Volunteers' Week 2023 (Part two)
Joelle, digitising in the Museum stores
Joelle digitising in the Museum store

Joelle, Museum volunteer and UCL student placement

The past four months in RCP’s Libraries, Archives and Museum services team has been extremely rewarding for me. Helping out with the Plan Chest Improvement Project, I am responsible for removing engraved prints and historic photographs from their acidic card mounts using a cutting blade, and rehousing them in new archival enclosures. It is interesting to think of the process as a ‘surgery’ performed on objects – by removing the ‘diseased parts’, objects are kept up to conservation standard and risks are mitigated.   

These prints and photographs, provide sources for academic research. Many of them also have a human side – it was a delight to see a cute mini line drawing of a 17th century man on the mount of a William Harvey portrait. It was also very interesting to look at how different physicians took pride in what they did through their gestures in portraits and how they chose to represent themselves.

Print with line drawing of 17 c man
A mysterious sketch on a print

One of my proudest achievements was setting up the photography workstation. While digitising the engraved prints and photographs, I have been exploring different ways to enhance the quality of their digitised copies. With the autonomy given, support and encouragement from my supervisors, the photos are no longer taken in a mixture of white and yellow lights. Instead, the white balance, aperture and shutter speed of the DSLR camera are now set properly. A foldable light box with white light sources was also introduced. Also by using a colour calibration scale, the RCP are looking forward to having more object photos with an accurate representation of colours. In other words, when people are looking at the online catalogue, they will see a very accurate image of the object they want to look at!

Apart from collections care work, I was also given the opportunity to help during an object handling session. In this session we introduced new members, and also children, to some interesting objects and encouraged them to explore the objects in their own ways. As an enthusiast of museum access and public engagement, I have always found it enjoyable bringing the museum to the younger generation, and see how they interpret and slowly learn about the objects creatively. Now that my placement is halfway through, I cannot wait for the new challenges and learning opportunities to come. I am also imagining how satisfying it will be to see the hundreds of prints rehoused to conservation standards.

Work stations
Joelle's photography work station set up and interactive handling table


Ruth, museum volunteer
Ruth, Museum volunteer

Ruth, Museum volunteer

I am Ruth, a recent MA Museum Studies graduate from UCL. I am currently volunteering at RCP to gain valuable insight into the museum sector. My role at The Royal College of Physicians is focussed on improving catalogue descriptions of certain items or objects in the museum collection. I am responsible for re-drafting catalogue descriptions that have been identified as containing outdated, inappropriate or offensive language. This includes updating medical or colonial terminologies and researching a topic to add historical context to the description.

I have really enjoyed learning about something new each week, as the variety of prints, portraits and objects mean that the topics vary and there is always something of interest to me. I have enjoyed finding out information that may not have been known before and synthesising it into a catalogue description, knowing that I am helping to make the collection more accessible.

Holly, Heritage library volunteer

As a part of my MA in library and information studies at UCL, I completed approximately two weeks at the Heritage Library. At the beginning of my placement, I began research on tea for a social media post on National Tea Day (21st April). I looked up books with medical discussions on tea and images to photograph. After I had gathered information and photos for National Tea Day, I helped gather a list of books for a new ‘Adopt a Book’ scheme and created a template for potential donors to see and chose which book they would like to adopt. I then helped identify and measure the collection’s smallest books for an upcoming exhibition. Overall, my time at RCP has been varied and completely different from my usual role in a school library.

Handwritten text describing a treatment against miscarriage involving 'dragons' blood'
Jess' chosen object, a treatment against miscarriage involving 'dragons' blood' MS51

Jess, Archives volunteer

Volunteering at the RCP helps connect me to my personal area of interest, now being outside of academia and on a different career path. I completed my degrees—BA in English Literature and MA in Early Modern English—a few years ago and discovered a real passion for early modern literature, and especially medical literature. I now have a very different, corporate career, but didn’t want to lose sight of something that fascinates me so much. The RCP was the perfect way to immerse myself, while maintaining a balance with everything else. The flexibility is appealing: I recently switched to remote work as my schedule changed, and everyone was extremely accommodating.

I work on digitising the RCP’s collection of recipe books. I feel privileged to have close contact with such an array of manuscripts, each with its own quirks and story to tell. Over time, I’ve come across compelling—and sometimes initially confusing—recipes for curing medical ailments, culinary creations, and even ‘magical’ rituals. I’ve written a few blog posts on these findings and am grateful that the RCP can give me a platform to express this. Volunteering is rewarding to me as I feel both fulfilled and engaged in something I love, in a supportive environment and fantastic team of people.  

Xinyue, Events volunteer

Hi everyone, this is Xinyue.  I come from Beijing, China and I have a background in Architecture design.  I recently graduated from The Bartlett School of Architecture.

I joined the Royal College of Physicians as a volunteer with the intention of practicing English and making new friends. Watch my video to find out more.

Image of a scholar reading from a book to a blind man.
Portrait of Henry Moyes and his assistant William Nicol, a print chosen by Yu-Shih

Yu-Shih, Museum volunteer

I am Yu-Shih and I am currently undertaking a rehousing and photography project. I handle and photograph the prints for the online catalogue. My day starts with preparing all of  the equipment that would be used while photographing and rehousing: the lighting, the camera, and the archival cover and printed label for each print.
Object handling can be difficult. I have found that it quite challenging to keep everything in order and develop standard operating procedures. Being careful to carry prints flat and taking care with any cutting needed, reduces the potential risk of damaging objects, and is the basic requirement for working with collections.

The most enjoyable part of the work with the AMS team is uncovering portraits of hidden figures in medical history and making the history accessible through digitisation. The collection not only includes images of physicians, but also the world they lived in. There is one print I recall, a blind man Dr. Henry Moyes with his assistant. The print makes me wonder about the education for blind people of the time. It is exciting to discover all these historical facts.


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