Volunteer Spotlight: Jeremy

Our volunteers have played an invaluable role in our Heritage Lottery Funded outreach project.  The time and care they give to each of their projects is amazing, and we are lucky to see their faces in our office on a weekly basis.  I wanted to share what the volunteers have been up to, but it’s far more interesting to read about their experiences first hand, than to have me ramble on.  As such, here is a guest post by Jeremy, who graciously agreed to share what he’s been up to since he joined as an Archive Volunteer back in January, as well as his thoughts on the significance of archives and of course – the National Union of Women Teachers archive collection.  Here’s Jeremy…

So what is it like volunteering at the Institute of Education?

First of all, I had wanted to do some volunteer work for a while, I needed something to put on my CV and I like the feeling of doing something useful.

I didn’t know what the Institute was or what it did. I did know it was an Educational organisation; I liked that because it suggested a certain higher level of professionalism. Later I found out that a lot of Teacher Training went on here.

But the section I had volunteered for was the “Archive”. It’s a library within a library; far beyond the stacks of books to be borrowed or just pulled off the shelves and read, this was the place where the deep documents were stored; the source material, the stuff that needed to be preserved through time.

I have a long-time love of libraries, I’m a voracious reader, I like the atmosphere, I like being surrounded by books and wherever I go I get a membership at a local branch; so I have a certain familiarity with library procedure and library culture, but this was different, this was …mystery.

Don’t you get the impression archives, any archives, not just the Institute of Education’s, are where the truth is kept, where you get the real story?

No? Just me then.

(Editor’s Note: Jeremy, we are all very much with you on this one!)

But this is neither here nor there. You want to know about volunteering at the archive.

Over the next few months I was to take on a variety of activities; the Archive puts on a number of displays and shows throughout the year, and this involves the preparation of a lot of visual and text material, so I was involved in printing, trimming, and laminating such materials, I also had a chance to visit the archives long-term climate-controlled storage (surprisingly not old and dusty at all, but bright, modern, and clean.) Most of this was to be later.

Well the first person I met was Alix, she is very easy-going and well organised and she put me to work on the project digitising materials belonging to The National Union of Women Teachers. They were big back in the thirties and best of all they left behind a ton of documentation in the form of printed publications and photographs. My job has largely been to scan the photographs.

When you see a documentary about, say the Edwardian era, you’ll get some photos, maybe some talking heads giving you an informed opinion about the time.  Scanning photographs circa 1925 to 35 (very approximately) is nothing like that.  Try this, the faces are not like our faces, they have a characteristic that is of their era, I cannot say exactly how, but they do.  Scanning so many photos gave me strong impression of the era without a lot of specifics; it was heavy on the atmosphere.

Most, but not all, of the images were of women of the Union, officers of an organisation which fought for equal pay, equal treatment, for higher quality in education, and the professionalization of their career; they were passionate about more than just themselves. In some ways they saw their cause as a patriotic one.

I learned a lot, most surprisingly some the members were also barristers and they did the Union’s legal work. I was impressed with the mettle of members who had overcome barriers in what can still be an unfriendly environment for women.

Digitising the NUWT... Voting on banners, c1930s  Document Reference: UWT/G/2/54

Digitising the NUWT…
Voting on banners, c1930s
Document Reference: UWT/G/2/54

I scanned hundreds of photos and I was impressed with the seriousness and toughness of these people; it was a different era, there was no such thing as “having it all” in that era, most of them as I was to later learn were unmarried since the laws and regulations of the time disallowed them from continuing their profession after marriage. They faced having lower wages than their male colleagues (who were assumed to be supporting families); they were often barred from educating older boys because it was assumed an unsuitable position for a woman. They were often passed over for Head Teacher positions despite their seniority. Through all of this they endured.

If there was a phase that came to mind constantly it was “no nonsense”. My education is from the seventies but I could imagine any of them as the tough old fashioned head-teachers of my time; there was something there I recognised very much.

The photographic scanning is largely finished; there still may be an envelope of two marked “fragile “, that remains to be done.

I did (as indicated) go on to other things, including proofing the scans of the Union’s newspaper “The Woman Teacher”. It was here that I got the context for the images. The organisation was not just a political talking shop (although their tireless campaigning was their main activity), it provided an emergency pension for retired members who had fallen on hard times, organised fact finding overseas tours to Canada, Italy, and the United States. It even served as a form for cultural pursuits like literature and the theatre.

Quality Checking the NUWT's journal publication, 'The Woman Teacher'

Quality Checking the NUWT’s journal publication, ‘The Woman Teacher’

They had friends in high places like Lady Astor. They tussled endlessly with successive governments both Labour and Conservative. But mostly they fought of equal pay and treatment for women in the teaching profession.

The photographs are important (OK, I scanned them, I would say that.) But what I mean is the Newspapers tell you what they did, but the photographs show you who they were; they put a human face on those lives. And I think, as you look at them you can see something of the kind of people they had to be, to do what they had to do,

And their struggle is still relevant, I just read that women’s pay has actually decline in comparison to men’s, there is still some way to go.

But As I write this, I think, the story of The National Union of Women Teachers is just one. There must be hundreds, thousands of other stories about British education in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in those cool rooms underground, just waiting to be unearthed and told. And thing is, I can’t imagine what they might be.

So, what is volunteering at the Institute of Education’s archives like?

It’s pretty cool.

Jeremy Denny

As always, a huge thanks to our volunteers like Jeremy.  And Jeremy, thanks for taking a break from all of the digitisation to write this for the blog!

We are members of Volunteer Centre Camden, and highly recommend them in terms of volunteer recruitment and best practice support… it’s a great organisation with lovely staff.

Volunteer Opportunities in the Archives

We are hoping to welcome some new faces to our Archive team!  If you’re looking to gain skills, training and experience in (and hopefully interested in) education, archives digitising technologies, or historical enquiry, then we have several exciting new volunteer opportunities.

As part of our HLF project, we are opening up the archive collection of the National Union of Women Teachers. Volunteers will play a crucial role in the project, as we develop an education programme of activities and digitise parts of the collection for public use and research. If you are new to the blog and want a bit more information about the collection, head over here, and if you would like a bit more information about the HLF education outreach project, take a look here or here.

If you’re interested, take a look at our two new roles:

Archive Digitisation Volunteer

The Woman Teacher (document reference UWT/D/37/3)

The Woman Teacher
(document reference UWT/D/37/3)

What will you be doing?
Archive Digitisation Volunteers will play a role in scanning and digitising the collection’s most fragile records, in addition to the NUWT journal publication, The Woman Teacher. Once digitised, these records will be available for public use and research.

What training will you receive?

  • Use of specialist scanning equipment and software
  • Specialised OCR (Optical Character Recognition) training
  • Handling of archives and fragile documents

You will ideally possess…

  • An attention to detail
  • Basic computer skills
  • Proficient English language skills (particularly reading)

Education Outreach Volunteer

Learning resources and scanned archives for Campaigning workshops (in conjunction with the British Library's Campaign! Make an Impact Programme)

Learning resources and scanned archives for Campaigning workshops (in conjunction with the British Library’s Campaign! Make an Impact Programme)

What will you be doing?
Education & Outreach volunteers will play a valuable role in developing the learning offer as part of our HLF project.  Depending on your specific interests, volunteers can help with creating learning resources for school workshops; research; event planning; or assisting with school/community workshops.

What training will you receive?
Depending on your interests, volunteers can receive training in…

  • Research: online databases; archival research; etc.
  • Creating learning resources: working with the National Curriculum; designing engaging activities for students of all ages
  • Event planning: for a variety of school, community and adult workshops and events
  • Online training: use of blogging platforms; uploading resources to online websites, etc.

You will ideally possess…

  • Interest in working with young people and/or the local community
  • Experience or interest in creating resources and activities for students from Key Stage 1-4
  • Creativity!

Volunteer shifts are very flexible dependent upon individuals’ schedules, and will be offered Monday – Friday.

If you have any questions, or if this sounds like an opportunity you’d like to be involved in and are looking for a volunteer registration form, please contact me (Alix Hall) at arch.enquiries@ioe.ac.uk.

Volunteering at the Institute of Education

Guest post by Noreen Nicholson on volunteering on two IOE Library & Archive projects – ‘School Histories’ and ‘A New Perspective on Education in the 20th Century: Cataloguing the Papers of the National Union of Women Teachers’

An article in the Summer 2010 issue of Alumni Life announced a forthcoming project on school histories and asked for volunteers to help with various tasks. I thought it looked interesting, applied, and was soon spending a few hours twice a week reading books about a great variety of schools with a view to categorising them for cataloguing: e.g. type (independent, grammar, comprehensive), level of education provided, ages catered for, single sex or mixed, and so on. This was not always easy as many schools, especially the oldest, had gone through several stages of development since their foundation which might lie centuries back in medieval times.  Volunteers were also asked to identify items of interest – “juicy bits” – and photographs suitable for inclusion in a study pack for schools wanting to involve pupils in tracing their history. A few of the books were immensely long and written in a turgid style, and I found myself wondering who – unless having some personal connection with the particular institution – would want to read them.  Others were well written and illustrated and it was tempting to spend too long on each rather than simply to skip through extracting relevant information.

The cataloguing exercise completed, I spent some time compiling a glossary for the study pack and helping with the summary of the history of education it was to include.  My only regret was that the team of volunteers was never brought together, as I think it would have been helpful to exchange views and experiences.  But, as different people were free on different days, this was not feasible.

The project enabled me to renew and expand the knowledge of the history of education gained on the MA course I had taken at the Institute some 30 years previously, and from further research on teacher training colleges in the nineteenth century. I enjoyed the whole experience immensely and knew that I would miss both the work and the feeling of being involved with something so worthwhile.

Before my withdrawal symptoms became too marked it was suggested that I might become involved with the work being undertaken on the archives of the National Union of Women Teachers.  The vast amount of material deposited at the Institute in the 1960s, following the closure of the Union, had never before been fully and systematically catalogued.  The prospect of continuing to work at the Institute was appealing, and so I have over the last year been gathering material about the Union and about some individual members using various sources – minute books, correspondence, the NUWT periodical Woman Teacher, the Dictionary of National Biography and other reference books.

©Institute of Education Archive

With this project I moved into the, to me, relatively unfamiliar territory of education in the earlier part of the twentieth century and of the feminist organisations which were established in those years – some concerned mainly with securing the franchise for all women, others with gaining parity in pay and working conditions with their male colleagues. Perhaps inevitably I have become quite attached to several of the NUWT pioneers and would love to know more about them, their education, lives at and outside of work, also about the schools in which they taught, and their pupils. One whose career I have looked into in some depth is Theodora Bonwick, at first because of her links with parts of London which I know well, later because I was struck by her forceful personality and her progressive views:  she introduced a system of independent learning for older girls into her school near Kings Cross, and campaigned for the inclusion of sex education  in the school curriculum.

Very grainy photograph of Theodora Bonwick from a newspaper obituary notice

Occasionally a photograph has been available and this makes the teachers more real, though in group photographs the prevalence of cloche hats and long, shapeless coats and skirts makes it difficult to distinguish individuals.

Over the years I have been involved in several types of voluntary work: as school governor, literacy tutor, charity trustee and in the Witness Support service, all of them interesting and rewarding. The last two years at the Institute have provided a very different experience, more akin to academic research. While new technology has made it easier to track down sources and trace connections, it cannot as yet completely replace ferreting about among old records. Among the various aspects of the NUWT’s story which I enjoyed following up, through letters and minutes of committee meetings, was how and when the Union’s archive came to be housed at the Institute of Education

I am most grateful to Kathryn Hannan for giving me this opportunity and for bearing with my sometimes eccentric ways of working.  Older people such as myself are often counselled “use it or lose it” – I hope to continue “using it” for a long time yet.

I would just like to add how grateful I and the rest of the archive staff are to Noreen for all her research on the NUWT.  It is adding so much value to the catalogue and other resources on the collection, such as the NUWT LibGuide. We have many plans for development of the NUWT Collection as the focus of teaching resources and as part of this planned project we would like to involve more volunteers on a variety of tasks/learning skills – I hope they get as much out of it as Noreen has!