Category Archives: Volunteer

Citizen Historian: Unique Volunteer Opportunity

Hello, all.

I’m excited to share a neat online volunteer opportunity and educational resource. In January the BBC reported on the digitization of British World War I diaries from the collection of the National Archives (UK). About 25 volunteers scanned hundreds and hundreds of boxes of diaries from military units, and today these are part of Operation War Diary. Operation War Diary allows “citizen historians” or public volunteers, access to these diaries in an effort to catalogue and gain intellectual control of the documents. The website is the result of a partnership between the National Archives, the Imperial War Museums (London), and Zooniverse – a tech savvy web forum to allow for active scientific research by the public.

Through a user-friendly website volunteers can systemically go through and “tag” diary pages for information such as date, location, person, military life, etc. Multiple readers go through each document, the website stresses, so users do not need to feel pressured about exacting 100 % of the information or making a permanent and irreversible error. There’s a brief tutorial on how to “tag,” and users must register an account on the site. Operation War Diary outlines its project outcomes as the following:

  • to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries
  • to provide evidence about the experience of named individuals in Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War project (another exciting endeavor to help mark the centennial remembrance of the Great War)
  • to present academics with large amounts of accurate data to help them gain a better understanding of how the war was fought

I’ve registered and volunteered my time on three separate occasions so far, and I find it engaging and interesting. One thing I should point out is that these are military unit war diaries – so not personal diaries of soldiers. Handwriting is tricky at times, but the pixilation on the scans is very strong, so feel free to use the zoom feature liberally. Another thing I found especially accessible about the project so far is the fact that, again, the website lets you know that no single user is having a final say on specific diary pages. Multiple readers will go through and review each document, so there is a check and balances system in place to ensure accuracy. Finally, there appears to be no minimum requirement of time (i.e. 10 hrs/week), so this is flexible project for both time and energy.

It’s free, easy, and will help historians and the public alike utilize historical documents. Win, win, & win!


For even more information, check out Zooniverse’s blog on the project, which boasts updated stats on users, the data, and additional project goals.

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Favorite Childhood Museum Memory?

In keeping with the rebranded title of this blog, I thought I’d pose a question. What’s your favorite childhood museum memory?

Sometimes this moment acts as the catalyst which may drive folks into the field. For others, a favorite childhood museum memory is merely the first of countless, as they enjoy sites of heritage, art, and science throughout their lives as visitors and/or volunteers.

One of my favorite childhood museum memories is visiting the Swedish American Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Located mere feet from where some of my family were born and bred, the museum is located in the heart of a very Swedish neighborhood, Andersonville. I remember visiting this museum with my sister, mom, and grandma, and taking in the bright blues and yellows of the walls, exhibits, and museum store while fervently inhaling the smells of the Swedish bakery across the street. While short on actual content, the welcoming and warm impression that I got from the museum has stayed with me through today.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, a Swedish neighborhood on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois.

As museums work to create engaging and educational exhibitions, diverse programs, and special events, an important concept which event planners, programmers, administrators, etc.  keep in mind is the “tone” of the event. Visitors don’t need to come to the museum. Museums can’t force visitors through their doors (as much as some may want to…). For the most part, museums aim to create welcoming atmospheres of informal learning, where visitors are invited to explore, discover, and form a relationship with the museum. Whether the resulting relationship is a one-time visit, a yearlong membership, or a lifetime of dedication to the museum’s mission, the initial and lasting impressions that visitors get when visiting an institution may often stay with them, long after the content and facts may fade.

Side note:  I’ve since been back to the Swedish American Museum several times –  it’s fantastic. I can’t wait to return again. Perhaps in May this year, when we briefly return to tour the great state of Illinois…

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Raising the Bar

Happy 2014!

As I look forward to the New Year and all its rich and exciting possibilities, I wanted to take a moment to recognize some major personal professional milestones that 2013 saw and outline some goals for the future. During the last year I….

  • Completed a competitive, yearlong internship

  • Successfully completed and defended my graduate exams 
  • Walked across the graduation stage and earned my Masters Degree

  •  Accepted a position – in a new state 

  •  Moved to said state and passed a probationary period of employment

  • Discovered a charming historic neighborhood we call “home,” for now  

While I continue to grow in my new position, and we continue to explore this new geographical region, I am going to make an effort to be more mindful of blogging and attempt a greater frequency of posts. Easier said than done, correct?

Another goal I am keen to pursue is to volunteer more. While living in Springfield I enjoyed volunteering with the arts association and public library, but now that I’m in a new town – it is time to expand my horizons. While I enjoy volunteering in my field – I consider this a great way to give back to a community AND grow, I am eager to volunteer in fields unrelated to my own.

One organization that I grew to really appreciate and respect last year is Optimist International. A volunteer with the ISM was highly involved with the Optimists, and I was able to present on behalf of the museum to this organization in July 2013. The mission of Optimist International is “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.” For more information, check out their website. While attending the organization’s meeting in July, I was struck by the positive attitude of its members and their dedication.  I look forward to exploring local branches of this organization, and seeking out similar volunteer opportunities. 

In addition to blogging and volunteering, I am also eager to travel. Through work I’ve been able to explore some of the immediate region through educational outreach. Beyond this though, I am eager for day-trips full of photography, winding roads, towns big and small, and seeing what exactly is unique to the so-called “Mid-South.” A few posts ago I made a list of cultural and historic sites of interest. I look forward to adding to this list.  

So, reader. What sort of organizations do you volunteer with? Any recommendations? Also – any adventurous tips for this Yankee? I look forward to pushing myself personally and professionally during this next year – to explore this new position and all the regional possibilities this area may offer.  

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I recently attended the Central Illinois Volunteerism Conference (CIVC) held in Springfield, Illinois. This was a great opportunity to learn about volunteer recruitment and organization, as well as network with many area professionals. As a volunteer at this conference, I also had the opportunity to assist “behind the scenes.” This entailed attending conference calls, creating some social media materials, and assisting the day of the event with attendee registration, set up, and speaker orientation.The event went smoothly, and I’m very excited I was able to attend and help!

Before and after this conference, I was inspired to pursue “conference etiquette.” I was curious about what the professional standards were on such things as networking etiquette and, quite simply, what to wear.  I quickly discovered a blog post by the Emerging Museum Professionals (EMPs) discussing this exact topic, and it confirmed many of my thoughts. For the most part, much of an attendance at such a professional gathering suggests common sense – i.e., wear comfortable shoes, be prepared to take notes, plan ahead. Conferences are a great chance to hear presentations and panels, attend diverse workshops, meet other professionals in the field…but it is also an opportunity to present yourself in the field.

Do you have any conference tips? If so, please share! (You’ll be pleased to know I had no planning or wardrobe issues while aiding the CIVC.)

For further details and tips, check out the original EMP post!


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YSPN Volunteer Opportunities Fair

This week I represented the ISM at a volunteer fair hosted by the Young Springfield Professionals Network (YSPN). The YSPN’s mission is to “foster a community for young professionals to have the opportunity to engage in networking, community service, and professional development.” The YSPN Volunteer Opportunities Fair did just that. Nearly thirty non-profit organizations from the Springfield, Illinois area were represented. To help show how attendees could give back to the community by volunteering with the ISM, I set up a display on the provided table. The table cloth, range of brochures and booklets, as well as some hands-on opportunities helped the display stand out. This display may remind you of the one we used at another fair.

Learn about volunteer opportunities with the Illinois State Museum!

Learn about volunteer opportunities with the Illinois State Museum!

It was wonderful to meet so many interested community members and representatives of so many organizations in the area. Among the vendors I spoke to, it was great to see representatives from genHkids, a frequent partner with the ISM. Our involvement with genHkids is one way we continue to support the Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens program. I also met the volunteer coordinator from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and it was great to discuss how many of our current volunteers work with both museums! It was incredibly rewarding (and fun!) to speak with both attendees and vendors and see such a strong commitment to community service.

One highlight of the evening event was when a nine-year old daughter of a vendor visited my table and recognized hands-on items from The Play Museum. We had a great conversation about the gallery, and the girl shared her favorite parts of the gallery space – the dig pit and video microscope. Her presence at my table drew several other attendees over to the display, and really helped highlight how one of the goals of the The Play Museum is to learn about Illinois’ natural, cultural, and artistic heritage through play. As one of the only children at this event, it was warming to see her make a beeline for the ISM’s table!

By participating in this fair, I continued to uphold best volunteer recruitment standards as developed by the American Association of Museum Volunteers. During this recruitment process, I highlighted volunteer positions with our exciting hands-on children’s gallery, The Play Museum. I presented clear descriptions of the duties of Play Museum volunteers and had sufficient applications at hand. I also made sure the materials present at this event were welcoming and engaging to individuals of diverse age, socioeconomic status, and educational background.

Do you or your institution(s) utilize volunteer fairs to share community service opportunities? Have you attended a volunteer fair recently or in the past to learn more about your community?

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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM)

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library

Researching manuscripts for the Springfield Art Association. Mmm the smell of archives!

Have you been to a presidential library and/or museum? Which one(s)?

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Celebrate with a Koala!

Check out this studious koala.


What Does a Koala Bear Need? (1976)
By Jane Belk Moncure
Illustrated by Helen Endres

I spotted this 1970s children’s picture book while volunteering with our local library’s Youth Services Department a few weeks ago. The book compares the needs of a baby koala with those of a human child – so it gets a bit strange at points. But the pictures of the koala are cute. (Can you tell I love koalas?)

This seems a perfect way to announce it – yes, it’s official – I passed my graduate exams yesterday!

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A Career in Museums?

As a child I envied my peers who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. You know the type – Firefighter. Teacher. Doctor. Nurse. Mime. I remember thinking, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. 

Since then I have discovered that I love working in museums. I enjoy engaging visitors and making museum collections accessible. Every day something new is going on – a new program to design, a new project to research, a new volunteer to train – I don’t remember the last time I was ever bored!

Recently I had the opportunity to help represent the field of museums at a high school career fair. Eager students flooded a gym set up with about fifty different exhibitors, with career fields ranging from dance to pharmacy to funeral home management and beyond. There was a wonderful turnout by both local organizations and interested students. It was great to talk with students about what they were interested in studying at college and potentially pursuing as a career.The day was energizing a number of ways. Often students asked what they could do to prepare themselves for potentially working in the field. Our answer? Visit museums. Volunteer. Intern, etc. Exploring a career in museums comes with its share of challenges – as does any number of professions these days. As an emerging professional almost done with graduate school, talking with these high school students was refreshing and reminded me of when I first began considering a career path in the museum world! Their ideas and curiosity about the field made the morning and afternoon fly.

When did you first start to consider your career? Are you pursuing what you thought you wanted to be “when you grow up?”

ISM represented the field of museums at a high school career fair. We had the subcategory of "archeology" as well - although this is just one aspect of the expertise on staff!

ISM represented the field of museums at a high school career fair. We had the subcategory of “archaeology” as well – although this is just one aspect of the expertise on staff!

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Research, Research, Research

This afternoon I had the pleasure of once again volunteering with a local arts association. I am assisting with an upcoming publication which will celebrate the Springfield Art Association‘s centennial anniversary. My duties in the last few months have consisted of researching the Springfield Art Association’s (SAA) archives and collections. In addition to helping out the SAA, I am honing my own skills in the art museum sector. As research and progress continues, I look forward to helping the SAA in developing and organizing themes for the text and digitally archiving material as appropriate. 

As someone who works closely with volunteers during my job, I find it is really rewarding to be on the other side of that relationship while working full-time. While it can be challenging to find the time, it’s been great helping out! 

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