Become a Volunteer Archivist

I want to volunteer. How can I help?

We need your help! Whether or not you have professional skills in libraries and archives, all people are welcome. Depending on your time commitment and interests, we can train you and help you find the right project. Most archival work is solo, even though we are a team and support each other. Lots of archiving is onsite work–meeting with donors, organizing documents, scanning items and doing research. Other tasks can be done remotely–correspondence with donors, online research and cataloging and reviewing digitized materials.

What positions are available?

Archivists wear a lot of different hats and any single project has different needs. RHP needs volunteers that can work in any or all of these areas:

  • Acquisitions curators. Do you want to work with donors to bring in materials, get the legal paperwork in order and set up initial finding aids? Can you identify new collecting opportunities and sources for records we should preserve?
  • Catalogers. Do you want to work from home creating records in our online catalog? Can you upload newly scanned documents, do a bit of research and describe the documents? Can you help our research get found by online researchers?
  • Digitization specialists. Do you have time to help us get our analog materials digitized and shared online? Can you scan paper materials from the archives? Work with vendors on our Audio-Visual collections?
  • Processing archivists. Do you want to organize physical materials? Write the descriptions of what we received? Do the research to contextualize a collection? Work to transfer our materials to permanent storage at the DC History Center?
  • Reference researchers. Do you like to read the materials, investigate for more information and write up content to help disseminate the collection? Do you want to help the general public with their research projects?

What projects could I work on?

The majority of our projects live in “partially complete” status, looking for someone who wants to get involved and improve their state. Other projects are “wish lists” that we would love to work on but don’t have the team or finances to complete. Projects advance because a volunteer has time and desire to develop it! If you have an idea, let us know. Some of our goals include:

  • Periodicals research. We have more than 40 different titles of magazines, pamphlets, and periodicals. Can you research a title to write a description of its publication history, review which issues we are missing and improve our indexes? Help us do outreach to the community to find missing issues or new titles?
  • Special project outreach. Often we obtain something that inspires us to do a special project of identifying more people who could explain it, donate more items and record an oral history. For instance, we have a poster of a March 2006 Drag Kings event at Club Chaos. We need someone to identify the 13 Kings on the poster and find them: Will they do an oral history interview? Do they have materials to donate? Do they have other contacts they can introduce us to?
  • Finding aids. Collections are described in a finding aid that explains the collection, its origins and contents. A finding aid helps to navigate a collection in the same way that a table of contents and an index help to navigate a book. Most finding aids include the titles of the folders and not descriptions of a folder’s contents. These draft guides always need improvement. Review our Guide to Finding Aids to decide where to begin.
  • Cataloging in Omeka. Have you learned to use the Omeka platform for online collections and exhibits? We describe our holdings and make scans available but constantly are improving our catalog entries. We even need to create collection-level records for some of our holdings. See “RHP Catalog record in Omeka” or “How to Upload to Omeka” for examples.
  • Processing backlog. Lots of our collections are “partially processed” and need someone to visit the physical archive at the DC History Center and work with the materials to transfer them to proper housing, type up inventories, describe the contents and identify materials for scanning for the online catalog. Review the processing control sheet and then reach out.

What qualifications do I need?

Anyone who shows up and has the desire to assist is welcome. If you don’t already have training or background in archival work (at any level), you are still welcome and we will need to train you. Training is one-on-one and free of charge. It is a time commitment for our all-volunteer team, so you will need to be up front about how much time and dedication you can donate. If you are interested in conducting research for your own project, you do not need archives training. If you are interested in doing an internship or practicum you are welcome. If you are interested in volunteering during the work day, after hours or on weekends, all schedules are welcome–but some projects need specific onsite access or coordination to meet with others. Please email and describe what background and interests you have, what amount of time you can commit and which of the projects or positions you’d like to fill.

What is an ‘Activist Archivist’?

In 1970, historian Howard Zinn delivered a pivotal speech to the Society of American Archivists annual meeting encouraging Archivists to become Activists and to collect the stories of minorities and social movements that are not otherwise documented. In 2000, the lack of available archival resources for research into Washington’s LGBTQ history led to the founding of the Rainbow History Project. That spirit of being an LGBTQ activist is still very much alive in RHP and our work. Come be part of it!

What does RHP think about MPLP?

More Product Less Process is all about prioritizing our work and getting collections as available as resources allow. An all-volunteer, low-budget, community archives project is exactly that. Any and all efforts can improve things, so let’s use our time wisely and figure out how you can help!