunteer, Aug 2017

What was learned

  • Motivated and enthusiastic volunteers can add huge value to an organisation. Volunteering has now been successfully embedded into all aspects all GWL’s work, from collections to day to day operations.
  • One of the most positive and suprising learnings from this project was the wide range of benefits reported by volunteers as a result of working with the collections, in particular the reported improvements in mental health.

GWL volunteers listing items from the museum collection

If you are thinking of doing something similar...

  • Match the interests of your volunteers to the needs of your organisation. Creating a tailored role that fits each volunteer’s expectations and motivations is key to retaining volunteers and giving them a meaningful and beneficial experience.
  • Allow for the almost inevitable fact that a small proportion of your volunteers will end of moving on as their circumstances change. During this project, 3-4 extra volunteers were recruited during each new intake to offset those who left.

Further information

If you would like any further information on this project, please contact Glasgow Women’s Library on info@womenslibrary.org.uk or 0141 550 2267.

This case study was originally published in March 2018.