Volunteers' Week 2023

Volunteers' Week 2023 (Part one)

Volunteers' Week is an annual celebration of the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering in their communities.

Join us in this 2 part series in celebrating the work of the volunteers of the RCP Archives, Heritage library, and Museum team.

Image shows Kate, a white woman in her twenties, atop a blue library ladder. She is using a key to open a bookcase. She is on the first floor of the Royal College of Physicians Dorchester library. In the background, you can see more bookcases lining the walls of the room, and the portraits and busts of notable Royal College of Physicians members
Heritage Library volunteer Kate in the Dorchester Library.

Kate, Heritage library volunteer

I have been lucky enough to undertake a library placement as part of my London Arts and Humanities Partnership funded PhD. As I work on early modern recipe books, I have enjoyed being able to gain experience in the very library that houses some of my project's primary sources. My placement has included a range of tasks, such as transcribing accessions register entries from the early twentieth century, updating the library catalogue to include provenance information, and researching donors and librarians mentioned in the accessions register.

The only thing I have not enjoyed during this placement is deciphering a certain librarian’s handwriting in the register. Everything else has been such a fun and informative experience. I have especially loved being able to pull books from the shelves of the beautiful Dorchester library and looking through them for clues about previous owners, and subsequently finding joy in updating catalogue records to include women’s donations to the collection. It has also been remarkably interesting to research the impact of the first and second World Wars on the library. Especially the library’s response to the damage it received from enemy action during the Second World War. My favourite aspect of my placement, however, has not been poring over books and records, but getting to know the library, archives and museum team and being in receipt of their kindness, expertise, and patience over the course of my placement. 

Marcello, sits at an RCP computer.
Marcello, Archives volunteer in the AMS office

Marcello, Archives volunteer

My name is Marcello Goncalves and I am a Volunteer at the Royal College of Physicians. I have been assisting the archives team for the past 8 months and I have enjoyed my time here immensely. I first reached out to the RCP to get more experience in archiving as I would like to work in this field and learn more about it, having previously studied a History degree. I felt very lucky to be received by such a kind team that trusted me and taught me more about archiving, but also how the institution functioned.

Choosing the RCP was also a great opportunity to learn more about the history of medicine, through a cultural, social and political approach, and its implications on a local, national and international scale. One of my first major projects involved indexing the annals of the College, dating back from its’ foundation in 1518 by order of King Henry VIII. By going through the first volume of the records, I gained more knowledge on the origins of the College and how it established itself as an authoritative figure in 16th century London. Volunteering for the RCP has been a personal joyful experience for self-growth but also getting to meet new people, also passionate about history and archiving.

Tilly, crouches in archives holding a bound album.
Tilly in the Archives

Tilly, Archives volunteer

I first came to the RCP in January 2022 to undertake a two-week placement as part of my masters in Archives and Records Management. I was committed to pursuing a career in archives, but had never worked or volunteered in an archive before so was excited by the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. I enjoyed my time on the placement so much that I retuned that summer and have been volunteering here ever since. My work since returning has included the cataloguing of photographs and other records relating to the construction of the RCP building at St Andrews Place, London, as well as repackaging and condition checking records from the strong room. A particular highlight of the latter project was coming across an 18th century legal document on which someone had doodled faces (ENV218/N19).


Doodles in ink of faces on a legal document
Doodles on an 18th century legal document, ENV218/N19


I am currently working on cataloguing the personal records of Sir Max Rosenheim, who was president of the RCP from 1966 until his death in 1972. It has been fascinating to explore a person’s life in such depth, from his primary school’s magazine describing him as ‘undoubtedly the cleverest and most reliable boy in the School’ (MS6268/18), to the photographs he took whilst serving in the Middle East and Europe as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps (haven’t catalogued this yet), to obituaries written by friends (MS6272/2). It is these kinds of personal histories that make archives so fascinating to me, and it has been a pleasure to be able to spend time working on such an in-depth collection.

I have recently been offered a job at the National Archives, and although I will be sad to have to leave the RCP, I credit my time here with giving me the skills and experience that will allow me to begin my career.

Holly stands outside the RCP
Holly, Museum volunteer

Holly, Museum volunteer

Hi I’m Holly and I’m part of the Pye Smith medical scrapbook project. I have been going through the over 200-page scrapbook adding information about the prints, portraits and anatomical drawings to the catalogue.

I have helped make the prints more accessible by making sure items in the scrapbook are linked so they are easier for researchers to locate. Some pages or prints in the scrapbook had not been catalogued so I have been adding them to it. Hopefully by the end of this project the complete scrapbook will be on the catalogue and be available to researchers. I have learnt all of these skills, and how to use Photoshop, in my volunteer role, as well as some information about how museum objects and collections should be stored, and the standardised cataloguing practices that are required for a museum to be accredited. I have really enjoyed working my way through the scrapbook, seeing the mix of prints that there are and the differences between them, and it is very satisfying to see all the images of the prints I’ve added to the catalogue, which makes it more accessible.


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