Engaging volunteers in managing your archive

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Vrijwilliger aan de slag bij Stichting Pim De Rudder, Assenede - CKV, 2020
Volunteer working at Stichting Pim De Rudder, Assenede - CKV (Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp), 2020

Engaging volunteers, interns or student workers in managing your archive can bring many benefits, but it does require some preparation.
In this article, you’ll learn the following:

  • How can you involve volunteers in managing your archive?
  • How can you attract volunteers?
  • How can you use interns or student workers for managing your archive?

How can your organisation involve volunteers/interns/student workers in managing an artist’s or arts organisation’s archive?

There is a lot to consider when managing an archive. Many organisations therefore call on volunteers or students to lend a hand. But how do you engage volunteers or students, and what should you take into account when setting up a collaboration with a volunteer or student?


Volunteering, as the name suggests, is done on a voluntary basis and can take various forms, such as online or family voluntary work. Guiding and motivating volunteers requires a lot of time and energy. Volunteers do not earn any money from volunteering, but it is possible to reimburse expenses.

More information about volunteering in the heritage sector is available (in Dutch) via FARO - the Flemish Institution for Cultural Heritage, at https://faro.be/publicaties/abc-van-het-vrijwilligerswerk-de-erfgoedsector.

General information about working as a volunteer or working with volunteers can also be found (in Dutch) at https://www.vlaanderenvrijwilligt.be/.

There is also a toolbox available (in Dutch) from Vlaams Steunpunt Vrijwilligerswerk (the Flemish volunteer support centre) to help you with engaging volunteers: https://www.vlaanderenvrijwilligt.be/publicaties/digitale-publicaties/toolbox-vrijwilligers-werven/.

Tip: You can also try to engage volunteers for your heritage and archive project via your local heritage society. Heritage societies do not manage (archive) collections themselves, but they do ensure that local cultural heritage is better preserved. They can help with mapping, conserving or digitising collections. Heritage societies work with local authorities and other heritage organisations, often also in other sectors, such as welfare, education, integration and arts. They connect people and ideas, which often leads to impressive and unexpected heritage projects. They also meet to share experiences and knowledge, and are furthermore open to collaborating with supra-local heritage organisations such as FARO - the Flemish Institution for Cultural Heritage, as well as national museums, archives and service providers. More information about the heritage society in your region can be found (in Dutch) at https://www.erfgoedcellen.be/. Practical example: Theatre Aan Zee collaborated with volunteers to create an inventory for its 20th anniversary. You can read about how this was done here.

Internships and student jobs

Many arts and heritage organisations are happy to give students the chance to put their knowledge into practice – it is often a good opportunity to carry out small (improvement) projects, and benefit from the fresh perspective and knowledge that a student studying archive, information or library sciences can offer. In turn, students can also gain their first experience working in an archive, library or documentation centre.

More information about student work can be found (in Dutch) at http://www.studentenarbeid.be/tag/studentenjob/.

More information about existing archive training courses can be found here. Author: Evi Bert (CKV - Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp)