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Interview: Chetham’s Library – Belle Vue Project Volunteers

In the middle of busy Manchester lies a library hidden away, waiting to be explored….

Following on from our November event, the wonderful Kathy Whalen put us in touch with two volunteers who have worked with her on digitising the Belle Vue archive. Courtney Brombosz has written the below paragraphs about her experience and following this, Jess Purdy has answered our interview questions.

Courtney: In the middle of busy Manchester lies a library hidden away, waiting to be explored. Chetham’s Library is a local monument that has been around since 1653. I feel fortunate to have volunteered at Chetham’s. Back in January of 2014, I came to Chetham’s to start digitising the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens collection. Little did I know how the this project would bring me and the Manchester community closer together.

Courtney working in Chethams. Image by Kathy Whalen.

Courtney working in Chethams. Image by Kathy Whalen.

Belle Vue opened its gates in 1836. It became a Manchester landmark and created an escape for its visitors. From race cars to elephants, from international cuisine to live music, it had something for everyone. Chetham’s holds a great collection that allows a glimpse into the days of Belle Vue. Even though it closed in 1977, it continues to live on in the memories of Manchester residents and in the Chetham’s collection. In 2013, Chetham’s received a grant to open this rich collection online for everyone to access. I just happened to be in Manchester at the time, looking to continue my professional development in a library.

I was honoured to lend my librarianship degree and experience to the work Chetham’s staff was taking on. Not only did I find that volunteers provide a great deal of time and work to assist the staff, it personally gave me a valuable experience in digitising large collections. Piecing together the history as I scanned each photograph, postcard, letter, and news clippings allowed me to see how important the zoo was to the people of England. Creating those connections allowed me to view the collection in a whole new way. It not only creates great research potential, it also preserves the local history that is far more valuable.

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about local culture to volunteer at a local library or museum. It’s a rewarding experience that brings you closer to your community. Interacting with the objects that come from the past evokes nostalgia and wonder. There were many times I’d leave the library and go home to only do more research into different parts of Belle Vue’s history. I am very fortunate to have had this opportunity to work with Chetham’s. I am very proud to have helped push forward their grant work to make this collection accessible online for everyone.

Jess’s Interview

  • Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?

I am a Medieval and Early Modern History graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University and I am currently exploring the different career paths my degree can take me down, as I really want my career to be relevant to my degree.

  •  Can you tell us about your volunteer role at Chetham’s?

My volunteer role at Chetham’s has largely centred around working with Kathy Whalen Moss, the cataloguing librarian, on the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens project. My work with Chetham’s has required me to catalogue photos, and I have done some scanning in of the photographs in the collection onto the computer ready for them to be uploaded onto the website. However, most of the work I have been doing revolves around writing descriptions of photos already on the system and ascertaining their details as to who took the photographs etc. before uploading them onto Omeka. I also took part in the exhibition open evening hosted by Kathy at the Library, which involved me showing visitors the exhibition and talking about my role within it.

  • What skills do you use within your job role?

Within my role at the Library, I am mainly required to use my computer skills, as that is my primary focus at the moment, using Microsoft Excel and the Omeka website to upload the photographs in the collection. I am also required to use a lot of organisation skills as I have recently been cataloguing some new photographs for the collection and I have been organising them into sections and sub-sections, ready for them to be properly catalogued.

One of the many weird and wonderful images from the Belle Vue archive!

One of the many weird and wonderful images from the Belle Vue archive!

  • Has working at Chetham’s given you the opportunity to expand and develop your skill set? If so, what skills and opportunities?

Working at Chetham’s has not so much expanded or developed any of my skills, but the opportunity has allowed me to gain an excellent insight into what working in a library and archives is like and the work involved therein. It has provided me with invaluable experience within the heritage sector that will definitely help me in pursuing my future goals, whether that be a Masters degree, or some other form of employment.

Thanks to both Courtney and Jess for sharing their experiences – if you would like to spend some time volunteering at Chethams Library, contact Kathy Whalen.

One comment on “Interview: Chetham’s Library – Belle Vue Project Volunteers

  1. simonjkyte
    December 10, 2015

    It is an amazing library. I did a lot of research for my book in there.

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2015 by in Interview and tagged , , , , , , , .

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