Celebrating our Volunteers

Ahead of International Volunteer Day, we pay tribute to those who donate their time and energy to the Linnean Society

Published on 5th December 2019

Thursday 5 December is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development.

International Volunteer Day (IVD) was designated by the United Nations in 1985 as an international observance day to celebrate the power and potential of volunteerism.

Some of our volunteers
Some of our volunteers

The Linnean Society Collections team is lucky to work with some enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, and we want to take this opportunity to thank them and highlight their work. Like most charities, much of our work could not be achieved without them, but we are also conscious that volunteers cannot be deployed in the same way as paid staff. At the Linnean Society, volunteers are either retired individuals, or early career students.

For retired individuals, volunteering provides a social network and something valuable to do with their spare time. They bring unparalleled expertise and experience to their volunteering: Lynda Brooks and Sheila Meredith are both retired librarians of the Linnean Society and Geological Society respectively. Having them on board means we can trust them with thorny cataloguing issues and projects. Lynda, who retired in July 2018, tackles with pleasure difficult books whose catalogue records are not quite up to scratch. In her years at the Linnean Society, Sheila has catalogued several donated collections in her careful and meticulous way. She previously catalogued the Cloudsley-Thompson collection, and she is now cataloguing the newly donated run of New Naturalists. Hazel Marsden helps us gather crucial statistics on the use of the Library. We are also lucky to have, in our volunteers, a former conservator from The National Archives: John Abbott has been steadily conserving our 18th-and 19th-century artworks, cleaning and repairing the sheets, and replacing damaged folders with acid free ones. John often expresses admiration for the artwork he conserves, and, liking a challenge, will sometimes quietly bemoan the fact that they do not require as much as he would like to be able to undertake.

New Naturalist
The New Naturalist Display in our Discovery Room

The Linnean Society can boast to having a few very long-standing volunteers, who have been at the Society for decades, who know the place inside out, and are full of anecdotes about its past history. Pia Wilson has been volunteering faithfully for more than a decade, and in addition to working in the library two days a week, cataloguing incoming journals, keeping databases up-to-date, and numerous other tasks, she is always willing to help during evening events, Open House or the Courtyard Lates. David Pescod is the longest serving of all our staff and volunteers, having been involved with the Linnean Society since the 1960s. As housekeeper, David even lived on the premises. David was once chair of the Library committee, and now lists the contents’ of the Society’s ‘Presents books,’ a work that is invaluable to taxonomists and other researchers. Together with Gina Douglas, former Librarian and Archivist (1982-2007) and now Honorary Archivist, they are the institutional memory of the Society. Gina’s memory is so legendary that Collections staff still routinely ask her where a particular book might be—and invariably, she will remember not only its whereabouts, but its size and the colour of its binding.

Podcast created on Lady Pleasance Smith's letters

The Society also provides volunteering opportunities for early-career professional and students in Libraries and Archives, who volunteer for a few weeks or a few months, before or while embarking on their course. This allows them to learn new cataloguing systems, get a flavour of a professional environment and overall enhance their employability skills. We also team up every year with King’s College and host one or two of their Masters of Arts in History students, who spend 100 hours with the Society to catalogue and produce an output: previous students have produced podcasts and articles in PuLSe.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge here the work undertaken by our team of honorary curators, who help us look after the biological and artefact collections: V&A’s Glenn Benson (artefacts curator), NHM’s Ollie Crimmen (fish and shells curator), NHM’s Sue Ryder (entomology curator), and Dr Mark Spencer (botany curator). Despite their busy professional lives, they dedicate numerous hours dealing with scientific enquiries, hosting scientists, and looking after the collections.

We are grateful for all the enthusiasm, dedication and commitment of volunteers – past and present. It is lovely when former volunteers keep in touch – like Judith Thompson, who has now moved back to California and sends us regular emails updating us on Californian plants and anything Linnean Society related. This week, we are welcoming three new volunteers, all students on Archives and Records Management courses.

Beyond their professional input, volunteers make for lively tea breaks, and enrich our professional lives.

By Isabelle Charmantier, Head of Collections